Can Travel Brands Find the Lost Generation?
Can Travel Brands Find the Lost Generation?

Gen-X nests are emptying and they’re ready to roll, but travel is still all Baby Boomers and Millennials.

STEPHANIE, an attractive, fit, 47-year-old woman who could easily pass for 40, walks into Going Places, a neat, unremarkable travel agency office decorated with blown-up images of selfies on beaches, with camels, on mountains, etc.

KEYTON, a casual, clearly younger Millennial travel agent, sits behind a desk with his nameplate on it, used-car-salesman smile on his face. Stephanie takes a seat across from him.

KEYTON: Hello, there, ma’am, what can I do for you today?

Stephanie’s eyes narrow a little at the “ma’am.”

STEPHANIE: Well, my husband Mike and I are empty nesters as of this May, and we want to start planning some trips.

KEYTON: That is wonderful! I am sure I can help you! As a matter of fact, I have a deal on a senior cruise this September, the weather should be SUPERB that time of year.



STEPHANIE: I’m 47, Mike is 48, we’re hardly seniors.

KEYTON: Oh, I apologize ma’am, I heard you say empty nester when you are Gen-Xers! I’ll find you guys a nice package on a family vacay. How about an all-inclusive trip to Disneyland!

STEPHANIE: What? No. I DID say empty nester. My kids are 18 and 21, they don’t want to go to Disneyland with me.

Stephanie offers no more, clearly waiting for Keyton to figure it out himself. Keyton starts sweating bullets.

KEYTON: Um... excuse me, ma’am, I need to take this call.

Keyton hunkers down and dials, turning away from Stephanie and cupping his hand over his mouth to muffle his voice.

KEYTON: Bob, psst, it’s me, Key-dog. I have a woman here. She says she is an empty nester Gen-Xer... yes, that’s what I said. Do we have a protocol for that?


You have probably heard that people are having babies later and later in life, but even now, the average age of first-time moms is 26 – which is a number that has steadily gone up with the Millennial generation from generations that preceded it. Do a little math, and you’ll realize that Gen-Xers, who are currently age 40-54, are naturally the up-and-coming or recently-there empty nesters as of 2019.

They’re not seniors for another 11-25 years.

They’re physically fit and health conscious.

They’re technologically savvy.

They’re in their peak earning years.

Their kids are moving out.

And they are definitely not Baby Boomers.

Travel brands should be all over them. And yet these brands are still completely caught up in Baby Boomers and Millennials with little but a vague, dated “family-oriented” note for The Stephanies In Between.

The Stephanie Sandwich

Baby Boomers, currently age 55-75, are still in a sweet spot for travel agencies and have been for around 20 years (when they first were where Gen-X is now). According to this July 2018 article from Travel Market Report:

In the past 12 months, 74 percent of Boomers took at least one vacation with either their spouse or another adult without children, up from 67 percent last year, according to MMGY Global’s Portrait of American Travelers 2018-19 survey. Boomers (ages 53-71) – of which 85 percent are empty nesters – took an average of 2.6 vacations without children, and 19 percent of them intend to take more vacations in the next 12 months.

But just as brands tend to have a dated vision of Millennials as aimless, untethered youth when they are actually becoming parents, travel blogs and influencers are using the terms “seniors,” “empty nesters” and “Boomers” interchangeably. Baby Boomers are still empty nesters, they are still traveling, they are still big money for travel brands.

They just aren’t the only empty nesters anymore. And site after site, blog after blog, article after article makes it sound like they are.



On the other side of the Stephanie Sandwich, Millennials are not the only ones looking to social media for travel inspiration, and yet influencers all seem to be talking to them. From the New York Times:

A Nielsen Report released last week shows that Americans from 18 to 34 are less obsessed with social media than some of their older peers are.

Adults 35 to 49 were found to spend an average of 6 hours 58 minutes a week on social media networks, compared with 6 hours 19 minutes for the younger group. More predictably, adults 50 and over spent significantly less time on the networks: an average of 4 hours 9 minutes a week.

As this Gen X blogger points out, however:

It seems every week an article pops up touting a shiny new travel innovation or gimmick geared towards appeasing Millennial travelers. Whether it’s hotel redesigns or new tech added to the travel experience, everyone wants to try to snag some of that generation’s travel cash. As a Gen Xer though, I can’t help but look at these trends with a fair amount of resentment. Why should the travel industry change for just one generation and more importantly, why haven’t they tried to market to the Gen-Xers? We like nice things too; we’re not getting by with a slide rule and cane yelling at the kids to get off of our yards. We want many of the same things that Millennials want, so why is it then that the travel industry is bending over backwards for the new kids on the block and not their slightly older brethren?

