Comment: Silver surfers are catching the wave

Comment: Silver surfers are catching the wave

But don’t ignore those for whom a tablet is a pill before every meal, says Debbie Marshall, managing director of Silver Travel Advisor

In 1967, the first cash machine opened in the UK in Enfield. A painstaking transaction produced a voucher which the customer had to sign, place into a special drawer where it was authenticated, and then a single £10 note was delivered.

For those of us born in the 1960s or before (‘digital immigrants’, as we are kindly called), our years at school and at least the first decade of our careers did not feature electronic gadgets.

Communications in my first ski season working overseas were by telex (you’ll need to look that up if you’re a millennial) and an elusive red plastic bag known as the company mail, containing all of the printed manifests for the following week, which would (or would not) arrive on the carousel at the airport on transfer day. Over the following years, I saw the advent of the car phone, the fax machine, dial-up internet, email and the mobile phone.

Digital differences

Today, many people in their seventh and eighth decades have no interest in or understanding of the digital world.
It’s also a confidence issue: terrified of all they read about hackers and online fraud, they see the digital world as one best left to the youngsters.

However, this is only part of the story. A growing number of silver surfers have evolved into social seniors, with a surge embracing the digital age, a trend that will only continue over the coming years as the younger generations of today become the pensioners of tomorrow.

New research* reveals how the over‑75s are using smartphones and tablets in record numbers: 27% last year, up from 15% in 2015, with smartphone use trebling from 5% to 15%. And among those aged 65-74, 51% had tablets last year, up from 39% in 2015.

The findings also reveal that almost half of internet users aged 65-74 now have a social media profile – up from less than a third in 2012, and the proportion of over‑75s on social media has increased from 13% to 41%. Facebook is the most popular social network for senior citizens, used by 87% of pensioners who are on social media. In contrast, just 6% of seniors choose to be on WhatsApp and only 1% opt for Instagram.

Lessons for trade

Older customers clearly differ. For every silver surfer addicted to online research, Facebook and Skype, there’s another who will never have an email address, for whom the language of emojis and tweets is entirely foreign and for whom a tablet is something to be taken before every meal.

Travel companies targeting the older market need to keep a firm eye on the past as well as looking forward. If your business provides only electronic information, you may be losing business without even realising it. Spending time and money on Instagram posts may bring smiling cartoon faces as a measure of success, but will barely touch the over-60s.

Yet a paper brochure sent by good old snail mail, with a personalised letter and followed up with a friendly phone call or meeting, continues to be a successful way to talk to many of the older generation.

And don’t let a 20-year-old social media ‘expert’ tell you otherwise!

*Ofcom’s annual Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes report

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