Gray is the new green, part 17: The starving boomer

I’m borrowing a term from the art world where the “starving artist” is a burgeoning creative mind living hand-to-mouth, toiling away at his or her work while also probably taking on a part-time gig and waiting for that golden ticket of making a sale.

Adapting the term to describe a new trend within the baby boomer generation is a bit of a stretch as they are hardly starving per se. But it does illustrate the point in that many boomers who have entered a second career or a state of semi-retirement, after departing from the breadwinning days in their former full-time jobs, are struggling to find consistent work.

In the old days – and by “old,” I mean 20th century – the line between employment and retirement had not a single shade of gray. You opt to retire (or are forced out at age 65) and you are done working altogether – do not pass go, but please collect US$200 from your pension.

A bunch of concurrent factors have changed this mentality. First, retirement has gained a stigma of rapidly approaching mortality, based by some nicely research scientific papers. Essentially, when you retire after years of routine and rigor, your mind goes soft, exacerbating a slew of mental diseases as well as slowing down the body and increasing your chances of heart attacks, arteriosclerosis, bone decay and so on.

With that causal relationship between retirement and death becoming common knowledge within the past decade and a half, it’s easy to surmise that many of us approaching the grim age of 65 would find a way to avoid the reaper for as long as possible. And so we exit the company that put food on the table for a few decades and join boards of directors, volunteer at the local hospital, take a part-time job as a Walmart greeter or hang our own shingles via small entrepreneurial ventures. Anything to keep our heads in the game.

The next big factor hits that “starving” nail right in the coffin. Ten years ago, many of us boomers were all but ready to be put out to pasture and live the life of luxury at some gated community in Scottsdale or Fort Myers for the rest of their days…and then the Great Recession hit and their pensions turned to cow pies. Without the finances no longer adding up, this forced a lot of us to extend our time as contributing members of the greater workforce.

The starving comes in here because these individuals need the money to make their pre-mortgage-crisis retirement dreams a reality. Or, they’ve moved on and accepted this brave new world where work will be a fixture in everyone’s life right until the day your number is called. Any way you put it, there are more boomers actively looking for gigs to sustain their chosen lifestyles.

The problem with this trend is that the system hasn’t yet been set up to support an elderly workforce unable to fully retire. This pits veteran boomers against younger Gen Xers for jobs, and the latter has the home field advantage. They’re younger, which means they are more likely to stick around longer and pay off the sunken cost of training. And there’s also the image that boomers aren’t digital natives; that they don’t intuitively understand the Internet of Things nor can they quickly adapt to modern market forces guided by the tech-crazed ship that we know as The Millennials. Lastly, with so many boomers catching of these semi-retirement opportunities, it ultimately results in less to go around for everyone.

These macro-population dynamics are all well and good, but what do they have to do with boomer travel, which is, after all, the purpose of this column?

Short answer: The baby boomer generation probably doesn’t have as much free cash lying around as we’d like to think.

Rereading my own words, perhaps I was wrong with my titling. Gray may not be the new green, or maybe it’s only the shade of charcoal green common in leaves soon after they’ve fallen off the tree and right before they turn to yellow, orange and that mushy brown suitable only for fertilizing the next generation of plants come spring.

One solution is to go “full millennial” and completely disregard the plight of boomers, but between Moxy, Tru, Radisson RED, Aloft, citizenM and a few other niche brands, this is already well-covered ground. While I stand firm in believing that there is still a lot of untapped money in the boomer demographic available for hotels and resorts around the world, it will require adept marketing and a thorough understanding of this generation’s present woes.

For starters, appealing to the starving boomer means making your property adept at handling hybrid travel. Boomers love to travel, but they may still have to balance poolside leisure time with a few unresolved projects that will soak up a few hours each day. What programs can you institute to better appeal to the hybrid traveler who is also on a budget? What aspects of your operations can you improve to specifically appease this behavior?

Second and speaking to a broader point, with less disposable income you must be all the more compelling with your marketing messages. You must try even harder to convince these starving boomers that your hotel is worth the trip and the expense. To put it in contemporary terms, with each passing year we boomers know all too well what #YOLO really means. We want adventure; we want to explore the globe and all its hidden crevices (except maybe Somalia). But lack of funds means that we need a strong emotional driver for us to visit you above all others. Give us a singular, compelling reason and we will come in drove!