The Ever-Changing New Tour Consumer
By Joe Veneto, "The Opportunity Guy"

The one certainty in life and work is change! In today's business environment, everyone, regardless of industry, is being challenged on a daily basis. Companies that understand and adapt to key strategic changes of customers and the marketplace will grow and prosper. For tourism professionals there has been incredible growth and change over the past 40 years in the tour market. It seems as an industry, we are now on fast forward traveling at warp speed as our tour consumers scope out new frontiers.

In order to understand the market, let's take a moment to look back at the tour industry. The years 1964-65 were a key marker for the group travel industry when the World's Fair took place. Held in New York City, this event provided the seeds of growth and development for many current organizations in the tour industry. For two years there was a mass migration via motorcoach of customers boarding tours to get to the fair. Savvy tour operators and motorcoach companies provided consumers with a new mode of travel experiences via organized group tours.

As the years progressed, Americans who had lived through the Depression, WWII, and the Cold War have become "Golden." This meant that for the first time many people retired with pensions and Social Security. They had the economic security to spend more time traveling. Life was beginning at age 65. During the mid-1970s this group of savvy seniors organized by senior centers and clubs traveled to festivals and attractions from Canada to Florida on a motorcoach. The hallmark of those seniors was that they traveled as one homogeneous group and listened to their tour director.

As the '70s unfolded, the advent of airline deregulation sent millions of Americans into the wild blue yonder. Jet travel was now a reality for most. People were traveling more frequently while developing a global perspective. These seniors continued to travel but their destination possibilities increased. Now international tours and destinations were being packaged by travel providers.

As the population continued to age, a new generation, of seniors from 193545, the "Sophisticated Silver Set," began to emerge. This group entering retirement through rightsizing, downsizing, or retirement rejected a golden title. They were sophisticated and worldlier and exhibited different tendencies. They were healthier, wealthier, and wiser. Their outlook encompassed a new life stage. Not content to do everything en masse, this group wanted more flexibility, choice, and value.

In the mid 1990s, marketers and researchers in the tourism industry began to focus on the aging population. The baby boom, 1946-1964 began to emerge. This group of 78 million was entering their 50s. While seen as an incredible boom for the tour and travel industries, marketers had realized that this group was not moving through life gracefully.

Boomers were and will continue to be different. They want what they want, when they want it because they want it! Rocking the Ages, by J. Walker Smith and Ann Clurman, states that boomers are individuals with a mindset that permeates their perspective on life. They are aging but not getting old. Boomers will never be seniors. They will not be golden or silver but bronze. They plan to look good and be tanned. In addition, through the wonders of modern medicine what doesn't work will be fixed.

Many boomers are in the packaged travel market now and are changing the makeup of the marketplace. Time poverty, the reality of a fast-and-furious daily life, plus information overload, have created the necessity of using professionals to plan their travel. No longer do consumers have the time to plan their own vacation experiences.

Boomers are creating a huge growth in FIT or "Independent Travel" and are resistant to any experience that does not address or incorporate their individuality. They are using travel to connect with family and friends. They see it as a right and necessity in a fast-paced world, and use credit cards with abandon. Freedom, choice, and personalization are important elements to boomers. How can the industry get boomers on motorcoaches?

When discussing the issue with industry experts, who are boomers, I encourage them to take the mirror test. Stand in front of a mirror and ask yourself, "What will it take to get me on a tour?" Then, answer the question. My boomer response has always been, "The only way to get me on a coach is if I control the microphone."

Boomers, the next new tour travelers, will not settle for products in new wrapping. Their life experience and expectancy is different than previous generations. They will not be entering traditionally defined life stages. In addition to never behaving old, many boomers have started second families and will be supporting college-age dependants, when they're well into their 70s.

From age to affinity
Thus far we have considered the tour and travel segments in terms of traditional industry standards with age being a primary defining marker. However, there has been a fundamental shift occurring in the motivation of travelers. This is categorized as a marketplace shift, from "Age to Affinity." This shift is exhibited in a number of trends now emerging in the marketplace. A common bond or interest that creates an affinity is now a noticeable trend motivating travelers.

Bank travel clubs have emerged as one such affinity group as banks in the Midwest began using travel as a marketing vehicle. The demographics of this segment indicate a more affluent and sophisticated traveler who wants a more leisurely experience and one that is not as price conscious as the average tour consumer.

Family travel and reunions are an emerging area of affinity. As a society spreads farther apart, people are looking at travel as a way to connect with family and friends. Tour operators and destination marketers are recognizing that bringing people together and meeting their needs results in profits.

