How Will Your Workforce Deal with an Increasingly Aging Customer Base?

By Susan Tinnish Advisory Group Chair, Vistage | February 16, 2014

We all grow a little older every day. The world wide population continues to age. Employees will need to be skilled to deal with an aging population. In the United States, by 2020 the entire Baby Boomer generation, people born before 1965, will be at least 55 years old. McKinsey & Company predicts that by 2015, the Baby Boomer generation will command almost 60 percent of net United States wealth and 40 percent of spending. In many categories, like travel, boomers will represent over 50 percent of consumption. Yet over 40 percent of Baby Boomers will be retiring with some form of disability.

Reluctant to give up their active lifestyle, aging Baby Boomers may recognize that their abilities are not what they were in their 20's but they will still expect be able to fulfill their aspirations. This impetus of new demand for more accessible facilities and service will change the paradigm for the disability sector. Travel, tourism, and hospitality will not be immune. Therefore, a discussion of an aging customer base must also focus on the needs to accommodate the physiological needs of these consumers.

According to the 2010 Census, the number of persons with disabilities in the United States numbered 57 million people. They represent 19 percent of the civilian non-institutionalized population. Of that population, eight million have a hearing difficulty. Among people 65 and older, four million have difficulty hearing. Eight million experience vision difficulty. Thirty-one million people have difficulty walking or climbing stairs. And four million people who used a wheelchair to assist with mobility. An additional 12 million people use a cane, crutches or walker. (source )

Hotel management companies, individual franchise owners, and brands must realize that the aging population and the retirement of the baby boomers is going to change the tourism product needs. Hotel owners and managers need to examine the aging market and start determining what their complete needs are and start tailoring products and information to suit. Likewise, staff will need to be trained.

This article focuses on an approach to readying the workforce for the change. This topic is important for two reasons. First, in the United States, changes in the American with Disabilities Act legislation in 2012 compels hotels to focus on compliance with the law. Second, the aging of the Baby Boomer generation will continue to influence demand for hotel services and amenities. Aging Baby Boomers are healthy and are expecting to live longer. The generation of baby boomers will affect travel and hotel because by the year 2030, 71.5 million Baby Boomers will be over the age of 65 and demanding products, services, and environments that address their age-related physical changes.

In order to keep up with expected demand, companies across different industries have begun offering services tailored specifically for Baby Boomers. The companies that successfully accommodate the needs of this expanding market are poised for growth in the coming years. The hotel industry is on that cusp. What has worked in the past is unlikely to work in the future. An "accessible" room will not satisfy the demands of all aging Baby Boomers. Ignoring the market of Baby Boomers and travelers with a disability will put brands, properties and companies at a substantial competitive disadvantage.

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The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.