How to Sell to Generation X Travelers

Generation X is often called the “Lost Generation.” As travelers, they have been “lost” between the Baby Boomers — for whom, by and large, going to a travel agent to make vacation plans was a given — and Millennials, who scour social media for travel information, then seek out agents for even more advice. Gen-Xers’ coming of age overlapped the dawn of the Internet and with it the OTA, creating a new breed of do-it-yourself traveler.

According to MMGY Global’s 2015 Portrait of American Travelers, fewer than one in six Xers plan to use a traditional travel agent for at least one vacation during the next two years, which is only two-thirds as many as their Millennial counterparts. (FYI: Boomers, it seems, have taken a lead from Xers in this regard.)

Travel Agent spoke with several expert agents, most of whom are themselves Gen-Xers, to find out what makes these travelers tick — and how to sell to them.

Backroads has expanded its Family Breakaway program (aimed at Gen-Xers with kids in their 20s) to include more international destinations.
Backroads has expanded its Family Breakaway program (aimed at Gen-Xers with kids in their 20s) to include more international destinations.

How the Gen-X Client Differs From the Millennial Traveler

Generation X clients have a lot in common with Millennials from the way they value an agent’s service to the emphasis they put on getting value for their travel dollar. The main difference, however, is that Xers have been working at their jobs much longer, so they may have more disposable income to spend on a vacation.

“Generation X clients are very value driven,” says Rene’ Fifik, and they are “at a point in their lives where they can travel a little nicer.”
“Generation X clients are very value driven,” says Rene’ Fifik, and they are “at a point in their lives where they can travel a little nicer.”

“Generation X clients are very value driven, like Millennials,” says Rene’ Fifik, owner of On Your Way With Rene’, an agency located just outside of Cleveland that specializes in family travel. “The main difference would be that the Gen-X client has been in the work force for a while compared to the Millennial client, who is most likely still paying off student loans. Gen-X clients are at a point in their lives where they can travel a little nicer.”

Heather Christopher of Classic Travel in Woodbridge, VA, argues that vacations are more important for Xers since free time is practically cut in half when you are a parent. “They are in the middle of their lives, so their decisions about travel are based on that,” says Christopher.

Stephen Scott: Xers want to do “what they couldn’t do when they were younger.”
Stephen Scott: Xers want to do “what they couldn’t do when they were younger.”

Nicki Squittieri of Chicago’s Legacy Travel says, “Financially, they don’t spend as much as Boomers, but the same as or more than a Millennial.” And the fact that the majority of Boomers are retired means they have a lot more free time to travel the world.

[Boomers] are looking at ‘bucket list’ items and have the time to do it,” she says. “They are more likely to book a world cruise on a luxury cruise line and visit multiple countries on a single sailing. Millennials are just finishing up school, starting families, etc. They can’t always afford, either financially or time away, to take the trip that they want, so they often settle for something a little closer to home and more affordable, like a family-friendly, all-inclusive in Mexico or the Caribbean.

“Generation X clients have done the typical college spring break trips, they have a couple of stamps in their passports and now want to do something different,” Squittieri adds. “If they stay at an all-inclusive, they want it to be a boutique property off the beaten path or something new that their friends haven’t heard of yet. They tend to be a little more adventurous and more experience-focused. They want to see a concert in a new country and have a culinary experience that they can’t have back home.”

Recently Single or Still Married

Many of the agents Travel Agent spoke with say Generation X clients can be divided into two groups: recently single or heading toward a major wedding anniversary. Fifik says many recently single Gen-Xers aren’t necessarily just seeking to meet someone or looking to party, but rather they are more interested in taking those trips that perhaps they weren’t allowed to take when they were married.

Fifik also says many such singles vacations include niche-oriented getaways as golf vacations to Punta Cana or fishing trips to Costa Rica. But even those groups of recently divorced Xers who want to celebrate their newfound freedom are still looking for something unique and not just international speed dating.

“They want to do something different and resorts are listening,” says Squittieri. “A great example of this is the Divorce Party Package that the Grand Velas Riviera Maya offers. Girls are booking the Presidential Suite at this all-inclusive resort to celebrate the next chapter in their life. This package includes a girls spa day and even a ring burial ceremony.”

