Older Travelers Rely Most Heavily On Trusted WOM

When it comes to travel planning, boomers and "matures" (age 60 and up) rely most heavily on recommendations from friends and family--and the more affluent among the older groups tend to wield greater influence, according a survey of 30,000 consumers age 42 and up conducted by Focalyst, a joint venture of AARP Services, Inc. and Kantar.

Both age groups use a wide variety of sources for travel information--including television, travel agents, radio, outdoor advertising, print and various types of Internet sites. But recommendations from friends and family are by far the most used (cited by 96% of boomers and 88% of matures) and more important, by far the most "valued" (57% of boomers, 44% of matures), reports Focalyst, which continues to analyze and release details from the massive survey, conducted last year.

The travel advice and opinions of affluent older consumers--those with $75,000 or greater household income--are particularly powerful decision-influencers for several reasons.



First, the affluents dominate by numbers--accounting for 32 million, or nearly 40%, of the total 81 million 42-and-up population. Not surprisingly, they also travel more (reporting 3.9 domestic trips in the past year and 1.5 international trips in the past three years, compared to 2.9 and 1 for the overall 42+ population), and spend the most. The affluent spend an average of $289 per day while traveling (versus $233 for the segment overall,) and cumulatively plan to spend $66 billion on travel in the next 12 months (that's 52% of the total $126 billion in planned travel expenditures among total boomers/matures).

In addition, more affluents report that "people tend to come to me for travel advice": 28.3%, versus 22% of 42-plusses overall.

The data also confirm that brand loyalty's role in older consumers' travel decisions is conditional--a point consistent with Focalyst's previously released overall findings deflating the long-held assumption that this segment of the population is generally more brand-loyal than younger segments.

Cases in point:

  • Just 28% of boomers report sticking with the same airline they grew up with, compared with 40% of adults age 41 and under.
  • Very few older consumers consistently use one company when it comes to airlines (12% of boomers, 15% of matures), hotels/motels (5% of both groups) and cruise lines (13% of both groups).
  • Many do report that they "tend" to choose from among several companies that they like. Half of boomers and 46% of matures express this attitude about airlines, nearly 60% of each group about hotels/motels, and 48% of boomers and 54% of matures about cruise lines.
  • However, nearly as many say that it doesn't matter which company they use. Nearly 40% of both groups hold this attitude about airlines; 36% of boomers and 37% of matures about hotels/motels; and 39% of boomers and 33% of matures about cruise lines. So, aside from ensuring reach to more affluent, influential older consumers, how can marketers of travel services and destinations sway these increasingly powerful population segments?

Here are some clues:

  • Loyalty programs do matter to some degree: One-third of all 42-and-ups say that they tend to choose airlines and hotels in which they have loyalty or frequent-flyer memberships. Further, the affluents are most inclined to express a preference along these lines.
  • While boomers consider themselves more adventurous travelers than their parents, they seem to want adventure within the context of safety. Fully 90% of boomers, and 92% of matures, are concerned about safety while traveling--a factor that "can have an effect on everything from where they decide to vacation to what mode of transportation they use to what companies they choose," note Focalyst's analysts.
  • Many in both older segments appear to be of two minds when it comes to familiar versus new vacation experiences. Nearly 70% of both groups say they "like to go back to familiar places for vacations," but 45% of boomers and 43% of matures simultaneously say that they "try to go somewhere different on vacation every time." Since 62% of boomers and 55% of matures traveled domestically more than once during the past year, it seems likely that many simply choose familiar territory for some types of vacations and new destinations for others.
  • Boomers are a bit more inclined to prefer taking vacations that are "off the beaten path" (48%, versus 42% of matures).
  • Boomers are more likely to go abroad (54%, versus 45% of matures).
  • Only 20% of boomers and 27% of matures say they like to go on vacations where activities are organized for them. But among both groups, retirees (who account for 23 million of all 42-plus consumers and collectively plan to spend $34 billion on travel in the next 12 months) are more likely than those still working to go on an organized tour (13% versus 7%).
  • However, neither group rules out vacation packages: Just 26% of matures and 23% of boomers say that they would "never" think of purchasing a package.
  • Since more boomers are still in the workforce, they are more inclined to say that "all they want to do is eat, drink and relax" when they go on vacation (39%, versus 30% of matures). Predictably, within both age groups, fewer retirees than those still working (30% versus 39%) agree that they view vacations solely as relaxation times (as opposed to opportunities to have cultural and other experiences).
  • Three to six days is the most common trip duration for both boomers (44%) and matures (34%), but a third of boomers and 29% of matures average seven to 10 days. Matures are almost twice as likely to be away for 11 days or more (28% versus 15%), and 16% of retirees versus 5% of those working take vacations lasting two weeks or more.
  • The 25 million 42-plus singles collectively plan to spend about $28 billion on travel in the next 12 months. They are more inclined than marrieds or "partnered" travelers to travel alone (28% versus 6%), take weekend trips and like "organized" trips. Only 54% (versus 67% of paired-up folks) say they'll be staying in a hotel on their next trip.
  • Two-thirds of boomers stay in hotels/motels. But age is a key factor here: Nearly 70% of those in their forties, versus just 51% of those in their eighties, stay in hotels/motels.
  • The 17 million older consumers who are married with children under age 18 collectively plan $32 billion in travel expenditures over the next year, and they bring an average of 3.8 people on their trips (versus 2.9 for all over-42's and 2.4 for singles).
  • This "family" segment is more likely to return to familiar places, and is generally uninterested in "organized" trips.
  • Rising gas prices of course influence the propensity to take "road trips." (In 2005, 47% of 50+ consumers surveyed by AARP said they were limiting travel/vacations because of gas costs.) Still, 49% of the 42-and-over crowd surveyed by Focalyst last year said they planned to travel primarily by car during their next trip, versus 38% planning to go by plane.
  • Retirees are a bit more likely than workers (5% versus 2%) to use recreational vehicles/RVs for vacations.
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