Gray is the new green, part II

As a resident baby boomer writer, it’s time once again for me to chime in with a few thoughts on a great demographic shift unfolding before our eyes. First, a statistical recap: boomers born in the post-WWII years from 1946 to 1964 comprise a total of roughly 78 million Americans. Aging is inevitable and, if you’re lucky, you and your hotel may well find yourselves in greener pastures by thinking like a “gray.”

Since publishing the first part of this series, I’ve had many discussions with people my age — those of us entering the sexagenarian twilight years of a long, industrious career. From this anecdotal research, what’s most striking is that retirement is now less of a guaranteed guillotine at age 65 and more of a transitional phase. More and more people are realizing that work is an important aspect of one’s life, for disposable cash as well as for health. So, why excise it in its entirety?

Nowadays, retirement presents the opportunity to enter a second career, albeit in a part-time consulting or emeritus role. After all, a brain with nearly half a century of practical experience and intuition still has bountiful residual value, regardless of what new technology or hungry young whippersnapper enters the scene.

Another weighty factor for this slowdown as opposed to a complete withdrawal relates to fiscal concerns. Costs of living have skyrocketed and so have average life expectancies — two elements that compound to largely negate the 20th century age 65 retirement paradigm. For most, it’s no longer monetarily feasible to stop the cash inflow outright at this age and expect to reap the high life for two or three extra decades.

As it relates to hotels, this points to a different type of travel behavior than what is currently archetypal for retirees. Boomers are no longer a sedated mass of gullible cheapskates. We want adventure; we want spectacle. We are very keen on travel — seeing it as a necessity, even — and we will exercise that right en masse. But boomers continuing to work will have less time for extended leisure stays and instead will be on the lookout for shorter, more productive vacations as well as the occasional business excursion.

Slowly but surely, this demographic has tuned its fork to align with the Gen X and Millennial generations who already understand how to optimize their travel time and their wallets. Boomers are now wise to the ways of modern technologies — smartphones, tablets, using the Internet for travel research — and are using such tools to minimize costs and maximize time. Expect boomers to seek out the most bang for their buck overtop of absolute loyalty to one brand or another, albeit with a different rhythm than that of their younger counterparts.

For them, it’s a matter of function over form, personal memories over image. It’s a creeping sense of time deprivation that implies less about the status of associating with a hotel brand and more about what experiential benefits will be gained. For example, when describing a spa package, focus first on the effectiveness of your stress-reducing treatments. For a restaurant, weave your narrative around unique aspects of the cuisine, with the ambience as a clear second and rubbernecking opportunities as a distant third. Yes, we crave sophistication, but it should never compromise the taste of the food! To build loyalty, think of ways in which you can step in to complete rudimentary tasks for guests (such as prearranged walking tours or dinner reservations) so that these boomers can remain as carefree as possible while on vacation.

Despite any hints of frugality suggested in these previous paragraphs, many boomers are still big spenders. They want luxury, and they are wishing to pay for extras that will maximize their enjoyment while traveling — the extras that add value through convenience. Individual car services make your hotel look like a star. A solid and efficient concierge service is also a huge plus — something I take particular note of when researching a potential hotel to give my credit card information. Or, consider two alternatives to this, one in the form of a native mobile app to streamline local recommendations, and another in the luxury marker of a private butler service.

On a personal note, I liken this new way of boomer thinking to more of a “work hard, play hard” approach than what is typically bestowed on the lackadaisical retiree. When I go on vacation — something that is definitely happening more frequently as I get older — I go all out. This not only means I’m considering luxury properties for my time, but that prior to my departure, I am constantly researching local attractions and fine-tuning my itinerary so there’s never a dull moment in my journey.

And once again, it all boils down to the onsite experience. Prior to any booking, I’ll know if a region under consideration has enough local activities and attractions to keep me (and my wife!) engaged and amused. But what makes me book with you versus one of your competitors will be the services, expertise and knowledge that you bring to the table to help make my journey as relaxing and work-free as possible.