As for those still-married clients, Fifik says many of them are approaching a significant marital milestone they wish to celebrate in style.

“Most of my clients are around the 38-year-old range,” says Fifik. “What I’m finding is that a lot of them that are still married are approaching milestone anniversaries — 10th, 15th anniversaries. For Gen-Xers, anniversary trips are really big right now.”

“Italy is always a popular destination,” says Jill Taylor, who also notes that “Africa is on the radar now.”
“Italy is always a popular destination,” says Jill Taylor, who also notes that “Africa is on the radar now.”

Jill Taylor of Jet Set World Travel, Inc. in Chicago, says celebration travel in general is hot for the Generation X client.

“We book a lot of 10th anniversary trips and 40th/50th birthday trips,” says Taylor. “Typically, we have done their honeymoons and have been organizing their travel for many years, so we know them and get to be a part of their major life celebrations. We really want our clients to work with us over the course of their lives and now we are getting their parents as clients as well and doing more multigenerational travel.”

And although a divorce isn’t typically considered Celebration Travel, Taylor says there is a growing trend of women who want to make the best out of an otherwise difficult time in their lives.

“There seems to be a focus on wellness travel to destination spas such as Miraval and Body Holiday,” says Taylor. “We see more women travelers who are going on small trips with their girlfriends or even alone. I love helping to plan the divorce celebration trips where clients are wanting a new beginning and to take care of themselves.”

But when they aren’t celebrating a milestone, they simply want to enjoy what they couldn’t before, says Stephen Scott, owner and CEO of Travel Hub 365, an independent contractor of First in Service Travel, based in New York City.

“The married Gen-Xers look to build upon their family vacation experiences, or college trips they took years ago,” says Scott. “Now they want to experience what they couldn’t do when they were younger, and show themselves and the world that they can now experience nicer things thanks to higher incomes.”

And what about those who simply never got married?

“I have a nice little group that has never been married and they are some of my most quirky clients,” says Christopher. “They never know what they want — I tend to do more research for them than anyone else, possibly because they have no one they really trust to bounce ideas off of or maybe it’s because they can do whatever they want.

“Mine are picky about bedding and about food and beverage,” Christopher adds. “What always comes to mind is this lady who will only stay at a hotel that offers Pepsi products. They are willing to hop into any groups we have pre-planned, will spend good money without over-analyzing it and tend to do the same thing over and over once they figure out what they like. A male client of mine, once I got him on a cruise won’t do anything else. They also are the most generous with their time with me. They aren’t in a rush and are patient.”

Local festivals, such as this one in central Italy, are custom-made for family fun.

Local festivals, such as this one in central Italy, are custom-made for family fun.

Gen-Xers Love Family Travel

Just like it is for Boomers and even some Millennials, multigenerational travel is huge for Gen-X clients and because of that, many of them look for great kids’ clubs, whether they are in hotel or on cruise ships.

“Family travel has really exploded lately,” says Taylor. “We are seeing families traveling far and wide. For shorter trips that are closer to the U.S., it is important to the parents for a good and educational kids club. I saw an increase to high-end all-inclusive properties such as Grand Velas as the parents want luxury and good food and not to worry about the bill adding up when their kids want a hamburger and only eat two bites.

“Some of our clients do not need a kids’ club as they want to be with their kids as they are really busy working and want to take this time to enjoy making memories as a family on their vacation,” Taylor adds. “In this situation, we usually have private guides who are kid friendly who can take the pressure off the parents while traveling and help educate and entertain everyone. Other clients travel with their nannies or grandparents so the kids’ clubs are not as important.”

“Many Gen-X clients are parents, and family travel is a huge segment,” says Scott. “It can be tough to steer them toward experiences that aren’t cookie cutter, or built for crowds due to the advertising their children are subjected to by various large brands. It’s usually domestic, and full of value adds. The cruising experience is a massive growth area because not only do you get the all-inclusive atmosphere, but also the kids clubs are stellar, and the destinations will vary. Kids’ clubs are key, because if the kids aren’t having fun, then they are sitting right next to you while you secretly sip your cocktail on the beach.”

