Silver Travel Advisor’s Debbie Marshall says some post-Covid measures ‘amount to age apartheid’

The results of the latest piece of Silver Travel Advisor research will be released next month, and what’s clear from our survey of 1,000 older travellers is that travel priorities are changing. Back in 2019 (and doesn’t that feel like a lifetime ago), our members said that past experience was the most-important factor when choosing a holiday, followed, in order, by destination, Atol protection, company reputation and price.

In today’s brave new world, as we emerge from Covid and older people tentatively start to venture out again, the new top priority is health and safety reassurance, followed by flexibility of booking and financial security. Price is once again low down on the list, with 55% saying that the pandemic has not affected their finances and nearly 20% considering themselves to be “lucky”, that is to say, at least as well-off if not better-off than before.

When you consider that holidays in 2020 have been largely about refunds and postponements, this is not surprising and it bodes well for bigger budgets and aspirations in 2021 and beyond: not only are purses well-lined, but the pandemic has heightened awareness that life can be short and unpredictable.

For travel companies focusing on the older demographic and wanting to better understand customer attitudes, the message now is simple: it’s all about safety and reassurance.

Marketing messages

New marketing campaigns no longer promote dreamy images of couples walking hand in hand down a perfect beach in the sunset. Instead, think handwashing not hand-holding, with a focus on health and sanitation protocols.

Hurtigruten, for example, has just released a new video, and there’s not a northern light or polar bear in sight. The emphasis is on disinfectant and distancing, delivered in a serious and diligent tone. It’s pitch-perfect for their market, with one customer commenting: “Very impressive. I look forward to booking with you. Thank you very much for your care and hard work.”

However, there’s an ocean of difference between making people feel reassured and safe, and discriminating against them.

Bizarre guidelines

The EU recently issued some well-intentioned but frankly bizarre guidelines which make for uneasy reading. Some of the recommendations, such as the removal of tea and coffee-making facilities in cabins, are going to be unpopular, but others amount to age apartheid, with segregation for older travellers.

The 49-page document, which would appear to have been put together without any consultation with mature focus groups, recommends that those over 65 years of age should consult a doctor prior to travel for a fitness certificate.

What’s more, it advises that the over-65s should be separated for dining and other activities. Seriously? How is that going to work with multigenerational families or couples who sit either side of the age divide? Are they really to be separated throughout the cruise and made to dine in separate areas? And how is a travel agent expected to sell a cruise when they need to communicate this kind of discriminatory message to older customers?

Like so much else over the last few months, it seems that these guidelines have not been fully thought through or their potential impact assessed. We would like to see them reviewed and revised with proper consultation and respect: older people may have a few more miles on the clock but they should never be segregated.

They are also good judges of which travel companies to trust – high levels of repeat bookings and loyalty have been hard won. The cruise lines have long prioritised good hygiene and cleanliness – often to standards above that found ashore – and their passengers trust them to continue to make the experience not only an enjoyable and stimulating one but also as safe as it can possibly be.