Generational marketing is, well, just that: The targeting of age-specific groups based on behaviours, patterns and preferences – a way to connect directly with an audience by demonstrating an authentic understanding of their generation and by extension, their world.
For good reason, Baby Boomers have been a long-time favourite of travel sellers and marketers. We have all seen the glossy brochures featuring attractive silver-haired couples, a glass of wine in hand, gazing off into the distance from the balcony of their luxury cruise ship. And why not? This is a well-heeled market segment hungry for experiences, with time on their hands.
Of late though, it’s all about the Millennials – a generation connected at all times, doped up on “likes” and arguably, fueled by instant gratification. A favourite topic at conferences far and wide, the travel industry has turned the spotlight on this group in preparation for the next big wave.
“With Boomers now aged 53 to 72, their numbers will continue to decline, and Millennials have become the hot segment,” says Dr. Statia Elliot, director at the University of Guelph’s School of Hospitality, Food and Tourism Management.
Oh, those kids! They think differently, they travel differently and, perhaps most significantly, they shop differently. And there is a lot of them. As a result, it’s been a race to develop digital tools to accommodate this growing segment of travellers, and marketers are nothing short of obsessed with reaching this burgeoning travel audience.
But what about Generation X? Remember them? It seems many don’t.
Referred to as “the forgotten generation,” or “the sandwich generation,” Xers dominated popular culture in the 90s but have since taken a back seat, with advertisers favouring the generations before and after them. As a result, it seems like businesses might be missing out by overlooking this massively influential group.
Xers were born from the mid-60s to the early 80s – latchkey kids, children of working parents, and the first big wave of children of divorce. Characterized as rebellious, anti-establishment, disillusioned (think The Breakfast Club, Reality Bites and Singles), Xers were fed a steady diet of MTV and indie films. Nirvana’s 1991 groundbreaking NEVERMIND said it all – “nevermind” – and established Curt Cobain as a messiah for a generation of slackers.
Fast forward to 2018. It would appear that Xers have traded in their plaid shirts and Doc Martens for business attire and briefcases. According to Environics Analytics, Gen X has the highest employment rate comprising 31 per cent of the workforce, and they are well educated with 68 per cent of men and 74 per cent of women holding post-secondary degrees. They are a smaller group than their bookends, logging in at about 7.5 million versus the roughly 9.5 million Boomers and more than 10 million Millennials – but they pack a punch. Xers edge out both the neighbouring generations for highest average household income at $102,000 per year and a whopping 65 per cent have children.
THE TRAVEL EXPERTS WEIGH IN
It’s no secret that Boomers flock to river cruises like bees to honey and these magical sojourns are most often associated with the age 60-plus set. Kristin Karst, executive vicepresident and co-owner of AmaWaterways acknowledges that 50 per cent of their guests are over the age of 65 but explains that Ama is employing innovative ways to attract more Xers through onboard offerings.
Karst, an Xer herself, says that when the company was launched in 2002, she and husband Rudi Schreiner had a vision to create a river cruise company that they themselves would enjoy. “We never really defined our target market by age,” she tells CT, “but we knew that we wanted to offer active cruising with lots of included options so that guests could personalize their experience.”
In 2006, AmaWaterways was the first river cruise company to provide bicycles onboard. Tours can be taken at active paces and hiking excursions are offered on every cruise. “As a result of these programs, we are naturally attracting more Gen Xers on our ships and we have seen the average age of our guests drop significantly over the past five years,” Karst explains. “Wellness and choice are important to Gen Xers and continue to play an important role in the innovative design choices we make. A good example is our newest ship, AmaMagna, which offers a spacious Zen Wellness Centre and an exclusive Concierge Golf Program. We believe Gen Xers will love this product.”
What about size? Does it really matter? Joseph Adamo, chief distribution officer for Transat, thinks so.
“There is no question that as a society we talk a lot about Baby Boomers and Millennials while much less so about Generation X. Much of this I attribute to the sheer size and weight of the two bookend cohorts.”
But, Adamo readily points out, “From Transat’s perspective, overall we have more travellers who are Gen X than Millennial. I believe that as Gen Xers move into retirement in the next seven to 10 years, they will represent a growing travel segment for our industry.”
The hotel business relies on the medium as well but is it is also at the mercy of the medium. Juan Carlos Calderon, corporate director of sales, Canada for Palace Resorts, tells CT, “We need to factor in the availability of those connected with the virtual world in all we do. Millennials expect immediate responses, and reviews that can credit or discredit a property from a smartphone in an instant are the norm. Yes, Gen Xers matter very much but due to the rapid progress of technology, only those that are plugged in will prevail. Advertisers are focused on quickly adapting tools and the delivery of information to satisfy the younger generation that’s coming next.”
MISSED BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
As an industry, have we forgotten about Gen X? Not exactly, but there is some “middle child syndrome” to cope with, and because of the current laser focus on Millennials, there is some opportunity going to waste. While we don’t see the same kind of targeted marketing with Xers, they do possess characteristics of both Boomers and Millennials, and because of this, they can be reached in a variety of ways. “With the middle spot between Boomers and Millennials, attitudes and behaviours of Gen Xers can overlap considerably, and it can be tricky to target by just age,” Dr. Elliot cautions.
Remember: about 7.5 million Generation Xers – not exactly small potatoes. This, a group that out-earns both Millennials and Boomers. Tech-savvy – they not only use the Internet, they created the Internet. They are hard-working professionals, parents and caretakers of parents. One could argue that Gen Xers are in need of vacations more than anyone and that sales conversations and ad campaigns should be highly targeted to this segment, not to mention abundant.
Somewhere along the line, “nevermind” has morphed into “pay attention” and indeed, some efforts are being made to reach this lucrative group of inbetweeners. Family collections, multi-generational groups and luxury getaways all speak to Xers, but is this small yet mighty generation not worthy of more dedicated consideration?
They are, after all, the meat in the sandwich; the books between the bookends. Is it time for bespoke products, brand alignments, conference presentations and glossy brochures just for them? Dr. Elliot believes so.
“Take note! For tourism marketers, Gen Xers are in their prime travel years and should not be ignored,” she says. “They are highly educated and sophisticated travellers, willing to spend on experiences at the luxury end, as well as the family travel segment.”
Soon enough the size and economic power of the Millennials will put them in the lead for travel spending, but for now, X marks the spot.