50-plus on the move

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Traveling ranks high on the list for ways U.S. adults aged 50 and older say they would like to spend their time.

Fifty-plus consumers spend more than $30 billion on vacation travel annually, according to recent research conducted for AARP by Roper Starch Worldwide. Also, 75% of the 50-plus market has taken a trip for five or more nights in the last year.

"In the last 10 years, there has been an increase in companies that market specifically to those over 50 and in developing trips specifically for people over 50," says Chris Kelly, co-publisher-editor of ActiveTimes. "Travel is one of the few industries that has recognized the value and impact of the mature market."


This market represents 72% of RV trips, 70% of bus trips and 70% of cruise passengers. They travel more frequently than younger consumers, stay longer and go longer distances, according to AARP stats.

"The 50-plus market is much healthier [today], and as baby boomers come into this, they want a much more active travel experience, like a float trip down the Colorado River," says Mary Stachnik, senior VP and co-owner of Mayflower Tours. "And they want to share their experiences with others, so they take group tours."

Multigenerational travel is one way mature adults share their experiences with others, and it's a trend on the rise (see story at right).

"Grandparents take the whole gang somewhere," Ms. Kelly says. "That will be an increasing trend. Travel companies and destinations need to recognize and play into that a little more. They need to arrange packages for different age groups or set aside special weeks that are family-focused."


In general, members of the 50-plus group do not want to see marketing that portrays them as sedentary grannies.

Travelodge Hotels targets this market in one-third of its TV and print advertising, says Teri Danahey, VP-marketing. Ads "portray them as active, viable humans on the planet, not the rocking chair crowd." New Paradigm, Harrison, N.Y., is agency of record.

In one TV spot appearing on such cable networks as A&E, History Channel and Discovery Channel, a traveler loses his prescription medication and can't continue the trip without it. The Travelodge franchisee finds an all-night drugstore and refills the guest's prescription. The man is later shown hiking with his wife.

The travel industry needs to consider health issues, says Denise Larson, exec VP-director of strategic planning and research at Lord Group, a New York-based ad agency that has created ads for Best Western International, Trans World Airlines and Avis Rent A Car System, among others.


"Those who are not so well but want to travel will have special needs," Ms. Larson says. For example, this group will want to make sure their medications are safe and want tour materials in larger print.

"Travel companies that start to really understand those needs and provide programs and plans for them will be winners in the senior market."

People who retire are ready to see areas they missed in busier times, travel industry executives say. Natural Habitat Adventures, for example, takes groups of 10 led by biologists and naturalists in search of polar bears in Canada and mountain gorillas in Uganda.

"The trips lend themselves to older people. They're more costly and you have to have more time," says Director Ben Bressler. "When you go on your own you won't have the experience you have with a professional leader who understands the wild life."

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