Melissa DeCourcy: “Family travel is certainly part of travel for Xers.”
Melissa DeCourcy: “Family travel is certainly part of travel for Xers.”

But Melissa DeCourcy of SmartFlyer, based in New York City, says that family vacations for Gen-Xers are a little tougher to plan.

“Family travel is certainly part of travel for Xers, although it can be more difficult to plan,” says DeCourcy. “The goal is to stay closer to home. Perhaps ski trips to Vermont or quick stays at something like the Inn at Perry Cabin in Maryland.”

Taylor says obstacles can arise from other milestone events that Xers need to be home for.

“They are also wanting to knock off their bucket list items while possibly still having young children or young adult children or new grandbabies,” says Taylor. “That brings up a good point: I do see a lot of my clients planning trips around grandchild due dates. This is very common.”

Hot Destinations for Xers

Although many multigenerational trips that Xers take are domestic, there is still a wide array of international destinations where the more seasoned clients among this demographic are willing to go to.

“Italy is always a popular destination and we are seeing families with kids wanting to educate their children and learn more about history, art, culture and food,” says Taylor. “London and the UK is popular with soccer fans and a lot of families partner it with Paris.

Safaris and other African experiences are drawing increasing interest from Gen-Xers.
Safaris and other African experiences are drawing increasing interest from Gen-Xers.

“For spring break, we are seeing more Mexico, Turks and Caicos and Jamaica,” Taylor adds. “Africa is on the radar now. There are great malaria-free areas in South Africa that allow kids to have an amazing safari experience without having to take the malaria medication or to take the risk. Safaris are such an incredible way to engage kids as a whole family. The guides are informative and seeing the experience through children’s eyes is a highlight for the parents/grandparents. Plus, the value for money is fantastic at the moment.”

Domestically, Scott says Las Vegas is still making waves, Hawaii is on the radar, and Colorado is always popular for the skiing. Internationally, he tells Travel Agent that he is seeing requests for the Caribbean, Manila, Singapore and Shanghai.

Kendra Thornton, president of Royal Travel & Tours, based in the greater Chicago area, sees certain U.S. destinations continue to be popular with her generation, including annual ski trips to Aspen, Beaver Creek, Deer Valley and Jackson Hole. She also mentions that golf and spa/beach vacations are popular in Florida, Arizona and California. These close-to-home destinations are bound to be popular with this generation, she says, because these travelers have young children and work commitments that limit vacation time. In comparison, many Millennials don’t have children, which allows for more flexibility, while Boomers have retired and have more time and money for vacations, she says.

However, not all Xers are facing the same restrictions. Thornton recently planned an experiential trip for a solo, Gen-X traveler through India with yoga components included. Another trip she planned included a multigenerational aspect. The client wanted to bring their parents on a trip through Europe during spring break. And don’t forget Xers enjoy some fine settings, like the family that Thornton booked at the Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina, which will open later this year.

Fees or No Fees?

Xers have no problems paying fees, something Scott argues is due to the fact that most of them are parents and simply don’t have the time required to research and price out several vacation options.

“Gen-Xers are likely to pay fees to an agent because they truly see the value in our services as we help them sort through the myriad of choices, options and promotions available,” says Scott. “We save them time that they need back to spend with kids, work or fitness. As one client told me, ‘If you look at the fine print of the online web booking sites, they are adding booking fees too, even though I did the work.’” And Taylor agrees.

“We always charge a fee and typically Gen-Xers have no issues paying as they see the value since their time is limited,” says Taylor. “I tell clients that we want to collaborate with them and to take away the stress of the travel planning — but not the fun. Most people want to participate in the planning but want to rely on us to make it seamless.”

On the other hand, Thornton, herself an Xer and one who has seen a few trends when it comes to planning travel for this generation, describes these clients as “savvy” travelers who like to do their own research — reading blogs, social media posts, other publications and talk to friends when they are deciding on a trip. She concludes that the motivation behind Gen-X travel stems from a variety of places. They are looking to travel for the girls’ and guys’ getaway, the romance trip with their significant others and the family trips, which are sandwiched into spring breaks and summer vacations.