Stephanie Is the Good Stuff Between Two Breads

Stephanie wants to go somewhere kid-free, hike by day, wine by night, live a little after all these years of responsibility. A large percentage of Baby Boomers have been without kids for awhile. Many of the empty nesters among them are welcoming their grandkids and reserving travel and time for them. They don’t have that fresh energy of a Stephanie who has just been freed from years of lunch packing, college saving, curfew worrying, debt accruing.

From The Robin Report:

Older Gen-Xers are now entering their 50s and enjoying their peak income earning years. As they move into top management positions, they will make substantially more money. The youngest Gen-Xers may still have kids in school or college, but older Gen-Xers are becoming empty nesters. They are focused on living well and still have time to build up retirement savings. According to a Met Life study, 82 percent of Gen-Xers own homes now, and many are trading up to better homes. They are moving into a chapter of their lives where they have more discretionary dollars to spend on housing, consumables, travel and entertainment.

Additionally, according to the AARP, Millennials and Gen-Xers are more likely to travel both domestically and internationally (64% and 59%) than Boomers (47%).

And while the AARP also notes that Gen-X has had notable debt concerns, they are spending on travel at rapidly increasing rate, probably as their kids move out and their jobs become simultaneously more lucrative:

Notoriously overlooked, Gen-Xers remain a demographic that has stayed out of the spotlight a fair amount. This could mean trouble for tour and activity providers who are looking to increase their revenue, as Gen-Xers tend to have the most buying power and financial freedom of any generation right now.

According to Millward Brown in their survey of China, Germany and the US, 68% of Gen-Xers are the chief shopper when it comes to big purchases such as travel and activities.

83% are working full time or part time and currently spend the most money on travel compared to their younger or older counterparts. On average, they will spend $627 during each day of travel.

And yet the same article just cited above goes on to say that because 61% of Gen-Xers still have kids at home, they are still interested primarily in family travel. This article from Groups Today echoes that sentiment. But given that most of Gen-Xers’ kids are older teenagers or in their early 20s, the Disneyland days are likely over.

Stephanie is definitely over it.



The Stephanie Who Stands Alone

As travel brands devise how to speak to Stephanie, more research should be done about what Stephanie might like to do and see specifically. But as a starting point, they should consider what we already know sets her apart from the Millennial/Baby Boomer bread on either side of her:

  • Stephanie is more likely to stay connected with work when she travels. While many Baby Boomers are already at retirement age and many Millennials are not yet saddled with heavy responsibility, Gen-Xers are notorious for being work-obsessed and are also in high-earning, management years.
  • Stephanie will be more likely take shorter vacations or extend work trips. Related to the above, Stephanie will be looking for quick getaways that will not compromise her or Mike’s career.
  • Stephanie will get most of her travel inspiration from Facebook and Pinterest. Millennials are more into Snapchat and Instagram, Boomers are more into travel blogs, but Stephanie is a Facebook and Pinterest girl through and through. And she spends a ton of her time on those platforms.
  • Stephanie values customer service over brand bonding. Research has shown that Stephanie will not be as into personally bonding with brands as her little Millennial sister. She wants loyalty programs. She wants the hotel that goes the extra mile to make her happy. She wants to keep it professional, but amicable.
  • Stephanie is more interested in the hotel. Beyond the fact that she is more health conscious than her Boomer counterparts and will prefer high walkability stores and good dining, Stephanie will likely prefer convenience and location over discounts. According to this Gallup study, she is more willing to pay premium prices to stay at a nice hotel in the middle of the action.
  • Stephanie’s attention is most accessible between 8 pm and midnight. Along with her aforementioned work priorities and recent departure from cohabited parenthood, Stephanie doesn’t usually consume her personal content until her professional day has closed. Brands have a better chance of reaching her during the “night owl” habit she formed “after the kids’ bedtime” or “before the kids’ curfew.”

As you might conclude, we need to learn a lot more about Stephanie herself as she is now, not as she was ten years ago. She is an audience who is ready and willing to invest her time and money on travel, and her needs and interests should be met by influencers and industries that speak to her personally.

Get YDP in your email as soon as it's published.