How old are you?

In polite company, the above is an impertinent question. To marketers and hotel designers, it is quite a relevant question. Demographics have long been a baseline for segmenting customers.

A demographic pun for Boomers is the expression “50 is the new 40.” Bernard Salt, in The Australian, offered insight as to why Boomers may have invented the phrase: they are the first generation to have photographic evidence of what they most likely would look like older. Today, that motto encompasses something more than appearance and includes how Boomers behave and think. I saw a card recently that read, “Keep Calm: 50 is the new 40, and in your case the new 35.”

In the classroom, describing this attitude of Boomers toward aging is an excellent introduction to psychographics. After looking at something like Proctor & Gamble’s Closet Raid mom laundering her daughter’s shirt in Tide after wearing it dancing with friends, we’ll explore what effect this mentality has on hospitality offerings such as spas, yoga trends, restaurants, food fashions, wellness-themed resorts and cruising innovations.

However, for many hotel brands the conversation has decidedly turned to Millennials as guests. This generation is also called Gen Y by many, but my favorite label is the less often used “Echo Boomer.” Why? Because whatever resonates with Millennials is a reflection of the values and interests of their Boomer parents. For example, whereas Boomers created Earth Day, Echo Boomers are environmentally conscious every day. Millennial traits are “echoes” of what came before — traces, residuals and reprises of their parents — while Boomers support the variations on Boomer themes created by their children.

There is less of a generation gap between Boomers and their children than there is between Boomers and their parents. According to Pew Research, more than 36% of adult Millennials live with their parents (and the kids are fine with that). They have grown up with multi-generational travel as a norm and are working and entering a multi-generational workplace.

So here’s the question: How old are you? The Pew Research Center developed a survey entitled “How Millennial Are You?” If you haven’t taken it yet, do so. It takes five minutes, and finding out your score can be fun as well as insightful, particularly if shared in a multi-generational group. The discussion makes for some interesting exchanges about the difference between what Boomer, Gen X and Millennial guests expect and our assumptions about our anticipated “Millennial-ness.”

Cohorts are broad generalizations created to better understand segments of the population, yet in terms of a psychographic people fall on a spectrum of their generational “type.” Some brands are counting on this. And if, as the greeting card suggests, Boomers think of themselves as even younger, hoteliers — while rushing to embrace Millennials — ought to be careful not to alienate their parents. After all, these Echo Boomers still live at home and ask Mom and Dad for advice while Mom and Dad prefer to look in the mirror and see themselves more like their children than their parents.

Should each brand cater to a single generation? How do you think hotels and other hospitality products should approach the multi-generational guest experience?