As the population ages, it’s not surprising that the older traveller is becoming a major force in the travel industry. A study by the British over-50s specialist Saga Holidays showed that while millennials (adults born in the early 1980s and onwards) cut their spending on holidays by 5% from 2010-2015, people over the age of 50 increased theirs by 23%.
City breaks and culture vultures
Misconceptions linger about the over-50s market, notably that cruise travel is the biggest draw. Debbie Marshall, Managing Director of Silver Travel Advisor, a UK-based travel advice and reviews website devoted to people over 50, says that city breaks consistently top the list every year.
“It links very closely to the desire to continue learning and experience culture,” says Marshall. “Beach holidays are of less interest generally to the older population. It’s all about the ‘university of the third age’ – discovering and learning. And that, combined with low-cost flights and well-located city-centre hotels, means you can easily have a cultural fix, which older people really enjoy.”
This is echoed by Saga Holidays’ Managing Director, Maria Whiteman, who adds: “For many it’s while on holiday that they really want to stretch themselves to experience something new. Over recent years we have seen a seismic shift in the number of people that want to combine luxury and relaxation with something just that little bit different – whether that’s immersing themselves in the culture of a destination and its people or doing something a little more adventurous like trekking the Himalayas or opting for more adventurous excursions on their cruises like snowmobiling or dog-sledding.”
Hoteliers can do much to enhance the experience of older travellers. “These clients don’t want the most modern or corporate hotel. They want a hotel that will be quintessentially of the city itself, one with character, charm and more traditional luxury,” says Marshall.
She points to the concierge service offered by city-break specialists Kirker Holidays, whose clients are mostly discerning older travellers. “They can get things like restaurant reservations, theatre, tours, priority access – all the things that older people really appreciate,” she says. “In Venice, for example, Kirker will make sure you jump to the front of the queue at the Doge’s Palace or organise events outside of opening hours. It removes the issues that might be associated with standing for a long time in queues, and makes the experience more comfortable. Conversely, we get accounts from people who had to queue for hours in full sunlight – and that’s what they remember.”
Cultural experiences are also appreciated by the over-50s, market, as Saga’s Head of Product and Purchasing for Short Haul, Richard Newsome, explains: “Recent Saga research shows that 92% of our members like to experience the local culture. It’s important that hoteliers provide these additional cultural experiences.
“At our Juan de la Cosa property in Cantabria, Spain, for example, our customers are invited into the hotel kitchens to learn traditional recipes. The hotel owner takes customers on coastal walks to a lobster nursery that has been in their family for more than 100 years. This type of authentic local experience and interaction really appeals to our customers.”
It’s not just the city-break market that benefits from this age group. Even segments of the travel industry that were dominated by younger travellers – such as gap years – are being discovered by the over-50s. Stuart Lodge, Director of roundtheworldflights.com, has seen a 22% increase in travellers over 50 travelling for between three to four months at a time. “People are picking four or five destinations but spending more time in each one,” he says. “They might be visiting friends and family in Australia or New Zealand, then maybe three weeks in the other stopovers, spending a lot on safaris, tours, cruises and camper vans.”
53% of over 50s rely on internet searches as a source of travel inspiration
The internet is vital for older travellers, or silver surfers as they are still occasionally known. Silver Travel Advisor’s Marshall adds: “Confidence is growing in the older market. Internet searches are by far the most common source of travel inspiration – 53% in our latest survey. And 67% of over-60s are now using Facebook on a regular basis. Websites are improving, with larger fonts, clear signposting and appropriate colour contrasting.”
But Marshall thinks there is more that can be done to make travel more accessible. “I don’t think that there’s the widest range of choices,” she says. “I think it’s only a matter of time before companies think how they can provide for older people in the same way as at the other end of the spectrum. There are kids’ clubs and trained nannies – why not look at it from the other end?”
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Hero image: credit to Colton Miller, Unsplash
- While millennials have cut their holiday spending, travellers over 50 have increased theirs by 23%
- Over 50s favour city breaks, seeking out culture and opportunities for learning
- Concierge services that help with restaurant reservations, theatre trips, tours and priority access are popular with older travellers
- Grown-up gaps years are increasing: roundtheworldflights.com has had a 22% increase in bookings from people over 50