Recent research from Amadeus demonstrates the significant changes in the kinds of travel experiences today’s seniors seek.
Travel agents are seeing much the same thing including a preference for more active vacations, for sharing experiences with family, and for using technology to make that sharing easy.
“This is the first generation to really prioritize travel,” said Colleen Petre, a travel consultant with Cadence Travel in La Jolla, Calif.
“For my parents, paying off the mortgage was the big deal,” said Petre. “Now, we are trying to balance the reality of being financially responsible in our retirement and senior years but still enjoying our lives as long as we’re healthy and able to move on.
Petre advises senior clients to “think beyond the traditional.” “If they are going to do it [seek experiences], they should do it so it’s truly special,” she added.
“I just had one of my 60-something clients return from a trip to the Galapagos,” recalled Kate Ficke, an agent in Huntley, Ill. “I have to agree with the fact that seniors do want experiences and are for the most part willing to pay for the comfort while getting into the ‘wild.’
“They also do not consider themselves old – they are all still 39, (Jack Benny’s perennial age, and determined to stick with that number until they die.”
“People don’t want to read about these things, they want to do it,” said Alice Steel, owner of Travel Junction, Ambridge, Pa. “If they go to Italy they want to take cooking classes. And tour operators now stay in one city or region for days so travelers can really get to know them. “
Not every senior, however, is going scuba diving and mountain climbing. Many are looking for more traditional vacations – but with a twist, agents said.
Many seniors also want what they have always wanted, and in many cases that means cruising, according to Magda Granda, a travel consultant with Wyllys Professional Travel in Coral Gables, Fla., an Ensemble agency.
“There are fewer travel and luggage hassles and many prefer to stay away from having to fly somewhere although some are flying to Europe to get on a ship,” she said.
Escorted tours also continue to be popular.
John Schmitt, vice president and director of sales and marketing for Superior and Frankenmuth Travel Services, said seniors are expanding their horizons even within a traditional context. The agencies have several offices in Michigan.
“In the past, they might fly to Europe, take a tour and fly home,” he said. “Now they usually want a pre- and post-program so they can go beyond what the tour offers.”
And the classic motorcoach tour remains a staple, Schmitt added.
But, added Schmitt, “Clients are a lot more active even on these tours. We do a tour that includes a walk across the Mackinac Bridge, which is five miles long. Years ago, we would not have people doing that and now we do.”
Family travel ties
Agents agree that seniors want to either travel with family members or share their experiences via social media.
While seniors are frequently eager to celebrate a significant birthday or anniversary, they might also want to celebrate the Sweet 16 of a grandchild, for instance, said Granda. “Instead of a gift, they will all travel together and it’s much more memorable.”
Schmitt pointed out that for a lot of seniors, “Travel is the only time they will get to see their children and grandchildren.”
While seniors may not spend all their time on their electronic devices, they see the value of sharing via social media.
“Many seniors are as tied to their phones as their grandchildren because that is the only way they can communicate with their grandchildren,” said Ficke.
“And now so many are still working – even if only part-time – and they need to be kept in the loop of what’s going on.”