Gray is the new green, part 4: Time ain’t on our side

This summer’s holiday traveling abroad has helped put an additional perspective on the issue of retirement: being time and its finite nature. Let me explain.

When we are in our 30s, 40s or 50s, we may talk about taking a trip abroad, with no pressure as to when this might actually occur. We can plan many years in advance and can even plan multiple trips to different destinations. It’s fun, and the future looks bright.

As I sat in my Paris hotel suite while on vacation, I wondered how many times I will be able to return to this property or, for that matter, this beautiful city. While I am only 60, the reality sets in that opportunities for extensive travel overseas are dwindling. Will I be able to take such trips throughout my 60s? Yes, I certainly expect to make many. How about my 70s? Yes, I hope so, barring any major medical problems, of course. But how about travel in my 80s? Will I be as keen to take extensive trips at that point in time?

Okay, many of you are thinking, “Yes, I’ll definitely still be traveling in my 80s.” But, how about in your 90s? Most will agree that at this stage, they cannot see themselves traveling to four European cities in two weeks, spending 12 hours on a flight or lugging huge roller bags in and out of the EuroStar.

Another major issue is out-of-country medical insurance. For this post, I reviewed several travel insurance policies. For healthy 80-year-olds, the premiums, omitting any pre-conditions, are beyond the reach and logic of most travelers. This means travel in those sunset years will be in-country at best. Recall too that there are rules regarding driver’s license renewals for those beyond the age of 80. These vary heavily by state, province and territory.

Regardless of your age, the simple fact is that the number of trips you take is finite. Given this, you can probably calculate the number of trip opportunities you will have in your lifetime. The older you are, the more precise your calculations of that number can be.

A sobering fact

The reality of time is that for all of us, it eventually runs out. This is obvious and should not create any distress, but it is nonetheless a sobering fact. As millions of baby boomers are realizing, with no mortgage and kids’ college educations paid, travel opportunities previously forgone to accommodate these gross expenses are now much more easily realized. Add in the recognition that long-distance travel will come with an age limitation sometime in the future adds an impetus to act quickly.

Hoteliers that recognize these facts will show a good return on their investment. Here are some concepts based on this scenario worth your consideration:

1. Establish strong relationships with traditional travel agents. Don’t give up on them. While everyone recognizes the strength of OTAs, many baby boomers will seek assistance and recommendations from bona fide experts who can assist with complex itineraries and premium accommodations. Traditional TAs can be a particularly strong channel for independent properties. Enhance your TA relationships with guest extras that reinforce the three-way relationship between guest, TA and property.

2. Review your mix of suites. Create unique package programs that include suites, not just your lower-priced accommodations. Or, at a minimum, ensure packages apply to all room types. As your guests get older, they are more inclined to spend additional time in their rooms. This aging population forecast presages an increase in leisure package suite requests.

3. Offer all-inclusive arrangements. For hotels, these packages could include return air transfers, breakfast, minibar, in-room movies and anything else you can muster within this ballpark. Packages of this nature can appeal to older travelers who spend more time in their rooms and see added value in these programs.

4. Personalize the stay. Baby boomers appreciate those additional human touches more than the “wired” generations that have followed. Accordingly, you can lever these activities to generate a high level of referrals. One item I have liked in the past was a time-limited $100 gift certificate for a future stay that could also be passed on to a friend.

As you can tell, I’m bullish on travel prospects for this group. Age 80 is the new 60, so for the hotel business, this is definitely a good omen.