The over-50s travel market has a tendency to be overlooked or pigeonholed, yet specialists say it’s more adventurous, diverse and lucrative than many imagine.

Going it alone

Solo travel is trending across escorted travel and is particularly high in the over-50s market. Riviera (rivieratravel.co.uk) has increased its solo tours from 12 to 40. “We’ve really seen growth over the last year to 18 months, since our launch of solo tours. It's not necessarily people who’ve lost a partner, it may be people whose other half doesn’t have an interest in the same destination,” explains National Sales Manager for UK and Australia, Tom Morgan.

Seeing similar demand, Leger Holidays (leger.co.uk) has added six new Single Traveller tours for 2020, with no single supplement and a door-to-door service.

Experiential travels

The over-50s sector is increasingly active. “I’ve been thrilled at how much more adventurous the mature market are. Not many will just go and lie on a beach now,” says Clare Dudley, Managing Director of Cambridge-based agent Ponders Travel.

Leger has added more See It Live tours to the Venice and Nice carnivals, Monaco Grand Prix and Brussels Jazz Weekend. Its specialist guided battlefield tours, of which it offers over 80, have been boosted by media coverage. “We had a number of battlefield tours to the 75th anniversary D-Day commemorations,” says Head of Retail Sales Ashley Dellow.

Riviera Travel has added Discover tours, with three levels of walks. “It’s not the same as 10 to 20 years ago when you went on a coach tour… people want to get out and explore,” explains Morgan.

Personalised extras like the ballet in Russia are also new, while its escorted ocean range now features Azamara and excursion-focused Hurtigruten. Saga (saga.co.uk) has added excursions to all its European holidays and new ships, Spirit of Discovery and Spirit of Adventure, are performing ‘exceptionally well because they aid adventure. “We know there’s a real desire to sail ex-UK on a luxury small ship. Their size allows visits to unique ports of call,” says Head of Trade Sales, Iain Powell.

Luxury matters

Luxury is another mature market trend. Saga’s door-to-door VIP Travel Service is among its other product tweaks in recent years, while for 2020 its Stay programmes include a Signature Collection of hotels with dedicated lounges and exclusive arrangements for Saga guests. Product differentiation is key, says Powell, and offering a unique, tailored experience “helps to immerse them in the local culture.”

Leger believes the luxury trend is a natural extension of mature clients’ desire for a more comfortable holiday. Its new Luxuria coaches come with extra-wide seats, increased legroom, retractable calf rests and personal touch-screen TVs. The Luxuria Signature Collection, launched last year, is a selection of holidays which “combines state-of-the-art coach travel with some of Europe’s most fascinatingly unique hotels…. from Spanish Paradors to fairy tale German castles,” adds Dellow.

Multi-generational travel

Trips with children and grandchildren, are an important trend and a gateway to lucrative long-haul group bookings.

“Grandparents are ringing and saying ‘I want to take everyone away for Christmas’ and they don’t want to just fly-and-flop, some are taking family from Australia and the UK and meeting in-between,” Dudley from Ponders Travel says. “I’ve done a trip round Burma for one family. They’re often big bookings and interesting to do.”

The Far East, Caribbean and Disney prove popular, she says, as do villas with private pools, though escorted tours are less common with children involved.

Destination hot list

Long haul is booming for Newmarket Holidays (newmarketholidays.co.uk) as continuing Brexit uncertainty prompts clients to look beyond the Eurozone. India, Canada, Vietnam and South Africa are performing particularly well.

“We’ve added further dates to our Indian programme to keep up with demand; the same for Kenya and South Africa. We’ve also added beach extensions to some tours,” says Head of Trade Sales, Richard Forde. “We’ve released 2021 dates earlier than ever and customers are booking further ahead.”

New, longer-haul destinations are also trending for Saga driven, Powell believes, by both a change in client mind-set and the weaker pound against the Euro. Significant demand for India and Uzbekistan has been sparked by TV coverage the last year.

Croatia, Italy and Scandinavia are selling well for Leger and it has over 25 new breaks for 2020. Also doing well are Romania and Greece, perhaps perceived as less pricey than other Eurozone countries, and longer-haul Costa Rica and Peru, fitting the more adventurous mature market trend.

Tricks for the trade

“The main thing we’re always talking to agents about is how exciting this demographic should be for them,” says Saga’s Powell, pointing out that baby boomers typically have greater disposable income and time to travel.

“It’s important agents recognise how the average 60-year-old has changed in the last 20 or 30 years,” he adds. “These guests are willing to research their holidays extensively and they’re comfortable shopping around, but they value service and reliability above everything else - price often isn’t the determining factor.”

With over-55s the second biggest users of Facebook, Powell encourages agents not to overlook social media for marketing. “They are engaged with it and can be influenced heavily by trends online and on television – use this to your advantage!” he says.

Riviera’s Morgan points out escorted tours and river cruises are easy, good value sells, which meet the mature market’s desire for stress-free holidays. He adds: “There’s no hassle for agents and the all-in nature means it’s good for commission.”

Newmarket’s Forde recommends agents keep up with mature travel trends by asking operators what is currently selling well; “it may be something you had not thought of”.

It’s a case of recognising the value of, and embracing, this market.