How Five Generations of Travelers will Adapt to the New Normal

By Ann Fishman 

Recovery from the fallout of COVID-19’s social distancing will be divided not so much by industry as it will be by each generation’s ability and desire to participate.

What’s critical for those in the hotel and hospitality industry to understand is that unique generational characteristics shaped by historic events during each distinct generation’s formative years never change… They are only tempered by age and current events—like COVID 19. So, the hotel and hospitality industry must make adjustments to already existing unique generational characteristics.

The silent generation, born 1925 to 1942, was wedged between two powerful generations: the World War II generation and baby boomers. Forced into a role of helper, rather than decision maker, silents feel as if life has passed them by. For members of this generation, traveling in the new normal means visiting family, fulfilling dreams and “safe” adventure. One’s bucket list may no longer include Machu Picchu but the Aspen Festival, open-air operas in Santa Fe and visiting less populated areas offer social distancing and togetherness. Hotels could be presented as one’s home away from home during this time. And silents prefer hotels with a “stamp of approval,” such as an interesting history, awards and brand recognition.

Baby boomers, born 1943 to 1960, crave experiences, transformation, even a period of self-discovery. Above all, they want to be treated special—free shuttle pickup at the airport, transportation to points of interest, central location, free breakfast and happy hour. Every floor should be a VIP floor in the new normal to attract baby boomers. Painfully aware that this youth-loving generation is now considered vulnerable for social distancing purposes, boomers really need the boost of travel.

Gen X, born 1961 to 1981, is America’s practical generation. They grew up with difficult situations like latchkey lives, divorce, accelerating crime and deteriorating schools; they are a generation of survivors. Necessities are exceptional WiFi and a location that may not be central but gives them easy access and insider information to what is offered around town. They already take care of their health, so hotels need to redo menus. Xers are foodies who eat to live and live to eat, both at the same time. Offer vegan, paleo, South Beach, Bulletproof Executive and local specialties. And a good website is critical. If you can’t design an easy-to-navigate one, you can’t appeal to Gen X. “Pay for three nights, get a fourth one free” will appeal to their practical nature in the new normal.

Millennials, born 1982 to 2000, see COVID-19 as a “Boomers’ disease,” something that doesn’t affect millennials any more than the flu. They are the foot soldiers in returning to normal life. Incidentally, they also don’t mind the risk of going to concerts and going on vacations, especially if they’re paying less than they’re used to paying. It’s their chance of a lifetime to see the world. So, an EDM festival that attracts a younger crowd will have an easier time selling tickets and attracting people to your hotel than a jazz festival that attracts an older crowd. Hotels who promote those types of events need to recognize they’re not the same, and they won’t recover in the same time frame.

One word of caution here: Millennials can be your best friend or your worst enemy in your future success. Every interaction with a millennial is critical because they are the tell-all generation.Within a few minutes of a good or a bad experience, the news will be all over the internet.

Gen Z, born 2001 to 2019, was a worried generation even before the coronavirus. They have never known a world without terrorism, Amber Alerts and Columbine-type incidences. They also have protective parents and grandparents who take an active role in Z’s decision-making. Marketing strategies, reservations and hotel experiences should be hassle free.

A word of caution: No generation needs heavy-handed marketing that focuses on what you’ve done to avoid danger. Think nuance, not hammer. Don’t be the drug ad that mentions so many side effects that you’d rather have the disease.

By knowing each distinct generation’s unique generational characteristics, by taking measures to ensure ultimate safety and by training your staff to be more service-oriented, in the words of the Godfather, hotels are gonna make each generation of travelers an offer they can’t refuse. The five American generations that actively travel will spread word of their travels to friends and family, to co-workers, even to strangers via social media. In other words, they will do your PR for you.

Ann Fishman is president, Generational Targeted Marketing Inc., and author of Marketing to Millennial Women. She has also worked extensively with the U.S. government. She is also a former adjunct professor at New York University.

This is a contributed piece to Hotel Business, authored by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.