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Longtime travel advisor Kari Mollan has been answering a lot of phone calls in recent weeks from vaccinated seniors.
“We have an inside joke in the office that after the second vaccine appointment is done, the next call people are making is to their travel advisor,” said Mollan, who works at Stellar Travel in Bellevue, Wash. “People are just really ready to go.”
Mollan said her overall business has surged in the past month thanks in no small part to an increase in requests from seniors, many of whom have either received both vaccination shots or are now waiting on their second. That senior market is accounting for between 50% and 60% of the calls or emails Mollan is receiving.
We have an inside joke in the office that after the second vaccine appointment is done, the next call people are making is to their travel advisor.
“Business is probably back up to about 30% of where we were overall before the pandemic,” she added. “And that’s good. We’re at least on the increase, and people are getting confident.”
Dan Blanchard, CEO of UnCruise Adventures, said seniors were also responsible for an increase in inquiries and bookings for his company in recent weeks. Although UnCruise does a fair amount of multigenerational travel, Blanchard said the vast majority of the cruise line’s clients are ages 60 to 62, and many of those folks are booking cruises in May of this year and throughout the summer.
“A big part of it — there’s no question — is the vaccination,” Blanchard said. “People are getting the vaccination and looking down the road to this summer and realizing that in Alaska, we’ll be 100% vaccinated well before the rest of the lower 48. They’re finding safety in that.”
Stefanie Schmudde, vice president of product development and operations for Abercrombie & Kent USA (A&K), said the luxury tour operator has heard directly from older clients that COVID-19 inoculations have increased their confidence about booking travel, and that has in turn spurred inquiries as well as bookings for the second half of 2021.
“People have been at home, and they’ve been playing it safe,” Schmudde said. “And now that they’re starting to get vaccinated, that confidence is growing, and they’re ready to start getting out there and planning their dream trip again.”
And now that they’re starting to get vaccinated, that confidence is growing, and they’re ready to start getting out there and planning their dream trip again.
Schmudde also noted A&K has seen an increase in multigenerational trip planning, including grandparents looking to travel with their children and grandkids.
“Many people do seem to be trying to book vacations with their extended family,” she said. “Perhaps because they have not been able to spend quality time with them over the last year.”
Not Every Senior Is Ready While there clearly have been a number of U.S. seniors seeking to take advantage of their newly inoculated status by planning near-term vacations, not everybody in the age bracket is comfortable yet with the idea of travel.
April Yeung, owner of Grace Travel Adventures in Seabrook, Texas, said just about all of her senior clients are still hesitant about committing to trips.
“Some of them have already been vaccinated, but none have reached out to me to plan new trips yet,” she said. “They are still being very cautious.”
Yeung does have a multigenerational trip to Tanzania on the books this June for a senior couple and some of their healthcare worker children who’ve been vaccinated, but that vacation is still very much in doubt.
“They’re just so hesitant even though they’ve been vaccinated,” Yeung said of the seniors considering Tanzania. “They’re also worried about the South African variant and whether it will make its way up to Tanzania. … They’re also concerned about possibly having to quarantine someplace if someone in the group does get sick.”
Anne Smith, owner of Travel & Events Extraordinaire in Columbia, Md., said none of her senior clientele is ready to travel very far yet either.
“I have not seen any uptick in senior travel with the continuation of vaccinations,” Smith said, noting the older clients she works with aren’t interested yet in venturing abroad. “They’re continuing to either remain close to home or take a staycation.”
A 25-year travel industry veteran, Smith specializes in a number of Caribbean destinations where testing programs have been enacted and tourism restarted, but she said she can relate with her clients that just aren’t ready for an international vacation yet.
RELATED: These Hotels Offer COVID-19 Testing in the Caribbean“Not traveling is like a part of me is missing,” Smith said. “But I would much rather be alive and wait it out versus trying to rush back to travel prematurely.”Where Do Traveling Seniors Want to Go? Joel Holland, CEO of Harvest Hosts, an online RV membership business connecting members with locations across North America where they can spend a night, said many of his company’s senior clients have indicated an interest in visiting warm-weather destinations in coming weeks.
“Senior citizens are a lot like college seniors; they appear to be flocking to the beaches,” Holland said, chuckling. “Florida is one of our hottest spots as our members are planning trips right now for March and April.”
Senior citizens are a lot like college seniors; they appear to be flocking to the beaches.
Holland noted Arizona, California and Texas have also been popular destinations for bookings in the near term. The Harvest Host CEO also mentioned a research study his membership company recently conducted, in which the business asked more than 3,000 RV enthusiasts ages 65 and up if they intended to travel more in 2021 than they did in 2019, prior to the pandemic.
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“57.6% said yes, and I think that’s a really compelling stat,” Holland said. “There is this pent-up demand for travel, and it feels like this year it’s going to start happening, especially with seniors, because by spring so many of them will have their second vaccine shot.”
A&K’s Schmudde noted, meanwhile, that the luxury wholesaler has seen a great deal of recent interest from seniors in bucket-list vacations such as Egypt or the remote, outdoor appeal of African safaris.
“The idea of safari — the small boutique camps and lodges, the outdoor game drives, the sense of wide-open space — I think all that just lends itself to people’s desire to be outside and in an exclusive type of environment,” Schmudde said.
Peter Vlitas, senior vice president of airline relations for Travel Leaders’ parent company, Internova Travel Group, said the company’s travel advisors have seen an increase in requests and bookings from senior travelers considering trips in May and through this summer. And according to Vlitas, the seniors reaching out now fall into two camps.
One group is more interested in staying closer to home and in destinations such as Mexico, the Caribbean or Hawaii. Others, however, are curious about what sort of deals are out there for destinations further away.
We’re seeing seniors who are moving a little bit above their comfort zone because they want to see what the value proposition is if they upscale their trip.
Vlitas said seniors who may have considered three-star properties are now asking about four- and five-star options in places like Greece, the South of France, Spain, Portugal, Rome and even Israel.
“If you’re a senior and you’ve been vaccinated and you want to go away, you may be thinking ‘I want to take advantage of the discounts,’” Vlitas said. “We’re seeing seniors who are moving a little bit above their comfort zone because they want to see what the value proposition is if they upscale their trip.”
Vlitas noted that although Europe remains closed to U.S. travelers, he felt that the situation may change in April, and he mentioned that a number of airlines also appear to be planning for a European reopening to Americans in time for the peak summer travel season.
“You’re seeing airlines put in their summer bank of flights,” Vlitas said. “A lot of them are coming in around June, taking off into Europe. American, Delta and United are betting there will be this pent-up demand for vacation, and Europe is the place a lot of people are going to want to go.”
Stellar Travel’s Mollan said she’s also seeing a lot of interest in European destinations.
“I have a list of seniors who want to go to the U.K., to Ireland, to Spain,” she said. “We’re not necessarily encouraging people to book because, from a professional standpoint, we have had to rebook and rebook so many things lately. … But I think once destinations are open and more people are vaccinated, the flood gates are going open, and we’re going to be so busy.”