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The Expert in Baby Boomer Travel

Travel Copywriter
Starwood Hotels CEO Frits van Paasschen.

Starwood Hotels CEO Frits van Paasschen.

Starwood Hotels and Resorts CEO Frits van Paasschen, regarded as a visionary in the industry, has a fascinating take on what travelers will soon expect from their chosen lodgings (as recounted in this piece by Greg Oates in Skift.com).

“Today,” he recently told the hotel group’s annual sales pow wow in New Orleans, “a hotel brand can’t stand apart just by having a comfortable, reliable, clean room…that expectation today, driven by technology, is personalization.”

Van Paasschen gives the examples of Amazon.com and Facebook, who not only seem to know everything about their customers and users, they do know what their customers and users are looking for and like. (After all, we give them the information, and they know how to mine the data.)

“So how long will it be,” he asks, “before all of us expect a hotel brand where we spend X number of nights a year to know things like what temperature we want our rooms set at, what our comfort foods are, where we might like to go on vacation?”

Van Paasschen calls this “The Age of Great Change” — again, driven by technology — and it’s hard to argue with that when even laptops, much less desktops, are now increasingly regarded as obsolete due to the meteoric rise of iPads and smartphones.

And in this new age, he says, “consumer brands…will have to know what you want and they’ll have to know that you want it right now. And to be able to deliver that consistently and globally.”

Some of Starwood’s nine hotel brands — which encompass 1,150 hotels in 100 countries — are Sheraton, Four Points by Sheraton, Westin, W, Le Meridien and Starwood Luxury Collection. Chances are at least several of those conjure up quick “brand” associations in travelers’ minds: something van Paasschen believes is crucial to success.

“Delivering meaningful, personalized branded experiences for our guests is what we’re about,” he notes.

Not all Starwood brands are alike, by any means — they range widely over age groups and other demographics. And that’s one of van Paasschen’s points — they’re intentionally distinctive not just from other hotels, but from one another.

When I think of  “W” hotels, for instance, I don’t think of baby boomer travelers. But I do think of boomers — at least upscale boomers — when I hear “Westin” and “Starwood Luxury Collection.”

If you’re not familiar with the latter, they comprise more than 75 luxury hotels in more than 30 countries, all “noteworthy for their history, architecture, art, furnishings and amenities,” according to the Starwood website.  Venice’s Gritti Palace and Hotel Danieli, Scotland’s Turnberry Resort and Vienna’s Hotel Imperial are among them.

Van Paasschen describes them as “iconic properties, some of them five and six centuries old, there to create real indigenous experiences, which, in this Age of Great Change is becomingly increasingly difficult to find…Some of these hotels are just impossible to replicate, right?”

Hotels like that are also known as baby boomer traveler heaven.

My quick takeaways are this, whether you’re marketing hotels or any other travel-related product: To succeed in the travel business today, you need a distinctive brand. And more and more, that brand will depend on meeting and even anticipating what travelers want — as individuals.

Technology is leading the way — faster than we may think. And those who act proactively rather than just react — when it’s often too late — will win the hearts, and wallets, of baby boomers and other travelers.

Count on it.

Be sure to download my free report, “How to Ride the Coming Wave of Boomers,” available here. It’s all about the best ways to market travel to baby boomers — the biggest-spending group of travelers the world has ever seen. It’s also the easiest way to subscribe to my blog, so you won’t miss a posting. Thanks!

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According to government and private surveys:

  • Leading-edge baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1955) and seniors account for four out of every five dollars spent on luxury travel today.
  • Roughly half the consumer spending money in the U.S.--more than $2 trillion--is in the hands of leading-edge baby boomers and seniors.
  • Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) travel more than any other age group.
  • When asked what they would most like to spend their money on, baby boomers answered “travel” more than any other category, including improving their health or finances.

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