Some motorcoach carriers are experiencing a shift in the travel preferences of senior customers as baby boomers move into the senior group. Customers from this demographic want different experiences, which requires different marketing approaches.

Baby boomers, between the years of 1946 and 1964, defined as people born post-World War II, are a more independent group than the generation before them. Operators say it’s harder to get them out of their cars.

According to the American Bus Association’s report, “Baby boomers and future seniors: How to get them on motorcoaches” (2008), these seniors tend to be highly educated and want to “participate in meaningful activities such as receiving further education, volunteering and continuously working.”

Baby boomers also want “…experience-rich products and services. Travel…is particularly appealing to this market,” according to the report.
The report adds that for this demographic,  the ability to design their own experience is key, describing “customization” as “essential to motorcoach tours targeting baby boomers.”

Baby boomers are embracing motorcoach travel to take advantage of the opportunity to have someone else do the planning and driving, spend time with friends and learn something new, Bronwyn Wilson, president, International Motor Coach Group, says.

Use QR Codes
Operators need to dispel the notion seniors are not tech-savvy, since that is changing as more baby boomers become senior citizens, with the proliferation of smart phones and mobile gadgets such as iPads.

Portland, Maine-based VIP Tour & Charter Bus Co. is now reaching this growing number of more tech-savvy seniors, as well as  other customers, by using QR Codes to promote more of their tours, Maureen Penfold, director of marketing, VIP Tour & Charter Bus Co., says.

The move, which is part of an advertising package with a local company, cost little in money and time. VIP simply uses an online account to generate a code. The operator then assigns it to a tour and publicizes it on posters to draw customers to the website where they can learn more and make reservations. Customers scan the codes with their mobile devices.

VIP recently piloted the technology as part of its Boston Flower Show Tour in March, putting the codes on fliers. The code is also featured in its TV commercial. Soon, the carrier plans to use QR codes on the backs of its buses.

“There’s a lot of opportunity, because it’s just one simple scan and you can link it to anything you want,” Penfold says.

While it’s too soon to detect a difference in sales, the Boston Flower Show Tour nearly sold out each of the four days of the show.[PAGEBREAK]

Greenville, Pa.’s Anderson Coach & Travel offers customizing for different components of tours to appeal to the independent baby boomer customer.

Greenville, Pa.’s Anderson Coach & Travel offers customizing for different components of tours to appeal to the independent baby boomer customer.

Offer Daily Deals
Another successful strategy VIP employed to reach new customers, many of whom are seniors, was partnering with DealChicken, a daily deal program, to promote one of its casino runs with a discount on tickets, advertising it on television, email, and through social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The coupons sold out in two days.

VIP offered 110 of its casino day trip packages as “two for the price of one.” The vouchers had the potential to bring the operator 220 new customers, since each package was good for two people. Since VIP received a list of everyone who bought the vouchers, they also found that they were getting new customers, Penfold says. 

Penfold also advises operators looking for different ways to market to seniors groups to utilize email marketing and social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, in addition to advertising in local magazines for seniors and senior groups. The sites are good for following up with customers and staying in contact with them. “It’s really beneficial, especially as the economy and markets change,” Penfold says.

Apply old school methods
Still, while operators need to keep evolving their marketing methods to stay current, Wilson says, they shouldn’t cast aside more old-school methods, such as the Yellow Pages, newspaper ads and direct mail for people who aren’t on social media.

“They have not disappeared as much as people might want to think that they have,” Wilson says. “Operators are still finding success with them.”
“It’s interesting that we think everybody’s online. That is not the case,” she adds. “There is research to show that baby boomers and [the] senior market spend a lot of time online, but it’s certainly not the only form of marketing [to] embrace.”

Dave Charles, director of sales and marketing at Wallington, N.J.’s Saddle River Tours, agrees. He says that Saddle River still favors direct mail over email for its charter business and group tours, especially for the senior market, since that still proves to be more effective. 

“It’s harder to tear up a piece of paper [and throw it] in the garbage than to just click and delete something,” he says. [PAGEBREAK]

VIP Tour & Charter Bus Co. reached out to tech-savvy baby boomers on social media with a Daily Deal coupon for a casino run.

VIP Tour & Charter Bus Co. reached out to tech-savvy baby boomers on social media with a Daily Deal coupon for a casino run.

Create customizable tours
To appeal to baby boomers who are looking for more of an experience or want to learn something, customizing different components of tours has been successful with the senior segment at Greenville, Pa.’s Anderson Coach & Travel, Danielle Powell, director of transportation sales and marketing, says.

To get the growing number of independent baby boomers on board with bus travel, Anderson is offering more “on-your-own” tours, such as “New York City on Your Own,” as well as options for structured tours, offering transportation and the hotel and letting the customer choose the activity.

“A lot of times they don’t want to do the cookie-cutter program,” Powell says. In a typical baby boomer group, some might want to see a Broadway show and others may opt for sightseeing, versus a structured tour, with everyone seeing and doing the same thing at the same time.

“They want to be more independent and make their own decisions,” Powell says. 

The operator selected some its more popular destinations for the “On Your Own” option. For example, Anderson recently ran a Philadelphia trip with options to attend the Franklin Institute to see the Titanic Exhibit or the Philadelphia Flower Show.

The operator produces a tour catalogue that it mails out to its customer database and publicizes the tours in a digital flipbook, similar to a digital magazine, on its website and through social media.

Expand trip options
Based on his experience in both the bus and hotel business, Saddle River’s Charles agrees baby boomers are interested in different types of bus trips and packages than seniors were even five or six years ago.

This is in part because baby boomers are accustomed to more sophisticated types of venues, Charles adds. More seniors are going on cruises and fly-away vacations.

Local seniors in the area Saddle River services who would have hired a coach 10 years ago to a resort in the Catskills, for example, will now take a bus to a cruise ship terminal to embark on a more extravagant vacation.
He adds that the cruise industry has been good for Saddle River, because it is increasingly coming to northern embarkation spots, including New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia, so that customers don’t need to fly to the terminals.

“Ten years ago, you [would] find half a dozen ships a year,” he says. “Now, you find half a dozen ships every week, even in the winter. It’s a new market for buses.”

For example, more people are taking their groups by bus to a pier in New York.

“For another few hundred dollars, they often decide to take a bus trip to the pier instead of spending a day at the airport,” he explains.