Travel Weekly’s latest Executive Lunch was held in partnership with Silver Travel Advisor and Accord. Amie Keeley reports

Industry urged to avoid patronising the over-50s

The over-50s are “tearing up the road map” when it comes to growing older and hate to be “pigeon-holed and patronised”.

That was the overwhelming message from attendees at Travel Weekly’s Executive Lunch on the theme of mature travel.

Judith Holder, author of The Secret Diary of a Grumpy Old Woman and Grumpy Old Holidays, said growing old now was very different from how it was for her parents’ generation.

“We’re tearing up the road map,” she said. “Baby Boomers invented sex, drugs and rock and roll. We are re-inventing old age and we’re not going down quietly.

“There’s no real name for us, as it’s a new life phase and finding a name for us is part of the problem when it comes to marketing to us.

“We are not old and we are not young. We are teenagers with liver spots. We feel young but have a sense we are getting old.”

Holder said her generation is “no pushover” and a “stickler for good customer service”.

“We’ve been there and done that and got the T-shirt and can’t stand being patronised,” she added.

“We are up for stuff and getting out of our comfort zone. We are still the same fun-loving people we always were.”

Sally Winfield, chief executive of marketing agency Accord, said: “The way you market [to mature travellers] is important. They don’t want to be patronised, they want to be inspired and engaged.”

She said imagery used in mature marketing was often overly airbrushed or “old looking”.

Maria Payne, head of travel at Accord, said the mature sector could not be lumped together and marketing to the over-60s was very different to the over-80s.

Ted Wake, sales and marketing director of Kirker Holidays, said: “The older generation think in a different way, not because they are old fashioned, but they are less tolerant of imperfections and don’t like to be pigeon-holed.

“We focus on trying to tease out of them what experiences they enjoy on holiday.”

Maria Whiteman, managing director of Saga Travel, said research by the company showed mature people “hated any label”.

She said Saga’s policy to include free travel insurance on all their holidays was both a unique selling point, but also a “constraint”.

“If you shout about it people start to feel old,” she said.

Holder, who has worked with Billy Connolly, Dame Edna Everage and Victoria Wood, said humour was “very powerful” in marketing if well executed, citing a Specsavers advert that made light of older people losing their eyesight, as it was affectionate and truthful.

‘Agents don’t dream of selling to mature market’

Getting agents excited and engaged about selling holidays to the mature market is a “challenge” for the trade, according to Kirker Holidays’ Ted Wake.

The marketing and sales director said: “I don’t think agents wake up and dream of selling to this market. It isn’t on their minds.

“We have always worked well with the trade,” he said.

“But I think there is a challenge for travel agents.

“Silver Travel Advisor does a great job and Travel Weekly also has a role to play in stopping agents just dreaming of selling nice holidays in the Maldives and more a long weekend in Vienna or Prague.”

However, Wake said agents were often better when it came to converting high-ticket items compared with online.

Advantage Travel Partnership recently partnered with Silver Travel Advisor to train its members on selling to the mature market.

Julia Lo Bue-Said, Advantage Travel Partnership managing director, said: “Our members know how to service their clients, but there is a whole opportunity out there that they’re not touching, because they’re not talking about [mature customers] in the right way.

“It’s complex and they are individuals. We’re asking how can we capture what those customers are booking so we can speak to them in the right way.”

‘Ageing is privilege, don’t resist it’

Silver Travel Advisor’s Debbie Marshall said ageing was becoming less of a stigma and should be embraced.

She said US magazine Allure had banned the phrase ‘anti-ageing’. “Ageing is a privilege; we should remember that and not resist,” she said. But mature travellers also had a sense of a “lack of time” and a “while I still can” attitude, she added.

“If I want to go to Antarctica or on a world cruise, for example, there is a finite time.”

Figures from the 2018 Silver Travel Report found 20% of mature travellers plan to take more holidays next year than last year.

Operators add active options for mature travellers

Tour operators are adapting their products as mature travellers seek more active and immersive holidays.

Giles Hawke, Cosmos Tours & Cruises chief executive, said the operator’s customers were well travelled and wanted to go to more unconventional places such as Iran.

“In river cruise, people don’t just want to sit on a coach, they want things that are more immersive,” he said.

“It’s more about the experience and making sure they are looked after, with a bit of hand-holding in soft adventure.”

Maria Whiteman, managing director of Saga Holidays, said the company had added more active itineraries to coincide with its brand relaunch, after research showed people in their 50s and 60s were more active than people of the same age 10 years ago.

She said the company was founded with a mission statement to “enrich retired people’s lives”, but this had changed as more people work into older age.

However, Ted Wake said it was the 80-plus market, which was growing the most as more people live longer, that held the most opportunities.

He said being mindful of and communicating accessibility issues with suppliers in this age group was key.

Silver travellers: the key points

• They are “sticklers” for good customer service and less tolerant of imperfections
• They prefer to speak with a person on the phone than to an automated call centre
• Their holiday budget is ringfenced
• They dislike being pigeon-holed, patronised or given a label
• Their health is more likely to get in the way of a holiday than concerns over security/terrorism
• Humour in marketing and advertising works, but it must be based on truth
• 60-plus market is very different to 80-plus and age groups cannot be lumped together