If life begins at 40, is the travel retail market missing a trick?

Travel Retail marketers could be missing out on potential profits by ignoring older passengers, says Fiona Tindall, Head of Domestic Retail at Blackjack Promotions

Looking at the marketing that goes on in most Duty-Free areas, you would be forgiven for thinking either that air travel is only for those aged under 35, or that while there may be some air travellers aged 35+, they don’t have any money. Nothing could be further from the truth.

According to research by Counter Intelligence Retail (CiR), almost two-thirds of travelling shoppers are age 40+. These stats are backed up by other industry figures; according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA)’s 2017 Global Passenger Survey, only 28% of adult air travellers are aged 18 to 34 – which pretty much coincides with the definition of the Millennial demographic group.

There’s a real trend right now with digital-heavy activations that target what is frequently referred to in the press as the ‘difficult to reach’ Millennials. As a result, not enough time is being spent on marketing to older age groups, even though they usually have more disposable income and are very open to marketing, if approached in the right way.

I suspect the current trend within central marketing teams on Millennials is at the heart of this, which I think is being driven by the fact that many marketers are themselves Millennials. At this point I should probably admit that I am myself firmly in the Millennial category!

If you are responsible for a brand that sells in the travel retail sector and you ignore air travellers over 40 (or even 35), then you are throwing money away. Baby Boomers and Generation X (the generation before Millennials) have considerable disposable income and they often have sophisticated tastes, perfectly suited to the upmarket brands you tend to find in airport shops.

Travellers over 40, in our experience, aren’t looking for instant gratification and digital trickery. 360° Virtual Reality experiences, which seem to be popping up in airports around the world, may draw the attention of the Millennials (although they tend to have pretty short attention spans and want instant gratification, so you won’t have that attention for long), but Gen X and Baby Boomers like a more leisurely approach. They want to make considered judgements, not snap decisions.

Brands that develop marketing activities to attract and excite older air passengers could clean up. For example, Jo Malone offers free hand massages at a number of airports, a very personal touch which the over 40s tend to appreciate.

They like to find out more about products; letting them get their hands on them – or getting their hands covered with them, as in the Jo Malone instance – is a great way to let them sample them, while also allowing brand ambassadors and sales people to demonstrate product benefits and build up a rapport.

Of course, many marketers do include the over 35s in their plans; but few actively try and connect with them as a separate, distinct segment, far fewer than actively try to target Millennials. There are exceptions, of course — sectors like whisky, fine liqueurs and high-end perfumes, which tend to appeal to people of sophisticated tastes, have been known to aim for more mature audiences.

Recently, we’ve been working closely with specialist training company Penny Blake Associates, which has been helping us reinforce the personal elements of face-to-face sales and marketing. What we’ve learned from that is the importance of human to human interactions, for all age groups.

You can reach Millennials via their smartphone screens of digital gadgets – but it’s incredibly difficult to use digital to engage in the kind of individualised conversations that build real human connections and long-term brand loyalty. While it’s important to understand the consumer spending power of the future, just make sure it’s not at the expense of the current one.

This article is currently featured in the July 2018 edition of Frontier — read the full issue here: https://www.frontiermagazine.co.uk/issue-archive/print-issue/.