Maria Amelia Lopez, a 95-year-old Spaniard, was recently crowned the world’s oldest and, it would seem, most popular blogger, logging more than 350,000 hits on her blog, Amis95.Blogspot.com.
That Lopez’s blog actually makes for interesting reading – with “musings on everything from politics to death”, as a recent article about her blog in The Guardian summed it up – is a bonus. Indeed, it is not the words in the blog that are fascinating, but the fact that a nonagenarian has a blog in the first instance.
The important point here is that we probably don’t know half of what we think we know about how people interact with the Internet. Lopez illustrates this point to perfection. The demographics of the web are changing drastically. Once the playground of the young and predominantly male audience, today’s Internet users are more often women and over 65, with more and more Silver Surfers logging online each day.
Recent research by media and communications watchdog Ofcom found that watching television, surfing the web, making phone calls and listening to the radio eat up an average 50 hours of our time per week (13 hours more than the average working week for a City of London employee). But while activities such as watching TV have fallen over the past five years, the daily minutes clocked up on the web have doubled.
Ofcom’s study found that among web users in the 25-34, women accounted for 55% of those online. Silver Surfers are even more active online, with one in six over-65s using the web, and using it for a lot longer than other age groups. Over 65s spend 42 hours online every month, compared 25 hours spent by teenagers.
Our research for this edition arrived at similar conclusions, which rail against conventional wisdom that the web and its design are really for the young, and only a handful of OAPs are surfing cyberspace. For instance, our research found that 32% of those aged 55+ have booked a trip online in the past year, while nearly half (46%) are somewhat influenced by online reviews.
The shift in demographics obviously has big implications for companies retailing their goods and services online, affecting everything from the type of content they offer to the site’s design.
Not only has there been a marked shift away from the web being the preserve of the young male, but all age groups are learning to use the web in a totally different way to perhaps how they may have done just a year or so ago.
In fact, it is highly likely that travel – due to its huge consumer appeal as an aspirational product, high value and suitability to the so-called Web 2.0 principles – will bear the brunt of these changes.
The notion of sharing experiences, encapsulated once upon a time in the dreaded presentation of the holiday photos, is evolving in a far more dynamic – and, admittedly, more interesting – way.
Older travellers seem to be just as keen as their younger counterparts to share experiences: 15% of 55+s, for example, said they had posted on an independent review site, such as TripAdvisor – almost the same figure as in the 16-24-year-old category.
The influence of social networks is also beginning to be felt – although the older generations are yet to see the benefits of actively engaging with the likes of Facebook, MySpace et al when it comes to talking about travel.
However, almost a third of 16-24-year-olds in our study said they had uploaded pictures to a social networking site. This nugget of a statistic should not be underestimated. The web, as a method of researching and booking a travel product, and now being the place to share experiences post-trip, is finally a reality. It has become the full-service platform it has threatened to be for so long.
Couple the rising use of social networks with some of the elements of Long Tail economics and some interesting ideas begin to emerge. It could be said the smartest travel and media companies will be those that hit the buyers of niche travel products with the ability to share their experiences. Wanabe.com is a good example already.
The enormous amount of enthusiasm for interacting with travel products on the web will undoubtedly rise further, but learning to target specific and specialised markets will give travel companies even greater opportunity to reach highly engaged consumers.