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SURVEY SAYS

Baby boomers are spending big on travel right now. Here’s why.

New studies break down travel by generation, and it’s clear that the older generation is packing its bags and spending big bucks.

Baby boomers are making a grand & expensive return to travel
WATCH: Travel writer and columnist Christopher Muther explains who's traveling, where they’re going and how much they’re spending.

Welcome back to Survey Says, a carefully curated collection of travel surveys that have piqued our interest. Translation: We found some fun tidbits and slapped them together. This week, we dive into the travel generation gap.

The airport is going to look a bit older this holiday season, and I’m not talking about the worn carpets in front of gates where passengers pace while waiting for their boarding group to be called. Baby boomers are making a grand return to the airport this year, according to several studies that claim those born between 1946 and 1964 have shaken off their COVID fears and are ready to head back out for the holidays and beyond.

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Last year, baby boomers made up a fifth of passengers traveling for the holidays. This year, a third of passengers will be in the 60-plus club. According to the tax advisory company Deloitte, those Boomers will not only return in force for holiday travel, but they’re also saving up for 2024 excursions. Translation: if you have a parent or grandparent in the Woodstock generation, start lowering your holiday gift expectations. They’re saving up for a trip to Italy next year, so you’re getting a Chia Pet for Christmas.

Millennials enjoy giving their elders a hard time about, well, everything, but here’s some ribbing that’s justified. According to the Deloitte survey, boomers are the least concerned of any generation about sustainability in travel. Only 2 percent (!) of boomers filter their travel search results to seek out lower carbon emission flights or are willing to pay to offset carbon emissions. Another survey from OAG, a travel data company, found that only 1 percent of boomers care about travel sustainability. Gen Z and millennials are more concerned with the issue. About 10 percent of them look for ways to offset their carbon emissions. They’re also more likely to prioritize hotels with higher sustainability ratings.

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Boomers open their wallets wider than any other demographic when it’s time to plan travel. The website Insure My Trip broke down spending habits and found that boomers, on average, spend $6,700 for their vacations, taking an average of 16 vacation days. Millennials spend $2,000 less and take an average trip of 15 days. The best example of the digital nomad can be found with Gen Z, whose members spend about $3,200 for travel, but their average trip length is 23 days. Either they’re working from the road, or these kids grew up with a European vacation sensibility. Good on you, Gen Z!

Each generation approaches travel differently, but there’s some agreement on where they want to go. The Insure My Trip Survey found that the United Kingdom, Mexico, and Italy are among the top dream destinations across the board. Boomers want to go to Italy, Gen X and millennials want Mexico, while Gen Z is pining for the UK. Boomers can afford Italy because they’re spending less on holiday gifts — mark my words, it’s the year of the Chia Pet — and also because they just got a bump in their Social Security benefits.

The commonalities continue. Aside from Gen Z, every generation’s top travel concern was cost. According to an exhaustive travel study from the car-sharing service Avail, Gen Z’s chief concern was safety. (The survey was conducted before the Israel-Hamas war started.) COVID concerns dropped far down the list of reasons keeping travelers at home, and most respondents to the Avail survey said COVID did not disrupt their travel plans this year. About 80 percent of all generations said they are comfortable traveling again.

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One of the more significant generation gaps shows up with travel booking tools and inspiration. The Deloitte survey found that boomers have little interest in finding inspiration from generative AI tools (3 percent), short social video content (3 percent), long video content (7 percent), and social media apps (9 percent). They’re most likely to seek advice from travel websites (21 percent) or recommendations from family and friends (44 percent). Gen Z and millennials lean heavily on travel websites and social media. As usual, Gen X falls somewhere in between.

There is one (and just one) travel concern that is identical among all generations: airline performance. According to a study by OAG, 90 percent of all travelers said they’d like to be reimbursed for delayed and canceled flights and favor the Department of Transportation enforcing such a regulation. I can only imagine that the 10 percent who don’t fall into that category own private jets. We all have travel differences, but it seems that being fed up with airlines unites us all.


Christopher Muther can be reached at christopher.muther@globe.com. Follow him @Chris_Muther and Instagram @chris_muther.