What do Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr have in common? Yes, they’re all musicians. They’re also all classified senior citizens—and they all went on tour this year.
“Rock ‘n’ roll isn’t about age. It’s about attitude,” said Jim Smith, CTIE, a 45-year veteran of the travel industry and Senior Travel Industry Consultant to Special Needs Group. “The same thing applies to senior travel.”
As 2011 began, the oldest members of the baby boomer generation celebrated their 65th birthdays. Roughly 10,000 have turned 65 each day since—a trend that will continue through 2030. Not only do baby boomers outnumber subsequent gener
ations, but they also tend to have more time and money to invest in travel.
With seniors interested in diverse forms of travel at home and abroad—from luxury cruises to cultural immersion, volunteerism and more—there’s no question: The senior travel market is a booming and sustainable stage.
More time. More money. More flexibility.
While seniors are as diverse as any other traveler group, a few generalizations may be made about the market as a whole.
Seniors have more time and money to spend on travel. As such, they’re more experienced travelers who’ll spend ample time researching trips. They’re likely to be more discerning clients who demand higher quality services. Their flexible schedules allow them to travel during off-peak seasons, for longer periods of time.
“Most seniors like to cruise and like all-inclusive properties,” said Eugenia Chinsman, Manstravel. “Most are savvy travelers. They hate ‘free-style cruising’ because they’re ‘traditionalists.’ They want to dress up and look relaxed in an atmosphere that’s conducive to their way of life.”
Seniors have more resources to devote to travel, yet may also have health concerns that come with aging and could limit travel. Thus, one of the most important questions to consider in the senior travel market is whether anyone in the traveling party has special needs.
“Agents have to be cognizant of the fact that the body is a machine,” Smith said, “and the longer you own a machine, the more likely it is to break down.” As the body ages, it becomes increasingly prone to disabilities. Seniors may need mobility aids, oxygen or other equipment in order to overcome limitations and travel comfortably.
Special Needs Group/Special Needs at Sea is dedicated to fulfilling special needs requirements for those wanting to travel. It provides a Certified Accessible Travel Advocate program that trains travel agents on addressing the needs of slow walkers and disabled travelers; it also provides rental equipment delivered directly to the cruise stateroom, hotel, resort, theme park or convention center.
An additional consideration involves evaluating the accessibility of the markets in travel destinations. Not all countries have an act similar to the American with Disabilities Act passed by the United States to accommodate citizens with special needs by providing handicap accessible ramps, public restrooms, parking and more. Because not all markets cater to special needs, agents should plan accordingly.
“I make sure to be in touch with the supplier to let them know of any specific details,” said Deb Fogarty, Be Well Travel, LLC. “I recently had a couple sail to Alaska and the wife has Alzheimer’s, so I contacted the cruise line to let them know to be aware of it.”
Even considering blanket generalizations, Smith points out you can’t paint with broad brushstrokes. “With any other client, it comes down to finding the needs,” he said. “Ask great questions. Take great notes.”
When planning the perfect trip, the senior travel market asks questions similar to those for any travel niche: What are the traveler’s likes and dislikes? What have they always wanted to do? Do they want an experience similar to one they’ve had before—or something different?
With generous free time, seniors tend to gravitate toward hobbies. Digging a little deeper in a Q&A session with senior clients provides an opportunity for agents to intertwine lifestyles with a trip. In the end, seniors are looking to get the most out of their experience. And they’re ready for an experience of a lifetime.
By Cassie Westrate