Late last month, Virtuoso released the findings of a two-plus-year-long study it’s been conducting on the different generations—in particular, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials. The goal of the exploration was to discover how each generation approaches travel, work and life in general.
Luxury Travel Advisor spoke with David Kolner, who was recently promoted to the role of executive vice president at Virtuoso, and Helen Nodland, director of professional development and training, to learn about the ways travel advisors can use these findings to better attract, communicate with, and sell travel to clients.
About Each Generation, in a Word
When it comes to Baby Boomers, a few topics of interest, according to Kolner, are: Curiosity, mentorship, sustainability and health and safety. “For Boomers it's about talent and learning all the time. ‘Curiosity’ might be the biggest part of what defines a Boomer,” he says.
Generation X can be defined by: Self-motivation and self-governance, technology, and experiences versus the “bucket list.” As Kolner explains, “latchkey defines so many aspects of what Xers are.” He adds that they’re also “the generation that started going more into this new definition of ‘experiences’ versus ‘bucket-list.’ They started this trend that you see continue with Millennials, who are experience centric.
Millennials, lastly, are tech-native, curious, self-expressive, transparent and purpose-driven. Millennials, Kolner says, need to know what the big picture is—and this relates to the workplace as much as it does to travel.
What to Know About Each Generation
“Communication is extremely important” across the board, according to Nodland. But it should come as little surprise that each generation prefers to be contacted differently. For Boomers and Gen Xers, it’s OK—if not best—to call them on the phone. (“If you really want to have me understand, call me on the phone,” Nodland—who represents the Baby Boomer segment—says.) When it comes to Millennials, however, you better text first (or even exclusively).
Texting “is not a lack of social or emotional skills at all from Millennials,” Kolner explains. “That's literally a way of life and a way of working and living. You shouldn't evaluate and judge based on that because they're actually, truly just being efficient with their time … Just meet them where they are and just don't make such a big production out of it.”
Kolner and Nodland also explained that while it might be hard to gain the trust of a Gen Xer, once you prove your worth and earn their loyalty, you could have it for life. As a Gen Xer, Kolner questioned whether his generation would value a travel advisor, as they were the first to want to do everything themselves (again, latchkey). “But the reality is if you earn their trust, you have it for a lifetime. If they feel like you're being straightforward … like with transparency and pricing or how you make money and you tell them these things, they probably will respond to that more so than other generations,” Kolner tells us. Once you have them in your corner, they will want you to be successful and they will want your support and help.
And while the younger generations may be more focused on “experiences” and “purpose,” Baby Boomers are still driven by their bucket lists. “They started that bucket-list mentality,” Kolner says. For instance: Get the house, start the family—they remain “achievement-driven.” Find out what they still have left to check off and begin planning those trips.
If you’re looking to truly connect with your clients, look to the major global events that took place during their youth. “One thing that really struck me is how shaped we are, how shaped our values are by when we're quite young,” Nodland tells us. “When we're in our teens and early 20s and having those first encounters as young adults, [it’s interesting to see] how those things influenced us all throughout life.”
“One of the greatest benefits we got out of [the study] was myth-busting, to some degree,” Kolner tells us. For one, Baby Boomers take pride in the fact that they started the “save the Earth movement.” To note, the first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970, when many Boomers were coming of age. Perhaps the “workaholic” nature of Boomers took over as they aged, and the message became lost in time. Nodland even explains there’s a certain amount of guilt that some Boomers feel over it.
But the reality is they were the largest generation and had to compete for everything, including jobs and promotions at said jobs (hence the “workaholic” perception). The environment got lost in the shuffle. The good news: Boomers still care about the Earth and sustainability is a great way to connect with these clients. Further, there is a “throughline” when it comes to sustainability, across all generations, Nodland says.
(And as for the work-life balance, that was “corrected,” let’s say, with Gen Xers and even more so with Millennials.)
A shocking finding from the study was that of all the generations, Millennials want the return of in-person events the most. As Kolner explains it, he was surprised the “text-me-first generation” even wanted to interact with other people. That said, the age group valued organized events, where they knew the structure, more than the other two studied generations.
How Virtuoso Is Using This Data
Virtuoso released this data first at its Symposium last month in Lisbon, Portugal. The generational differences along with individual passion points are two areas where Virtuoso will be focusing its efforts, as it sees these as some “of the key facets of how the industry is going to have to work in the future,” according to Kolner.
At Symposium, Virtuoso ran live Innovation sessions, which will become a feature of the event going forward. As part of the roundtable-style event, six to 10 participants from each generation will share best business practices, along with trending concerns or topics from each age cohort. Topics might include “How to Work with Boomers as Coworkers.” (One great way is to create a mentor-mentee relationship, as they feel they are in a position in their careers where they are willing to share what they’ve learned as the new generations take over.)
At Virtuoso Travel Week, the network will offer generational professional development classes led by Nodland.
To create the study, Virtuoso’s Innovation Team broke into three groups, each representing a different generation, and met together several times a year dating back to 2019 to discuss whatever they wanted to discuss. The groups comprised Virtuoso employees, advisors and supplier partners. Given that each generation was on its own, Nodland says, this best allowed the members to talk freely and without censorship or judgement about a number of topics—from milestones/events in their lives and within the travel industry.
At first, there was no set goal but let areas of concern of interest rise from the group naturally. Then, in subsequent meetings, they would address those top concerns on both a B2B and B2C side of things.
Kolner explains that Virtuoso first studied these three generations since they comprise the largest percentage of all travelers but that future work could involve Gen Z. He adds that Virtuoso isn’t giving up on the Matures, either. He notes that the richest cohort is single women over 80—which presents a great opportunity for travel advisors. “Let’s not forget that beyond-Boomer age bracket is still traveling,” he says.
In the end, Kolner says, the study provided “a greater empathetic understanding of generational differences—not good, not bad, just an empathetic understanding of [learning how] to modify our own behaviors to most efficiently work with people as colleagues or as clients.”