Supplier Perspectives on Generation X

It’s not just agencies that have been taking note of what this small, but powerful generation wants — suppliers have also been tuning in.

“There is no doubt that our Gen-X guests are traveling more with friends over the last few years,” says Scott Wiseman, president of Cox & Kings, The Americas. “We have seen a considerable increase of couples traveling with other couples. About 90 percent of the trip is done with the same interests and about 10 percent of the itinerary is geared for something separate, so either the couples or the men and the women will split for some type of activity.”

Footsteps of the Incas is one of many programs Cox & Kings designates as family holidays.
Footsteps of the Incas is one of many programs Cox & Kings designates as family holidays.

To accommodate more couples traveling together, Cox & Kings has introduced a new pricing method that shows the cost of two and four people traveling together. Clients could yield a savings of up to $1,000 per person over the price of two people traveling. Wiseman suggests that couples traveling together book the Quintessential South Africa itinerary, which offers a wide range of activities. Guests will travel through South Africa’s wine lands, explore Cape Town and adventure out on safari.

Fuoritinerario – Discover Your Italy is based in Perugia, Italy, and arranges small group and private experiences for clients traveling in Italy. The company serves many Gen-X clients and notes that these travelers are usually families with children. They see that these families are looking for a way to mix up the usual routine. To that end, the family is seeking a range of activities so that each family member remains engrossed in the entire trip. Some of these activities that the families seek include music festivals, a cultural festival like Palio di Siena or a special event like the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Monza. As for Italy in particular, Discover Your Italy notices that the families come back to see the country several times over the years to explore new areas. Kendra Thornton, president of Royal Travel & Tours, also agrees that these Gen-Xers are looking for “bigger bucket list” trips and a large amount of these travelers are heading off to Europe with the family in tow. During these trips, she notes, that the Xer is looking for adventure and local experiences that are kid-friendly.

The Globus family of brands is also seeing more Xers headed to Europe. Italy tops the popularity list with the generation, as well as Spain, Great Britain and Ireland. The Britain Sampler itinerary is popular with these travelers and it takes them on a nine-day tour from London to Edinburgh and back. Along the journey, guests will visit Shakespeare’s birthplace Stratford-upon-Avon, Cambridge, Bath, Edinburgh Castle and more. The Best of Spain is also a top seller with the Gen-X population. During this trip, from Madrid to Barcelona, guests will spend time in Seville, Granada and Valencia.

Adventure-seeking Xers are gravitating toward specialty suppliers, including Backroads, known for its biking tours. More than 30 percent of the company’s client base is made up of Generation X travelers. They are traveling in a combination of ways with families, couples and the solo traveler as well.

“Gen-Xers are traveling with their kids internationally more than ever and that is why our family program is doing so well,” says KC Hoppe, Travel Industry Relations, Backroads. The company has expanded both its Family and Family Breakaway (clans with kids in their 20s) programs to include additional international destinations.

As far as domestic travel is concerned, “This generation isn’t just taking their kids to Disneyland, inclusive beach resorts and the National parks in the family station wagon; instead they want to experience the world and together share these experiences with their children,” says Hoppe.

Backroads sees the following destinations trending with the Gen X client: Africa, Alaska, Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, the Canadian Rockies, Holland & Belgium, Iceland, Tuscany, Provence and Spain. In addition, the U.S. National Parks are popular this year due to the centennial anniversary.

Portrait of the Gen-X Vacationer

Here are some findings gleaned from MMGY Global’s 2015 Portrait of American Travelers that may help you better understand — and sell travel to — your Generation X clients. This demographic has more in common with Millennials than older travelers, yet there are some significant differences.

For example, they are far more likely to have children in their household, less likely to consider a city stay as a vacation choice and are also less likely to use a traditional travel agent. They are projected to be the age group that will spend the least on a vacation, but the good news is that they are planning up that spending significantly — as much as their younger counterparts are expected to do.