The young and the beautiful star on Instagram, but the moving force in worldwide travel is the Boomer generation, writes Ewan McDonald.

Call them Mr and Mrs Boomer. Les and Philippa live on Auckland's North Shore; Les got his Gold Card a couple of years ago, while Philippa is still working at her office job. They're part of the most upwardly, outwardly and inwardly mobile generation in human history.

In the past five years Les and Philippa have travelled overseas — for leisure or family reasons — six times, each around 10 days. Three of those were cruises. They've travelled inside New Zealand 10 times for trips of 2 to 3 days.

Their idea of a holiday is relaxation, new experiences — either food or sights, and Les says it's "essential to have a modicum of comfort. I don't suffer long plane trips — more than 10 hours — well." The couple use a travel agent to book their flights but have started to organise their own accommodation, rental cars, insurance and the like, online.

The Boomers' dream trip? "Either a small ship cruise (up to 1500 passengers) from the Northern Hemisphere to New Zealand, with lots of sea days to enjoy the facilities or a river cruise through Champagne or the Rhone," Les says.


Boomers — born from 1946 to 1964, now in their mid-50s to mid-70s — make up about 20 per cent of the population in countries such as New Zealand. But studies in Europe, North America and Australia show their generation accounts for 80 per cent of money spent on travel.

Most of this age-group weren't travellers in their earlier years. Some brave souls headed for London in the Swinging 60s to listen to the Beatles, wear miniskirts and squat in Earl's Court, but that adventure was financially and socially out of reach for most.

For young Kiwis and Aussies, the OE pilgrimage peaked in the mid-70s and through the '80s. London has Air New Zealand's long-haul flights to thank for an influx, or a reflux, of beer-drinking, hard-partying rugby fans and office temps.

Bucket list trips

Like Les and Philippa, most Boomers settled into steady jobs, married and had their families young (usually in that order). Now their kids have flown the nest; while still fit and healthy, Mum and Dad are spending the kids' inheritance on their bucket lists.

While they've probably visited places close to home — Australia, the Pacific, maybe Hawaii — now they're going further afield. Places where the locals don't speak English, may not eat meat and three veg, and offer what the industry politely calls "soft adventures".

They put the work in. Research shows Boomers are likely to spend days — even months — online looking where to eat or visit. They often like tours where someone's done all the organisation but they have free time to follow their own stars, or artworks.

And they don't mind going it alone. Brett Mitchell, general manager at Intrepid Travel, the Melbourne-based small-group and sustainable tour company, says his company's research shows solo travel is on the rise. Intrepid saw a 46 per cent increase in 55+ travellers going solo in the last year. In the past year, the company has recorded a 20 per cent of 55+ travellers on dedicated foodie trips and a 45 per cent increase in those on "active" trips.


Boomer favourites include the Morocco Food Explorer, where travellers eat "while reclining on kilims in the shadow of the ancient ruins of Volubilis, take a tasting tour through the souks to prepare pastilla and enjoy a slow-cooked feast of succulent mechoui (lamb) while looking at the Atlas mountain range". Accommodation includes an overnight stay in the Sahara desert and a traditional riad in Marrakech.

In Southeast Asia, the Vintage Vietnam tour takes in homestays in the Mekong Delta, cruising on Halong Bay, Cu Chi war tunnels in Ho Chi Minh City and traditional water puppetry, as well as indulging in traditional cuisine.

Cruising popular

Cruising is far and away the fastest growing sector of the worldwide travel market. Because it's more expensive, because travellers need more time on their hands, it's the Boomers' natural habitat.

Statistics from the industry's global body, the Cruise Line Industry Association, show that half of all passengers are 50+. StatsNZ produces even more dramatic figures for ships visiting our ports in the year to June 2018, with three-quarters of all passengers aged 50+. The median age dropped slightly to 64; there are 120 women for every 100 men. You'll probably find Mr and Mrs Boomer onboard — just as soon as they've paid off next month's trip to Europe.


Australia's 2018 Seniors Abroad Survey found 74 per cent of respondents typically go on at least one trip a year, with 94 per cent saying travelling makes them feel alive or is a great opportunity for self-discovery and personal growth.
Expedia Media Solutions' 2018 survey revealed insights into British, French and German travellers across Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z. Industry experts say the conclusions hold for Kiwi Boomers.

Boomers were less budget-conscious and likely to spend more on hotels than other generations, although 54 per cent said budget was a primary factor on their last trip.
They took the longest trips (10.5 days on average).
Boomers were more likely than other generations to know where they want to go and how they were going to book but still sought help and inspiration during the planning and booking process.

They valued informative content and helpful reviews and were less likely than other generations to be influenced by deals in ads or social media posts.
Only 46 per cent of Boomers said "crossing things off their bucket list" was imperative. Activities, cultural experiences and feeling pampered topped the priority list.
Boomers relied on online travel agents for information more than any other resource; half of them booked their last trip using an online agent.
Some 26 per cent of Boomers used their tablet during their trip, more than any other generation, and 54 per cent used a smartphone.
The American Association of Retired Persons reported its Boomers expect to take up to five leisure trips this year and spend nearly US$6500 on travel. A whopping 84 per cent made their bookings online.