“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Mark Twain wrote that travel is “fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” He was right. There is no activity more transformative than travel. Travel delivers a vital sense of perspective. For example, the Pew Global Attitudes Survey, which examines public opinion in dozens of countries each year, has consistently found that individuals who travel to the United States have a more favorable view of the country than those who haven’t. This is intuitive, and the reverse is also true—when Americans explore, they come away with a deeper appreciation of the world and their role in it.
There is no demographic sector more active in travel than those over 50. Older Americans place travel at the very top of their list of postcareer aspirations. If you ask empty nesters what they look forward to most, it tends to be the time and freedom to travel. If anything, the love of travel grows deeper with each passing year. Average working Americans take only 12 days of their vacation time. By contrast, Americans in their mid- to late 40s take approximately 3.6 trips each year, averaging just under five nights on each trip. Those figures climb steadily with age; Americans in their early 70s take four full trips each year, averaging nearly nine nights away on each trip.
As the last of the baby boomers turn 50, they are driving a fundamental shift in the way we think about the concept of how “older Americans” travel. Phil Goodman, coauthor of the Boomer Marketing Revolution, described boomers as “adult teenagers.” With 76 million boomers about to pass age 50, the days of prepackaged, slow-moving group tours is gone. Boomers are reimagining travel, and travel is continuing to shape them as they mature.
There are some key differences in how today’s “adult teenagers” approach travel versus how the previous generations did so. Among them:
Boomers demand control over travel.
Unlike their parents, even the oldest boomers were very much in the workforce when the Internet became part of everyday life. They were there when Expedia was created a little more than 15 years ago. When boomers were starting their families, travel decisions were difficult to make with any level of independence—the details were held by others. Expedia gave travelers the power to construct their own vacation. We collected the many different components of global travel—more than 300 airlines, 160,000 hotels, 7,500 in-destination activities, and dozens of rental car providers—giving consumers information, availability, and pricing that was previously available only to travel agents, so that they could mix and match to create their own perfect trip, on their budget and on their time. Boomers are now empowered with a wealth of opportunity at the moment they desire it most. This is perhaps most visible in the evolution of the cruise industry, which now offers unparalleled flexibility, choice, and control.
Boomers want travel to be social.
Throughout their adulthood, boomers didn’t stay in their hometowns the way their parents may have. They left for college, they moved for jobs, and many, now retired, are living nearer to family or to their favored recreation. The net result is that travel is inherently a more social experience for them than for the previous generation. They are more likely to take trips to visit a more diverse set of friends. They are more likely to take multigenerational trips to resort destinations like Hawaii, or cruise together with their extended families. And they can now share their feedback with the wider world, via online reviews. Expedia receives hundreds of thousands of qualified reviews every year, many from older travelers. The collective insights are enormously helpful to prospective travelers, and vitally important to hotels, destinations, and others. The Internet and social reviews are “word of mouth” on steroids—great businesses will grow, and bad service will be penalized, as it should be.
Boomers travel with technology at hand.
Many boomers are more time-compressed than their parents were, and are working longer than they had planned. The result: travel happens when they can “plan spontaneously.” That means technology is critical. With nearly a third of travelers in their late 50s and early 60s carrying smartphones, the last-minute getaway is more popular than ever. The travel industry has developed smart, intuitive travel apps that are packed with activities to enjoy while traveling and allow boomers to easily book that last-minute trip. We are literally bringing the world to your fingertips.
Aside from the tactical changes in how they travel, boomers have been shaped by travel at their very core. They have a different approach to the philosophy of travel. While their parents may have taken their first trip to Europe to celebrate retirement, many boomers first visited Europe, South America, or Asia as students. Boomers are explorers. In fact, AARP members are one of the largest segments of the US population with passports. While only 22 percent of the overall US population has a valid passport, that number rises to 60 percent among AARP members.
People in their 20s and 30s tend to draw a distinction between everyday travel—New Yorkers driving to Boston to visit their children in college, for example—and aspirational travel: that dream trip to Paris, or hiking with the family across the Galapagos Islands. At Expedia, we know that there’s often little difference between those types of travel. They typically involve the same steps: researching a hotel, booking a flight or a car, scheduling activities, packing. The backdrops differ but the process doesn’t.
Boomers understand this better than most. They don’t draw as sharp a line between aspirational travel and more everyday types of travel. They come to appreciate that the joy of a trip well taken is the same whether that trip is to Dublin or Dubuque. For mature Americans, travel is travel, full stop. Quick getaways, family gatherings, romping with the grandchildren, wine tours, cruises, and more robust foreign excursions are all part of the same category and have the power to transform them today, in the same way travel has transformed them since their 20s.
We couldn’t agree more. At the core of Expedia, we believe that every trip is unique and personal and has the power to transform. We’ve built an entire brand around the notion that travel changes individuals for the better. Recently we have rolled out a new branding campaign, dubbed “Find Yours,” that illustrates the countless ways travel transforms in both subtle and significant ways. We’ve created a series of celebratory videos. One woman traveled to Mexico during high school, inspiring her to raise funds, build houses, and drive medical supplies to poor and underserved regions. One couple, unhappy in their marriage, returned to Thailand and fell in love again. Their relationship thrives to this day. One father comes to understand his daughter’s decision to marry another woman when he travels to their wedding and sees just how in love they are.
The videos do not feature actors; these journeys are real. Travel brings us together, transforms us, every day, all over the world. We brought these stories to light not necessarily to advocate for one belief over another, but rather to show how we can change and grow and learn at any age.
So my advice to you, boomers, retired Americans, mature travelers, is to find yours. Explore. Dream. Discover. You have the freedom and the savvy to make this next stage of your life the most vivid and memorable yet. The world is waiting for you, and we are honored to help you find it.
Dara Khosrowshahi is president and CEO of Expedia, Inc., which operates more than 100 travel booking sites in more than 60 countries worldwide across its portfolio of online travel brands, including Expedia, Hotels.com, Hotwire, Egencia, Venere, and eLong in China. Under his leadership, Expedia, Inc., has grown to become the largest online travel company in the world. Additionally, Mr. Khosrowshahi has served as a director on the board of TripAdvisor, Inc., since December 2011.