Management & Operations

Boomers and buses

Posted on January 1, 2006 by Steve Hirano, Editor/Associate Publisher

As you probably already know, the oldest of the baby boomers are beginning to turn 60. Celebrities like Steven Spielberg, Donald Trump, Connie Chung, George W. Bush and Oliver Stone will hit the big 6-0 this year. It’s not just the rich and famous who are heading for the land of the gray. Millions more will turn 60 this year on the leading edge of the boomer army. The boomers — the post-World War II generation born between 1946 and 1964 — are a formidable group. They are large in number (77 million), and their number is growing fast in proportion to the rest of the U.S. population. By 2030, boomers will represent 20% of the population, up from today’s 13%. It’s a demographic revolution. In addition, boomers will live longer than their parents and probably work longer. And they’ve engineered a legacy of public policy shifts and social transformation that is unprecedented. The older boomers were defined by the Vietnam War; the younger ones by Watergate. Getting them on the bus
How will the boomers travel as they head into their retirement years? That’s an important question for the private bus industry, which has traditionally catered to senior groups for tours and charters. Because of their number and influence, boomers are a prime target for marketers, including those in the travel industry. But will they embrace motorcoach travel like their parents do? Not likely. Based on reports of sociologists, boomers are not a good fit for group travel on buses. Their “psychographic profile” suggests that they are individualistic and thus not inclined to follow the herd. In addition, they want immediate gratification and will pay for luxury. The portrait painted by sociologists is “adult teenagers.” Where their parents are inclined to believe in institutions and teams, boomers are individualistic. Where their parents believe in puritanism and denial, boomers embrace sensuality. They seek change rather than stability and experience rather than material reward. Instead of accepting authority, they question it. So where does motorcoach travel fit into their busy schedules? In several places, actually. Offer them E-ticket tours
Motorcoach operators can attract boomers by offering tours that provide the 3 Es — education, experience and exploration. For examples of these tours, I contacted the National Tour Association, which graciously provided the following recommendations. Educational tours can take visitors to an actual operating farm, a coffee plantation or backstage at a Broadway show. The farm tour can include a dinner at the farm house and a tour of the facility. A coffee plantation in Hawaii can provide the same up-close-and-personal benefit with a visit to the coffee fields, a tour of the processing plant and a sampling of the brewed product. A visit to Broadway could include a backstage tour and viewing auditions, in addition to attending a show. For experience, how about a trip to a national park that includes a stint as a volunteer? These “voluntourism trips” not only provide a real experience, such as painting picnic tables or removing non-native plant species, they also beautify the parks. For exploration, how about a mystery tour? The tour in which customers don’t know where they’re going when they board the coach. Of course, the destination should be one that will satisfy the collective interests of the group, but the key is the excitement of not knowing what the outcome will be. Finally, a word about marketing to boomers. Most boomers already use the Internet to shop for travel, especially airline reservations. In the coming years, tour and charter operators will need to bolster their marketing outreach to this Internet-savvy group. Those who fall behind the curve will be ceding business to their rivals, both in the air and on the ground.

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