Booming Senior Market is a Travel Gold Mine


Senior travelers are willing to spend on luxury travel says Amadeus. // (c) 2011 Crystal Cruises

Banish any preconceived notions you may have about retired senior citizens as merely bargain hunters, says a new Amadeus analysis of the travel market. In 2011 and onward, this burgeoning demographic will be a driving factor in the luxury tourism industry. Agents should position themselves as a “lifestyle manager” to tap growing “golden years” segment of the market.

Amadeus’ recent white paper, Travel Gold Rush 2020, also identifies senior citizens as an “important source of future income” for travel agents including the lucrative luxury travel segments.

Several of Amadeus’ insights and recommendations include:

Fit as a fiddle & rarin’ to go: Today’s seniors—ranging from age 50 to 90-plus—are physically fitter, healthier, have more disposable income, and are increasingly interested in experience- and destination-based journeys, the report says.

The Travel Gold Rush advises agents to cultivate face-to-face (F2F) business with retired seniors by becoming “lifestyle managers” who provide high-margin, tailored services. F2F agents who focus on “superior customer service and listening to what their customers have to say ... are likely to be the ones who prosper in the future.”

Tim Fitzgerald, American Association of Retired People (AARP) senior director for travel, notes that retired seniors “have much more flexibility” to travel than those still working.

Target interests and abilities: “The most important criteria to keep in mind are the traveler’s interest and ability to travel,” Fitzgerald says. “Health issues may be a constraint for both ends of the spectrum, but a young 80-year-old in good health is still interested in traveling both domestically and internationally.”

Seniors are open to all kinds of travel experiences, he emphasizes. “Cruises continue to be high on the aspiration list. Cultural experiences and immersion in a local market are also high on their list.”

Luxury Travel reports more seniors are visiting exotic countries like Tibet, Syria, Lebanon, Laos, Burma and Colombia. Also, “tropical locations such as Sri Lanka have already seen booming growth.”

Listen and learn: “Listen to the customer,” Fitzgerald advises. “Probe to understand what they are interested in experiencing—not just where you think they want to go. Use your experience to educate them on the wide range of available travel options.”

“Don’t assume everyone is discount-focused and price-driven,” adds Fitzgerald.

Agents should also ask about seniors’ previous travel experience, because many have already gone on “familiarization-type” tours that include destination highlights. “These are folks looking to return to an earlier destination, enjoy an extended stay, and immerse themselves as locals to enjoy a deeper experience,” he adds.

Retired seniors’ flexible schedules allow them to take longer trips than their younger counterparts, says Dana Jiacoletti, director of information systems for Amadeus client Grand European Tours. The average length of a senior vacation is 12 days, but can range from nine to 16 days.

Accessibility, mobility: Jiacoletti, whose agency specializes in escorted group tours, suggests agents always keep in mind their clients’ activity level rather than judge by age. Many senior travelers are fit and open to adventure, while others prefer to move at a more relaxed pace.

For slower-going seniors, physical accessibility in hotels, excursions and airplanes ranks as a high priority, Amadeus notes. This means agents must advocate for their senior clients, as well as serve as their travel managers. reports that “accessible tourism products and services are expected to grow 22 percent by 2020, making the sector the fastest growing one in the industry.”

Peace of mind: Amadeus says the AARP considers it wise for seniors to evaluate the need for travel insurance and specific components of individual policies.

According to Grand European Tours’ Jiacoletti, seniors purchase travel insurance at a higher rate than their younger counterparts. “Insurance is extremely important to seniors, because it covers costs if something prevents them from taking the trip.”

Some travelers may be interested only in monetary reimbursement for cancellation or an interruption in the trip, while others value the protection a policy offers, such as short-term medical coverage, Amadeus reports.

The most important thing? “Take the hassle out of travel,” Jiacoletti says. “As travelers get older, they want to relax and experience the highlights—and have everything taken care of.”

By listening to your senior customers, you’ll cultivate valuable long-term relationships. Such goodwill can be like tapping a gold mine – a very profitable one, Amadeus says.