Marketing Travel to the Boomer Generation: Anatomy is not Destiny!

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How do we market to the Baby Boomer generation as it moves into its prime leisure travel years? The first step is to know the generation intimately enough to craft a message that speaks to them uniquely.

Even with my own participant-observer status from inside the generation I find myself drawn to writers exploring the topic.

Leonard Steinhorn writes a history of the cohort in The Greater Generation: In Defense of the Baby Boom Legacy. He writes about the distinguishing characteristics of Boomers and the preceding Greatest Generation:

Greatness can be measured not only by the decisions we must make, but by the decisions we choose to make… The Greatest generation deserves every bit of credit for protecting democracy when it was threatened; but baby Boomers deserve even more credit for enriching democracy and fulfilling its promise when neither war nor catastrophe nor necessity compelled them to do it.

Later, discussing the generational principles of asserting diversity as a moral value, he adds,

Perhaps the most noble example of diversity in action is the disability rights movement, which is based on the idea that even those with the most crippling handicap can contribute equally to society if given the chance, and that because of their disability they have a unique perspective from which we all can learn.

While from inside, as a person with a disability, the characterization of disability culture as “noble” rankles as observation from a patronizing distance uninformed by immersion in it or conviviality with its “natives.” Still, Steinhorn is correct to imply that people with disabilities enrich democratic society by inextricably – and literally – embodying a different perspective.

What Susan Wendell, author of The Rejected Body: Feminist Philosophical Reflections on Disability, has said about insight into the body can just as easily be applied to insight about the collective body known as society:

Not only do physically disabled people have experiences which are not available to the able-bodied, they are in a better position to transcend cultural mythologies about the body, because they cannot do things the able-bodied feel they must do in order to be happy, 'normal,' and sane....If disabled people were truly heard, an explosion of knowledge of the human body and psyche would take place.

For the past two years I have had the privilege of working in Mary Furlong's first entrepreneurial venture, SeniorNet. There I directed curriculum development and assisted in the opening of new centers designed to allow seniors to master technology skills in a peer-educator environment. As we all watched firsthand the emerging cross-fertilization between Greatest and Boomer generations it was not until this year when she published her book on marketing to Boomers, Turning Silver into Gold, that I learned we had another common interest – the transformation of the travel industry and its unique meaning for Boomers:

Travel is the one business category that covers all the themes outlined in this book. It is a global business; it benefits from increases in longevity, health, and wellness; it caters to the boomer's hunger for family and community; it is being transformed by online services and other technology; it is a purchase that often accompanies life transitions; it offers learning and enhances creativity, and it feeds a hunger for spirituality and service.

You will need to read the book yourself to unpack her insights but I want to tie all these quotes together with an observation about Boomers and the Disability Rights Movement.

The modern Disability Rights Movement was born in the 1950’s. It came of age in the 1970’s. It exerted mature influence on society in the 1980’s, 1990’s, and continues to do so today.

The Disability Rights Movement is a Boomer phenomenon. Its founding leadership is Boomers. They fought for – and won – the social recognition, political influence, and consumer clout that are now taken for granted by an entire feisty generation now moving into the even feistier stage known as old age.

To market travel successfully to Boomers it is necessary to is to know Disability Rights Movement values, history, and culture intimately enough to craft a message that speaks to them uniquely. They are not two entities. We, with our disabilities earned earlier in life, have just been running beta tests on aging day in and day out for a generation while we waited for our Boomer peers to catch up.

Now we’re ready to travel in style!


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