Dame Esther Rantzen was guest speaker at a Travel Weekly Executive Lunch themed around mature travel, held in partnership with Silver Travel Advisor, Accord and the Singapore Tourism Board. By Amie Keeley

GalleryMature travel executive lunch

Travel companies have been urged to feature older customers in their marketing to inspire more travellers to go on holiday by themselves.

Dame Esther Rantzen said some older people, including those who may be widowed or have low self esteem due to loneliness, “needed encouragement” from the industry.

She spoke about her own experiences of loneliness and a drop in confidence after her husband, who had always organised their trips, passed away.

“Older people need encouragement when their self esteem is low,” Dame Esther said.

“The more case studies you can include about older people who go and enjoy holidays, the more that will ring bells and persuade them to try it. Show them ‘before’, ‘during’ and ‘after’, because they’ll think ‘if she or he can do it, then I can do it’.”

She added: “Sometimes you are dealing with customers whose partner did all the holiday planning and are worried about going off the beaten track, so we need you to tell us we can do it.”

But she said travel companies organising solo holidays needed to be mindful of where they take customers, especially ‘romantic’ settings, which may not always be appropriate.

“On one holiday we were taken to a romantic beach on a cruise, so that wasn’t right for me and I wouldn’t do that again. One piece of advice: don’t send older single people to romantic places.”

Dame Esther said older people still had a sense of “adventure”, because “every day is precious as you grow older”.

However, she urged travel firms not to “segment” older people.

“Age is but a number. Not everybody of 78 has much in common with me. I went to a college reunion and there could have been 25 years between us.

“It’s about taste and experiences and what people want out of their holiday. Having said that, there are things we have in common. Flying is no longer a pleasure, so those who are doing cruises – I can see why they enjoy it so much.”

Dame Esther shared some of her other holiday experiences, including cruises with Saga and Scenic and a multigenerational holiday in Portugal, and praised travel companies for “providing fun and memories”.

“You are lengthening lives,” she added.

Dame Esther on…

Adventure: “I love that word because I still want it. Every day is precious. But I’m not Bear Grylls.”

Saga Cruises: “I thought everybody looked the same because they all had grey hair. After a day or two you realise they are fantastic individuals and they have a sense of adventure and fun.”

Old people: “That stuffy old person may have been a pioneer.”

Guided tours: “I go to the back of the group and lie in the sun. When the guide won’t stop talking, I ask them to turn on the radio so we can hear some of the local music.”

And…

Joan Collins: “I said ‘Joan, you’ve had so many great men, who was the best? She said ‘Your husband’.”

‘Lumley and McDonald inspire women to travel’

Marketing expert Sally Winfield called for more travel TV shows to be fronted by older, solo travellers.

Winfield, chief executive of marketing agency Accord, praised TV programmes such as Joanna Lumley’s Silk Road Adventure and Cruising with Jane McDonald which showed older women travelling alone to long-haul destinations.

“We’re seeing more travel shows fronted by older travellers like Joanna Lumley, Jane McDonald and Selina Scott, which I think is great,” Winfield said.

“On The Real Marigold Hotel, Selina Scott was shown to be quite vulnerable, but then she came out of herself and grew in confidence. It was a good representation of what happens when you go away on a tour or a cruise. So I think more of these shows will inspire people to go on their own.”

Gallery: Mature travel executive lunch

Listen: Hear our interview with Esther Rantzen in the Travel Weekly podcast