Another powerful affinity group is women. With increasing economic power and financial independence, more companies are courting the travel needs of this niche segment. Companies like Wild Women on Vacation arrange vacation experiences that cater to the needs of the woman traveler.

The White House Conference on tourism identified the changing diversity of the United States. Researchers have highlighted the year 2005 as a benchmark when there will be a significant shift in the nation's cultural diversity. Mosaic affinity travel groups representing African-American, Hispanic, and Asian populations will continue to emerge as powerful economic market forces and opportunities within special interest groups.

Other affinities organized around museums, cultural organizations, and sports are affinities that are tying travelers' interests together and motivating people to get away. Products, however, must incorporate key components of the group's special interests throughout.

Finally, the publishing world has begun migrating to travel as an affinity for greater reader connection and brand extension. Yankee Magazine's "Best of New England Vacations," GVG's partnership with Better Homes and Gardens and Fast Company's thought symposiums are all examples of affinity connections that intersect with travel and tourism.

The product: from Show 'n' Tell to experience
While the travel industry over the last 40 years has seen a shift in customer demographics and psychographics, other forces are also at work. Ever since Walt Disney created his magic in California and then Florida, customers' expectations of vacation experiences has changed forever. Once back from "The Magic Kingdom," there is a fundamental shift that occurs in the expectations of future travel expectations. Other vacations are measured in relation to this new vacation paradigm.

The newest tour traveler has different expectations than the preceding generations of seniors in the 1970s, '80s, and '90s. Travelers are no longer content to have "Show 'n' Tell" moments; now the operative word is "Experiences." Joseph Pine, The Experience Economy, states that, "Experiences represent an existing but previously unarticulated genre of economic output." He is encouraging all sectors in the economy to look at their products and services in light of an experience. He believes that, "in the experience economy every business is a stage and therefore work is theatre." Nowhere is the stage better set that in the tour industry. Today's new tour customers will not settle for the products sold to past generations. The new tour customer wants "UFEs" unforgettable travel experiences.

The driving component to experiences is engaging the customer. People want to be involved in their travel experience. They want activity and interaction as necessary components wherever they go. Joseph Pine defines four realms that experiences fall into: entertainment, education, escape, and estheticism. Many of these types of experiences are being developed industrywide.

Prime examples of experiences driving tourism can be seen in walking tours and the emergence of Heritage and Cultural tourism initiatives. People are looking for travel experiences with educational components. These provide an in-depth look at the life and history of people and place. One of our nation's best examples of such a travel experience is Colonial Williamsburg, Va. Visitors to the colonial capital of the 13 colonies are transported back in time to relive life in the 18th century.

In addition to traveler's engagement, sense appeal is another key for maintaining customer interest. Any travel experience that incorporates taste, touch, sight, smell, and sound will be more memorable. Tour products that involve culinary components, visual arts, or musical elements will create unforgettable experiences.

Finally, in considering travel experiences, it is important to overlay tour customers with product offerings. Since multigenerational and multicultural groups are traveling together, experiences must be inclusive. Peter Magugan calls this incorporating "He, she, and we experiences."

Consumers will reward tour operators, travel suppliers, and motorcoach companies that design and deliver engaging unforgettable experiences. The World's Fair was an important moment in the development of the group tour industry. Savvy operators saw the opportunity to meet customers' changing needs by understanding and providing them with a new type of travel experience.

A changing time has arrived again. As the marketplace continues to shift, the new tour customers tastes' incorporate higher expectations for unique quality experiences. The new tour customer will reward those companies that are willing not just to met expectations, nor beat expectations, but rather to anticipate their ever-changing tour and travel needs.

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Joe Veneto, "The Opportunity Guy," is principal of Opportunities Unlimited, a management consulting and training company. He collaborates with organizations in Tourism, Hospitality and Service-related industries to achieve results by creating new business opportunities. His areas of specialty include sales development, innovative product development, destination marketing and customer service. Joe is a 20-year veteran of the tourism industry and has worked for national tour operators and major industry wholesalers.

Opportunities Unlimited provides management consulting services, custom designed seminars and results-oriented training workshops. Clients include government tourism agencies, marketing organizations, hotel groups, historic attractions & museums, restaurants, tour operators and others. Joe's unique industry experience enables him to create practical, results oriented programs tailored to his client’s business needs.

In addition to his consulting, Joe is a nationally recognized speaker on the Tourism & Hospitality Industries. He presents programs annually for National Associations, Regional Tourism Groups, Industry-wide Conferences and Convention & Visitors Bureaus. He has also authored several articles that have appeared in various travel trade publications.

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