Generation What? The Critical Customer Segment Travel Marketers Are Overlooking

  • by , Columnist, September 11, 2017

Millennials and baby boomers are constantly at the center of media and marketing attention. Older consumers have the experience, status and spending power; younger consumers are digital natives, focused on “experiences” and traveling by the masses. But what about the group squeezed in the middle: the 35- to 54-year-olds?

Bookended by larger cohorts, Generation X is often overlooked and their value routinely underestimated. Their numbers may be fewer, but they account for 51 million yearly travelers, typically have larger households and are in their peak earning years—meaning the ability to enjoy bigger, more expensive vacations. Marketers need to understand and capitalize on the behavior and preferences of this lucrative “in-between” audience.

Traveling Through the Ages

Big Spenders

Almost three in four Gen Xers want to see as much of the world as possible in their lifetime. They may only take one or two trips a year, but when they do—they typically “go big.” 



Though they’re most likely to travel with one other adult, many in this generation still have kids at home, and nearly a third bring their children along on trips. Traveling as a household means higher spending per trip: more plane tickets, larger accommodations, higher spending in restaurants and more entertainment activities. Gen Xers can afford for their kids to enjoy the “go big” philosophy and are willing to put considerable money into entertaining them.  

It’s likely Gen X will spend over $1,500 more on travel products than Millennials. Even for frugal Gen Xers, about half of their incremental spend ($760) on travel expenses goes to airfare, 15% more than younger travelers put towards flights. Add in their preference for nicer hotels and larger rooms to accommodate their families, and the two biggest expenses quickly add up. 

Just as Digital as Millennials

Having transitioned to digital in early adulthood, Gen X bridges the tech gap between Millennials and Boomers. Though desktop computers remain the preferred device of travel shoppers of all ages, nearly one third of Gen Xers who book vacations online do so via smartphone. Even more are managing their travel via smartphone (boarding pass, seats, extras, hotel check-in, room keys, etc.). 

Meeting High Expectations

Gen X is tough to please, rating both airlines and hotels lower than other travelers do across a number of attributes. Their great spending power, however, means travel companies cannot underserve this segment and, in fact, need to improve to meet their expectations. 

Gen Xers feel travel suppliers don’t fully understand them as a customer or offer exceptional customer support. This rating discrepancy is most notable for cruise lines and casino hotels, where approximately half as many Gen Xers rate suppliers as excellent as other traveler groups do. 

Gen X Marketing: What Travel Suppliers Need to Do

Timing is Everything

Available vacation time is tough to come by between work and school schedules, meaning Gen Xers search for deals well in advance. Exactly half book airfare at least one month prior to departure, compared to just two in five travelers under age 35. The same goes for hotels, where 57% of Gen X books three or more weeks in advance. 

Luxurious Stays (Within Reason)

Unlike price-conscious millennials, cost is less of an issue for Gen X, which seeks quality and comfort for their family. Forty-two percent have stayed in a four-star resort within the past year, compared to just over a third of millennials or boomers. 

Free wifi access isn’t only important to young techies. The ability to check emails and keep kids occupied with their devices is important to more than two-thirds of Gen Xers. Hotels should remember that Gen Xers are more likely than Boomers to be traveling for business, and many choose to add a few days of leisure travel after career-related obligations have concluded. Speaking of business travel, hotels especially should create a compelling offer to encourage an extended stay at a reduced rate or co-mingle a spa, golf or restaurant offer with a marketing engagement. 

Opportunity for Improvement in the Air

This group is inclined to turn to airline suppliers during the booking process for benefits including seat selection, assistance with check-in and flight notifications. Though almost half of this generation booked their last flight on an airline website, satisfaction seems to end once booking is complete. Gen Xers are consistently among the least satisfied with on-board drinks, entertainment and seat space. Consider creating targeted real-time or near-time (as boarding approaches and additional services remain unpurchased) opportunities to enhance customer experience with the brand. 

Up Next: Gen X

Though tempting to primarily target the vast Millennial and Boomer segments, marketers can’t afford to overlook the spending power and potential of this important in-between generation. Knowing Gen Xers have unique motivations and behaviors for travel, it’s imperative travel suppliers deliver quality experiences to gain and retain loyalty. Delivering the right offers, at the right time, is critical for winning over this savvy, affluent and overlooked population.

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