There are opportunities to serve the poorer end of the sector too, says Debbie Marshall, managing director of Silver Travel Advisor

At the Coach Tourism Association Conference in Blackpool last month, I had the pleasure of meeting the owners of a number of smaller, traditional British coach businesses. Handed down through the generations, these are family affairs that have thrived and dealt with many challenges over the years.

Common among all of them was their pride in repeat customers, the bedrock of their success. A shared concern, however, was that their market is ageing and these loyal repeat customers are now in their seventies and travelling less. There is also an absence of a younger demographic choosing lower-cost traditional UK coach holidays in the same way that their parents and grandparents did.

Rich old, poor old

It led me to reflect that we focus much of our attention on the lucrative part of the silver market – those who control 80% of the nation’s wealth and 60% of the travel spend. These are the people who enjoy the enviable cocktail of time, wealth and good health, as well as the desire to still see more of the world.

This is a very attractive sector to the holiday industry, with companies vying to promote active, adventurous and far-flung trips to empty nesters, new retirees and golden oldies. Flush with their healthy pensions, this market is ready to spend on travel in a way that the previous generation would never have dreamed of.

The formation last year of the Association of Touring & Adventure Suppliers aligns with this growing demand for providing experiences for the “younger old”, with 17,000 people turning 50 in the UK every week.

However, things look very different at the “older old” and poorer end of the market. The lower half of the older generation holds just 7% of the wealth, with more than one in seven people retiring with only their state pensions.

Equally, we cannot ignore the growing accessible market. As the population ages, so the prevalence of disability increases, affecting 42% of pensioners, or 5.1 million people.

Growing market

The ageing demographic is not just in the 50-plus sector, but also the 60‑plus, 70‑plus, 80-plus and 90-plus as longevity increases by two years each decade. A record 800,000 people turned 70 in the UK last year, and there are currently 16,000 centenarians – a figure tipped to hit 500,000 by 2050.

It’s easy to turn a blind eye to this market, which still has a desire to travel despite having more limited means or mobility, and it is only going to grow. It’s good to see some companies starting to respond with accessible coach tours and cruises as well as care-assisted holidays. The Public Services Vehicle Accessibility Regulations being phased in will ensure all coaches and buses are accessible for wheelchair and mobility scooter users by 2020.

So if you are targeting the 50‑plus market, consider also those who do not tick all the desirable health and wealth boxes, as business possibilities exist here too.

More than anything, we should strive to offer opportunities to all older travellers to broaden horizons and have a better quality of life.

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