The media (us included), analysts, researchers and marketers are all probably a little bit guilty of giving too much attention to the generation coming round the corner.
This is natural: Gen-Yers (or Millennials) are an intriguing group of people given their background as one of the first collection of consumers to have been brought up with the internet all around them.
They are, in tech-speak, "digital natives" - as opposed to "digital immigrants" who have evolved from being newspaper readers and (in the travel world) travel agent customers to browsers of news and price comparison websites.
But there is another generation which has its own cutesie label in the world of marketing yet gets infinitely less coverage: the silver surfer.
How this group (exact definitions are hard to come by, but it is generally said to be those in their 50s and over) is embracing the web, ecommerce and devices is equally fascinating and, some argue, perhaps an even more important segment of the consumer base.
Kim Walker, CEO of the Singapore-based business consultancy Silver Group, outlined some of the key datapoints around the influence and importance of this older generation at the WebinTravel conference in October.
For example, by 2018 some 30% of the population in major markets in South East Asia as well as the US and UK will be over 50 (39% in the UK, 35% in the US).
India and Indonesia are dragging the average down, expecting to have just 18% in the 50+ age group within five years.
In terms of expenditure, this group is wealthy and splashing the cash - 54% of APAC's high net worth individuals are over 56 years old, according to CapGemini and Merrill Lynch.
Almost half (46%) of Apple product buyers are over 50 and 80% of luxury travel services are snapped up by silver surfers.
Diving deep into the travel and technology data, Walker says the 50+ account for:
- 35% of all travel in the Euro zone and 80% of cruise products.
- 42% of online travel purchases.
- 39% of overseas travellers in China and will account for 66% of spending by 2014.
- 68% of users on Facebook.
- A quarter of all comments on TripAdvisor.
Yet, despite their influence, many silver surfers feel marginalised by their experience on the web.
For example, only 20% feel that websites are designed for them and their needs, whilst just 17% believe online advertising is targeting them.
So we understand the stats and opportunity, but Walker says travel brands should think carefully about how they reach the silver surfers.
In almost every facet of their outlook on life, spending and responsibility, they are vastly different from their younger counterparts, many of whom are not even out of education or have had long term relationships.
Targeting must take the following into account:
- Gender and sexuality
It appears unlikely that many of the major and generic online travel brands have designed their marketing or websites with some of the 50+ values in mind.
Focusing on the younger generation, for some reason, appears to be only the direction to go.
Such elements in site design, for example, can have implications for the over-50s - for example:
- Use of animation
- Layout of information
- Format of forms
- General navigation
- Size of text
Walker argues that if travel brands "design for the young, [then they] exclude the old". Reversing the design and user experience, he argues, there is "no negative affect on younger consumers".
And, yet, despite the apparent "ageing body, ageing mind and ageing senses", silver surfers as a consumer base are "complex and relentless", meaning either excluding them entirely or not making provision for their habits and buying power is careless.
They are, Walker adds, the "largest, fastest growing, wealthiest, least contested and nicest consumer segment" on the web.
NB:Silver surfer image via Shutterstock.