By Tamara Hinson
As the ‘second vaccination’ roll-out continues apace, the over-50s will be well positioned to make up for months of ‘lost’ travelling time.
After a year the travel industry would happily forget (but never will), there finally seems to be more reasons to be cheerful – and a huge chunk of bookings are being made by the over-50s, many of whom see the vaccine as their passport to start exploring again after a year of being grounded.
Mature and ready
At the height of the pandemic, countless experts speculated that the biggest obstacle to travel’s restart would be a ‘lack of confidence’.
However, when vaccines became a reality, everything changed. Data from The Silver Travel Industry Report 2021 found that 77% of older travellers would book and travel within six months and are setting their sights further afield for 2021.
In a similar vein, Saga Holidays revealed that after the Government’s roadmap was published in late February there was an 84% increase in calls to the sales team compared with the previous week.
Bring on the bucket list
One thing is clear: travellers, especially those aged 50 and over, are ready to make up for lost time.
“With so many missed travel moments, we’re seeing increased demand for inspirational long-haul destinations, especially for 2022,” says Titan Travel’s Managing Director Andy Squirrell.
“The sense of wanderlust is growing stronger and they’re booking early to secure the best price and availability.”
Titan’s best-selling destinations for escorted tours include Canada, South Africa, Vietnam and India, and Squirrell adds that multi-destination trips are proving incredibly popular, too.
“More customers are booking epic holidays which combine multiple bucket list-worthy destinations, allowing them to see more of the world in one trip,” he says.
The operator’s 14-day Essence of Japan package, Grand Tour of Australia, Best of New Zealand tour and 18-day North America package are already top sellers for 2022.
A desire for multi-centre trips means that cruises – especially more extravagant ones – are faring well for 2022.
“After being stuck at home in 2020, it certainly appears that customers are willing to spend more to make up for it,” says Joseph Grimley, Director of UK Trade Sales at Scenic.
“In January we saw an 80% month-on-month increase in bookings for Antarctica cruises.”
Pack your hiking boots
According to the Silver Travel Industry Report, nearly a third of over-50s have embraced the idea of active holidays that focus on their health and wellbeing, with walking and cycling holidays increasingly popular.
“We’ve been seeing increased interest in health and wellness, which is why we’ve added activities like yoga and guided cycling tours,” says Uniworld’s Managing Director Chris Townson, a trend also reflected in recent G Adventures’ bookings.
“Our active range has always appealed to a broad demographic, but in recent months we’ve seen an increase in the number of travellers in their 50s, 60s and 70s booking more challenging adventures such as the Inca Trail and treks to Everest Basecamp,” says Brian Young, Managing Director at G Adventures.
“In the past, travellers in these age brackets would be most likely to book with mainstream operators selling beach holidays and ‘age accessible’ experiences, but there’s been a shift in the mindset amongst this generation. They’re staying fitter and active for longer, and seeking out more adventurous holidays.”
G Adventures’ newest offerings include a collection of European trips designed to make people “rethink” mainstream destinations such as Cyprus, Madeira, Corfu and Crete, says Young.
“They feature hikes which are accessible to most, and explore a more local side of these much-loved places. We’re expecting them to sell well among over-50s keen to see a different side of old favourites.”
Pack your hiking boots
The growing popularity of bucket list-style trips is great news for tour operators catering to more adventurous clients, many of which will reap the rewards of this greater desire for independence.
In the wake of a global pandemic, many will prefer to forge their own path, rather than joining large groups on itineraries with little flexibility.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in bookings for camper van holidays in North America,” says Premier Holidays’ Tim Greathead.
“This type of holiday gives clients flexibility when it comes to where they go and how long they stay, and the self-catering approach means they can limit their social contact if they wish too.”
“We’re expecting to see a shift towards multi-generational family travel, with grandparents holidaying just with the grandchildren,” says G Adventures’ Young.
“Spending time as a family will also drive bubble-style trips, which led us to launch our Book Your Bubble collection of 80 holidays.”
For some travellers the journey is just as exciting as the destination itself. Premier Holidays reports that train travel holidays are proving popular, with trips such as Rocky Mountaineer train journeys in Western Canada selling especially well.
It’s a trend noticed by Great Rail Journeys, too. “There’s huge interest in our heritage rail tours, although luxury railway tours are also increasingly popular too,” says Julian Appleyard, Commercial Director at Great Rail Journeys, where new offerings include small group rail tours capped at 25 people and a free door-to-door luggage service.
“We are seeing an ‘airport apathy’, with more people seeking flight-free holiday options. It’s partly due to Covid, but also a growing appetite for sustainable travel, with a greater consideration for environmental impact.”
But a hunger for far-flung destinations likely remains. “We’re confident that a growing number of vaccinated travellers aged 50 and over will return to airlines for the convenience of flying,” says Simon Wrench at Inntravel. “We’re predicting a golden age for silver travel.”