By Jason Rehorst
MILWAUKEE — Boomers in Groups (BiG) kicked off the industry’s first gathering of boomer travel planners in Milwaukee Oct. 21-23 to rave reviews from the travel industry. The BiG Gathering attracted boomer groups from more than 20 states and a coast-to-coast travel industry delegation.
“This is the next wave of group tourism, and it will bring a new face to the market,” said Charlie Presley, founder of BiG.
A new face might not be all the boomers bring to group or affinity travel according to Jason Rehorst, who addressed the gathering in its keynote presentation.
“Boomers are thinking outside the box of conventional group packages,” said Rehorst, who pointed out that boomers are forming affinity groups and finding that travel is a natural extension of the group.
“Ten thousand boomers turn 65 every day and will do so for the next 16 years,” said Rehorst, who established the Milwaukee Public Museum’s group program.
That’s a lot of new group travelers, and it seems they are finding affinity groups to be to their liking. The average boomer belongs to four different affinity organizations by the time they turn 65, according to BiG research.
Of particular interest at the BiG Gathering was the influx of new types of groups including bloggers, bicycle clubs, runner groups, yacht clubs, meetups and even a boomer polka group. BiG estimates that 75 percent of boomer groups will be from the nontraditional sector, like those mentioned, while 25 percent will be traditional groups that the travel industry is accustomed to, such as bank clubs and social organizations.
The main driver behind the boomer group seems to be a common interest affinity while the mature market is more grouped together by age.
BiG delegates spent three days in Milwaukee at the Crowne Plaza Hotel and enjoyed sightseeing provided by Visit Milwaukee.
“It was a pleasure to show these new groups our town,” said Wendy Dobrzynski of Visit Milwaukee.
BiG delegates seemed to agree that Milwaukee was a winning destination with 92 percent reporting that they will consider Milwaukee as a destination for their group.
The Milwaukee Public Museum hosted a private opening dinner that included entertainment and a tour of the new Cleopatra exhibit. Donna Hull brought the world of social media to BiG in her seminar on how boomers can use social media and blogging to grow their clubs. Hull is a nationally followed travel blogger, focusing on the boomer.
BiG also heard from Dan Ehrmann, president of ClubExpress, a leader in developing management software for affinity groups.
“The baby boomers have arrived, and if the travel industry delegates attending BiG are any indication, group travel will see a wave of new and exciting group travelers who will fill hotel rooms, cruise berths and tourism destinations for the next 20 years,” said Presley.