Targeting Your Niche: Mature Travel

More-mature travelers offer a growing demographic niche for agents

By: Dennis McCafferty

Older parents are a growing travel niche, according to a report by the Travel Industry Association of America.

The study found that travel in this group has surged 149 percent since 1994 by far the biggest demographic increase in the report, acccording to the association.

(The next highest increase in travel was among young parents, at just 17 percent.)

The association found that the defining characteristic of these parents are that they are at least 55 years old and have at least one child under age 17 at home.

Agents and travel experts say it is a demographic that likely decided to establish their careers before having children.

As a result, they also have built up more of an ongoing income and nest egg to support a well-traveled lifestyle.

“We cater to this age bracket,” says Linda Ovian, managing director of Los Angeles-based Journeys Abroad Inc., where this particular travel niche accounts for 15 percent of business.

“These people have the bucks to spend because they’re well-established in the business community,” she said. “As an agent, you have to be selective and meet each particular family need.”

And a growing number of travel industry players are taking notice to win over this educated, affluent and older customer.

Marriott Vacation Club International, for example, offers 1,250-square-foot villas that accommodate six, with full kitchens, private balconies, luxury tubs, as well as family-friendly activities such as pool parties, campfires and even karaoke.

Agent rates range from 8 to 10 percent, and agents may visit properties at 50 percent off rack rate.

Euro RSCG Worldwide, a New York-based global marketing communications agency, recently found in a travel-trend study that travelers age 50 or older make up 33 percent of travel to Japan as well as two-thirds of all cruise passengers.

“People who are 55-plus today feel genuinely young: They have great physical strength, emotional strength and a sense of adventure,” says Marian Salzman, chief strategy officer Euro RSCG Worldwide. “Travel is one of the benefits of maturity but maturity with flair.

“There is no such thing as being old in your 50s or even 60s if you have enough joy for life to hit the road. The other irony is that this demographic essentially behaves like middle youth. They are experimental.

“They are ambitious about sampling new experiences and are desperately seeking conversational currency. How better to gain it than shopping in North Africa or snorkeling in Mexico? Or doing an antiques tour in England or France or in Wisconsin?”

She adds that this demographic is also very Web-savvy, so agents do themselves good by finding packages and prices that match those found on sites such as Lonely Planet Online, or, say,

And experts say agents also need to be aware of this traveler’s particular personality, and plan accordingly.

This niche traveler is the kind that often wants a ‘resort casual’ attitude, but with all of the lavish perks of a high-end travel package.

“This group feels like they are ‘owed’ some great vacations after years of sacrificing to raise, support and educate their children,’’ says Joe Ewart, vice president of sales and marketing for CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.

“Agents need to target the message directly to these prospects,” Ewart says.

The increase in travel among this demographic has grown so much that some travel agents who had specialized strictly in grandparent travel are now focusing upon older parents who may not have grandchildren.

One of the most high-profile of such agencies, Grandtravel, is seeing 10 percent annual growth in this niche.

Founder Helena Koenig says her Chevy Chase, Md.-based business is now scheduling two to three trips a week for this kind of client, with average bookings of about $2,000.

“They see my grandparent-focused trips online and call and say ‘Can we book that we’re old enough to be grandparents,” Koenig says. “Of course we can. They waited for children and they have money as a result. They aren’t grandparents now, but they will be in 10 years.”