Empathise with older clients and you'll earn their loyaltysays Debbie Marshall managing director, Silver Travel Advisor
While travelling around the Sabah region of Malaysian Borneo in August, I visited the Chanteek Gallery which offered a tourist experience to become a ‘Bornean for a day’. This involved dressing up in local costumes, learning a group dance and being shown how to play the kulintang (a row of small drums).
The cultural immersion continued with stilt walking. Given that I was reviewing the attraction for its suitability for older travellers, I felt justified in declining the opportunity. I was keen to enjoy an authentic experience, but I didn’t need to check out the local medical facilities.
To our astonishment, a much older member of staff leapt nimbly onto the highest stilts and proceeded to impress with an intricate hopping and skipping dance routine. It was clear 72-year-old Kim Sim had the agility of a man half his age and a smile from the heart.
I later learned that Bornean families live in bamboo long houses, adding more rooms for each new generation, and that grandparents are the heads of the household, respected for their knowledge and wisdom. When young people pass by senior citizens in the street, the tradition is to bow slightly in deference to their elders.
I reflected that we could learn so much from this inclusive and courteous treatment of the older generation.
Holding over 80% of the nation’s wealth, the silver generation represents a golden opportunity for the travel trade.
But understanding the different market segments of the older generation is key: the over-50s cannot be cast into one wide net. From the adventurous ‘midlife deniers’ through to those needing an accessible holiday with a little extra care, it’s important to identify the age and stage of life which best suits the product on offer and target that market sector carefully and respectfully.
This can mean taking simple measures such as training (especially young) call centre staff to speak more slowly and be sympathetic to those clients who may be hard of hearing or take a little longer to process information. Employing older staff who can empathise with clients of a certain age is even better.
Reviewing the font sizes of brochures, websites and other marketing material is also important, as is ensuring that websites have clear straightforward navigation and minimal clicks.
Key information should be easily found and honest. Are excursions going to be strenuous? Is the accommodation located up a steep hill? Will a boat trip to a nearby island involve a long wait without anywhere to sit in the shade? As always, it’s the detail which is critical and can make the difference between a quick sale and a client for life.
Older travellers are loyal – they trust peer reviews, and many enjoy returning to the same hotel or ship, and even the same room or cabin. They often have the means and desire to pay for an upgrade, treat their grandchildren, or indulge in the holiday of a lifetime.
If you need a further incentive, just look at Solent World Travel (Travel Weekly, August 4). It reported a £78,000 booking for a mature couple who “wanted all their bucket-list trips in one holiday”. Congratulations to consultant Lynn Martin who spent six months putting together a complex itinerary. Your hard work paid off!
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