shutterstock_220410982 With unprecedented disposable income, free time and a powerful desire for new experiences, the baby-boomer generation represents a growing market segment.

For the next 19 years, approximately 11,000 baby boomers born in the U.S. between 1946 and 1964 will retire every day. With unprecedented disposable income, free time and a powerful desire for new experiences, they will represent one of the biggest customer niches in the history of the hotel industry.

“Everybody has known this market was there,” said Chris Letchinger, interim dean at Chicago-based Kendall College School of Hospitality Management, which has tracked the emerging phenomenon for almost a decade. “But it’s now really starting to impact the hospitality business. And if hoteliers ignore it, they are ignoring it at their peril.”

B.F. Saul Company Hospitality Group, an owner-operator of 19 U.S. properties across brands from Marriott International, InterContinental Hotels Group and Hilton Worldwide, recently identified the opportunity.

“In all honesty, we kind of stumbled upon it,” said VP David Attardi. “I wish I could say we had the foresight to recognize it. But the truth is we noticed it in the fall of last year by looking at our business mix around our Crowne Plaza Tysons Corner property in McLean, Virginia, and our AARP codes.” Like many hoteliers, B.F. Saul offers a special negotiated rate for AARP members.

“We looked at some historical data and realized that those numbers were really spiking,” Attardi said. “So, we now realize this is an opportunity that is viable and that it’s a growing market segment. And since we realized that, our goal has been to try to organically target that segment.”

Starting in its Crowne Plaza Tysons Corner hotel, B.F. Saul developed niche-specific marketing tactics that included the development of specialized packages and a customized landing page on the property’s website that addressed AARP members.

“We used keywords relevant to that audience and also outlined why we’re great for them,” Attardi said.

One thing that Attardi said has surprised him is how tech-savvy boomers are, especially when it comes to engagement with and activity in social media. As a result, after widening its effort beyond the Tysons Corner property, the company has done some targeted advertising on Facebook and is now working on a broader, more aggressive social-media strategy that extends to other properties.

Selling experience and memories
Hoteliers who truly understand the boomer market are peddling personalized experiences, said Lindsey Ueberroth, president of Preferred Hotel Group, a global sales, marketing, distribution and branding company in Chicago.

“A good example is the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago,” Ueberroth said. “They’ve done an amazing job of creating packages and experiences that appeal to this audience. For example, they did a package that invites you to ‘explore Chicago like an architect.’ It’s a very unique experience that causes certain people to say, ‘That’s something I’d love to do with my family.’ And the work is done for you. You don’t have to do all that research yourself.”

The Wit, a 3-year-old Doubletree by Hilton property in Chicago, has forged a similar approach, with packages built around museums, shopping, theater and sports.

“We don’t try to tell them what they should want,” said GM Mark Shouger. “We offer them good choices so they can find what they want. And one thing about the boomer audience is that they know exactly what they’re looking for. So we are trying to become a source of information about what’s going on in Chicago and how to best enjoy the destination.”

Both Shouger and Attardi said those messages will increasingly be conveyed in publications and on websites from organizations such as AARP and AAA that efficiently reach a boomer audience.

Last December, Preferred Hotel Group, which operates a reservations network that serves 700 independent properties, released research on the emerging trend. It found that 40% of U.S. leisure travelers have taken a multi-generational trip, with many hungering for more.Multi-generational travel
The boomer travel market also is being driven by multi-generational travel, or boomers as the instigators of trips that include them, their children and grandchildren, Ueberroth said.

A key to success in reaching that market segment, Ueberroth said, is “creating turnkey packages that deliver memorable or ‘milestone’ experiences.” To help do just that, Preferred Hotel Group launched a Preferred Family website in early June.

Changing the hotel landscape
Because millions of baby boomers will not actually retire at 65, the business travel market will also be impacted by their aging, Letchinger said.

“A lot of boomers will continue to travel out of necessity,” she said. “And when they do, they want no aggravation. And they’re willing to pay to get that.  So they want it made as easy as possible for them. The boomer leisure traveler is looking for experience. The boomer business traveler is looking for the least hassle. So smart hoteliers will also start to address that segment.”

The combined buying power of leisure and business travelers also will soon mean that the specific needs of boomers are incorporated into future hotel design when it comes to such things as mobility, hearing and sleep, Letchinger said.

In fact, The Wit was ahead of that curve when it was built, Shouger said. “We already offer amplified phones, Sweet Dreams by Doubletree bedding, and an unusually high percentage of shower-only rooms for guests who don’t want to straddle a bathtub,” he said.

Based on his experience with the boomer market, Shouger predicted it won’t be long before major hotel brands aggressively target them at the national level. Attardi and Letchinger agreed.

“Once the national brands see the success of the properties that have been successful marketing to this audience and get on board, we’ll start to see their power in addressing it,” Shouger said. “They’ve all been thinking about it. For the most part, they haven’t really acted on it yet. But once one of the big boys jumps on this, then everybody will.”

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