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Exclusive: Boomers driving travel in ‘cost of living’ era, but are hotels getting the message?

Op-Ed: JLL’s Ross Beardsell argues, a marketing strategy aimed at attracting mature travellers should be integral to hotel marketing plans  

It may be an inconvenient truth for the many ‘grammers’ who believe they are dictating travel trends, but statistics prove that it is actually distinguished boomers (born 1946 to 1964) who are fuelling travel in the post-COVID, ‘cost of living’ travel era.

They might not have millions of social media followers, but they have millions in the bank and want to spend it on travel.

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Flight Centre recorded a $485 million turnaround for the 2023 year compared to the year before, and their Managing Director, Graham ‘Skroo’ Turner knew exactly who was responsible for the dramatic change.

“Flight Centre’s business is leveraged towards demographics that are less affected by mortgage stress, specifically the luxury sector and Baby Boomers, and who are therefore more likely to continue to travel,” he said.

His analysis is backed up by Commonwealth Bank consumer data from November that shows spending by over 75s increased by eight percent, while under 30s had tightened their belts by five percent. The situation is unlikely to change in the near future, with house prices and rental rates showing no likelihood of moderating soon.

Adobe Stock By Spotmatik

In an article in the SMH, journalist Max Maddison saw the trend firsthand on a trip down the NSW South Coast. While hardly the models for glossy tourism promotions, the Boomers helped save what was a massively weather-impacted summer holiday period.

Reflecting on the trend, he quoted hotel management company Jeremy and Jones co-founder and director David Jones, who said: “It appears that it’s all 65 years and above that are driving this.

It’s a Boomer-led travel recovery,” Jones said. “We’re going to say any destination or tourism offering that speaks to the Boomers is going to generally win.”

The remarkable return of the cruise industry after many observers thought it would never recover from the COVID stigma is largely due to Boomers’ enthusiasm for cruising, especially in the luxe sector. The same applies to the premium end of aircraft, where distinguished travellers are using both cash and frequent flyer points to travel all over Australia and the world.

This trend has even impacted the delivery of promotional material to travellers. It wasn’t long ago that the imminent death of the traditional travel brochure was predicted. The reality appears anything but.

AdobeStock By Jacob Lund

The ABC reported that HWR Media, a leading producer of visitor guides for regional South Australia, was originally told that the digital world would make their printed guides redundant beyond 2018, and CEO Tom Raggatt thought his business was going to die.

“Despite this, we were still getting contacted by operators asking when the next guide was coming out,” he said. “Now it has gone full circle and the regions are still keen on their guide. It is a must-have.”

The ‘oldies are goldies’ trend has many implications for hotels.

Marketers have traditionally ignored demographics under 40, largely because most of the marketers are in that age group and find it inconceivable that they should be focusing on potential guests such as their parents and even grandparents.

For instance, while hotels direct spending on search engine optimisation and online marketing, if their marketing team only knew the resurgence of newspaper and magazine formats, they would see the massive expenditure on advertisements for cruises, luxury escapes, guided tours and special event travel – all of which are performing strongly.

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Who reads newspapers and magazines? Boomers do. Newspapers and other print publications – as AccomNews reported recently – have refused to die, even if many oldies read them on devices.

Boomers are happy to pay $500 for a premium ticket to see Paul McCartney, Billy Joel and Elton John and so they are equally likely to pay for a suite at a hotel as part of a premium experience.

Travellers who have the money – and not the mortgage – want to be indulged.

Super fund returns are booming on the back of record rises in stock markets and retirees are far less likely than past generations to just sit on the nest egg, stay at home, and leave it to the kids, would seem the distinguished traveller has joined the SKI Club Spending the Kids Inheritance

Food tourism is growing rapidly, and if hotels can deliver exceptional dining – with a celebrated chef at the fore – their guests are likely to spend big on F&B experiences. They will also use the hotel spa and take part in hotel activities.

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

Another area where hotels have an opportunity to grow market share is the solo traveller. Again, most marketers might struggle to relate to the market, but it is growing rapidly and a shrewd hotel that caters well to solo travellers can build a loyal, high-yielding market.

Mature women are not staying at home after their partner dies or they divorce. According to an article in Escape, Celebrity Cruises saw solo bookings increase 225 percent in 2023 and they are travelling in style, upgrading to premium staterooms and experiences.

Hotels wanting to connect with the health and wellness sector may need to look beyond basic treatments, standard gyms and pillow menus. With the quality of sleep a massive focus for mature travellers, hotels could look to provide a soothing sound menu via the TV service along with relaxation videos.

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The Reef House in Palm Cove has gone even further by hosting a well-patronised sleep retreat recently.

Of course, hotels need to balance their market supply, and not rely too heavily on specific markets, but the mature travel sector is only going to grow larger and a well-planned strategy to target this market can deliver significant returns in the future. 

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