Travolution parent, Travel Weekly Group, and iProspect invited a panel of experts to discuss the digital agency's 'Ageless Internet' study into how the over-50s are using the web. Lee Hayhurst reports
The older generation should not be treated as one homogeneous group and travel firms should try to appeal to clients as individuals based on their online behaviour, a round-table heard.
The panel welcomed iProspect’s Ageless Internet report, which splits the over-50s into three age brackets.
It was pointed out that a customer who is 50 today was 33 when Google started, so vastly different digital behaviours can be expected between a 50-year-old and a 70-year-old.
Dan Robb, digital marketing director at Tui Travel, drew a distinction between power users – early adopters and heavy users of digital devices – and late adopters.
He said: “You are better spending your time looking at power users rather than age demographic.
“Businesses look at power users and late adopters of any age because you have to take a slightly different tack in terms of the content you offer them.
“YouTube is interesting because it massively over-indexes for the over-50s. While I was at Google we were pretty poor at being able to identify that behaviour.
“We knew it was happening, but could not really tell what sort of content people were watching in volume. There is still a lot more research to be done.
“Everything I have seen is moving towards behaviour. The path to booking that individuals take is quite transparent now, irrespective of demographics.”
Content is not targeted
However, Google head of marketing Nishma Robb said there was a lack of content for older age groups.
“If you look at what older people are searching for there just isn’t sufficient content. There is also a mismatch in terms of the fact there are no older people in brochures.
“The reality is this demographic is watching less TV, but is watching on-demand or online content, and there is a gap where marketers just haven’t caught up yet.
“This age group has only started to use social media in the last couple of years – forced by their family, because it might be the only way they see pictures of their grandchildren.
“They don’t have a full network of friends, but they are on [social media] and that’s the opportunity.
“The massive opportunity for marketers targeting these groups is to create great content and then think sensitively about how you communicate it.”
Nathan Philpot, sales and marketing director of Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, agreed, adding that even in a sector that relies on older clients, much of the imagery used is of young people.
“We are aware our average age is 67 with a core between 60 and 75 and we work very hard to make sure we are using models that are core to the demographic. The industry is putting off the age groups where the most potential cruisers are – the 64 to 75-year-olds.
“About 39% of them say they are considering a cruise, and yet the industry concentrates on this younger age group with facilities such as climbing walls and ice rinks, which really does not fit with who we are trying to attract.”
Tamikah Walker-Peters, Airbnb market expert, said: “We try to encompass all groups if we can. Our whole ethos is to belong everywhere, so whether you are in Japan or in London, and whatever age group you are in, you can belong.”
Adoption of technology and gadgets among older age groups is likely to continue to grow at pace, but they may not keep up with all advances.
Dan Robb said technology is reaching such a level of sophistication that many older people question the need to upgrade to the latest device.
“The older demographic is being forced to use these devices because it is a way of communicating.
“There is going to be a prerequisite of adoption in all these age groups because they want to be doing what everyone else is doing.
“To communicate with the outside world and their family they are going to have to adopt FaceTime or Skype.
“But the other question is if tech is growing at such a rate, will older people keep pace or will they start to say ‘I’ve got enough tech now’?
“If you look at the adoption of smartphones, that’s exactly what’s happened. Older people change their phone about half as regularly as younger people.
“That will cause an issue for all businesses because you almost have to have a regressive approach for older demographics.”
Trust is considered to be a major issue when targeting older age groups, particularly when it comes to making payments online, so call centres remain vital.
Saga and British Airways said the call centre is a vital part of the booking process for their customers as it provides reassurance.
George Gray, BA global online partnerships manager, said the airline enjoys a higher level of trust among older customers, due to its brand heritage, than among younger people.
He added: “The call centre is becoming a more prominent part of the BA conversion process and it is that older demographic that’s making the most of it.
“There’s an element of higher average order value with the call centre because you can have that conversation with people.
“And we are starting with click-to-call from mobile because we have realised that the call centre is becoming more important.”
Jen Webb, Saga marketing manager, said: “Our call centre is really important to us. Customers are getting prices online but they want to convert offline, so we make sure they can see phone numbers throughout the journey.
“We make a big deal about how good our people are and also it gives some tangibility to our products. They get the Saga ethos, which is nothing is too much trouble.”
For a relatively new brand such as Airbnb, trust with clients has been built by a focus on the user experience, said Walker-Peters.
“About 30% of our hosts are aged 50 to 59,” she said. “Their kids have left home, they have a spare room and they are missing that interaction with people.
“Sometimes they will travel with us first, but quite often they will host, get used to how our site works and then they will travel. For us the user experience has been so key. It’s so user-friendly and that is helping that age group.”
The increased use of Facebook by the older generation is expected to make the social media giant a more powerful tool for travel firms targeting the over-50s.
Philpot said: “All the roads lead to social media. People love to talk to each other, to share their experiences. They want to come back with stories and share them.
“We should be encouraging people a lot more to create their own videos and share their content. And we as brands should use that. OK, so it’s not professional footage, but who cares? It’s real and shows what the experience really is.”
Dan Robb said although the likes of Facebook are yet to be a huge generator of bookings, that will change as they develop to become more sophisticated and targeted marketing channels.
“Facebook has been very brand‑orientated so it’s been good for solidifying your brand with an individual,” he said.
“However, it is definitely moving into a more performance-based sphere. They are looking at the booking path that emerges from Facebook and that will become more resolved in their product suite.”
To see a video of iProspect's study into the Ageless Internet and the Travolution debate and to download an ebook go to the iProspect website.
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