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TD Conversations: Peter J. Bates in conversation with Ken Dychtwald, CEO, Age Wave

Gerontologist, best-selling author, inveterate traveller, and observer of society, Ken Dychtwald is a treasure trove of information on many subjects. He introduces the concept of ‘time affluence’ and explains why the Boomer generation can be a very valuable demographic for the travel and hospitality industry.

Between writing books, consulting, trying to figure out the future of automobiles, travel, technology, marketing, media, and all sorts of fascinating pursuits, Ken Dychtwald, founder & CEO of Age Wave, is one the world’s foremost thought leaders on issues related to older adults. He has a great understanding of the profound business, social, healthcare, financial, workforce and cultural implications of an aging population.

The best-selling author speaks eloquently about how the hospitality industry can benefit from strategising around the older, Boomer generation, rich in wealth, time, and enthusiasm.   

According to him, the Boomers (people between 57 and 75 years) are a demographic just waiting to be discovered and properly wooed. According to him, older adults have a number of factors in their favour, as a group with a lot of spending potential. They hold 70 per cent of the world’s wealth. They have plenty of time, as they are either semi-retired or completely out of the workforce. This is ‘time affluence’, where, according to his calculations, they collectively have about 50 trillion hours of free time to fill. Much of it with travel.

A study conducted before the pandemic demonstrated that these older adults were not travelling to check things off their bucket list but seeking out ‘peak experiences’. That they have an appreciation for the ‘preciousness of the experience’, as they have matured enough not to value accumulating ‘stuff’ over making memories. “You get emotional intelligence, and you realise it’s the experiences that are the most valuable dimensions of life,” Dychtwald explains his own quantum shift in thinking about travel, where a sunrise with his wife, just sharing a laugh with his family, or holding his grandkids, making new memories together, is what makes a trip special now.

Ken Dychtwald, Age Wave, older adults
In his book, Dychtwald observes that older adults belonging to the Third Age today are very different from senior citizens of earlier generations.

Dychtwald believes that this age-group is underestimated by the tourism sector because they are still being viewed through the same prism as older adults from the last generation were. But today’s Boomers are redefining retirement. Today’s versions of 65- and 75-year-olds are neither frugal, nor fuddy-duddy. They are not nervous about trying new things. They are highly educated, youthful, high-spirited, and with a taste for adventure.

He bemoans the fact that campaigns are rarely targeted at this demographic, which largely goes ignored and seems invisible to the marketing and advertising universe. “The travel industry is making mistakes. Having studied their advertising for the last 15 years, I have noticed that it is ageless and even people-less! Brochures show beautiful destinations and suites, but they are often empty. Whereas, if you want to target older adults, you must speak to them in the language of feeling,” he says. Using people to portray a place’s potential to engender romance, joy, surprise, delight, calm, etc, is the way to make a connection, he opines.

“Are you offering x number of days or certain types of rooms or are you offering us the opportunity for magic? For love? For friendship? For delight?” he asks, emphasising that instead of being demographically focussed, the industry would do well to be a little more psychographically focussed instead. Understanding the ‘why’ of the vacation is important and could go a long way in curating experiences for today’s Boomer travellers, who have a bigger appetite, bigger dreams, and more time, enthusiasm and money than older adults ever did before.

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