Advanced sense of adventure

Cashed-up and intrepid seniors are bucking the ‘blue-rinse brigade’ stereotype, adding unusual destinations to the itinerary.

THEY’RE often dismissed as the caravan brigade or people who just go on cruises, but new research suggests senior travellers deserve a lot more respect.

This is the first generation of Lonely Planet users.

Findings released to The Sun-Herald before their official launch at a workshop later this month show an estimated 4.4 million seniors in Australia are travelling – and they’re spending up big.the term ‘‘senior’’ defined as people aged over 55 – although it soon became clear that most people in this age group did not consider themselves senior.

The study was carried out by experienced travel researchers at, with

Researchers Carolyn Childs and Bronwyn White say the reality of the senior traveller is far removed from the general perception of the market.

‘‘Often they are seen as the blue-rinse brigade but we prefer to think of them as the blue-sky brigade,’’ Childs says.

‘‘Of our sample of [more than 500] senior travellers, more than half had travelled overseas in the past 12 months and one in five had made more than five domestic trips in that period.

‘‘These people are out there.

‘‘Old favourites such as Europe and North America are high on the list of dream destinations, but so are more interesting and unusual destinations.


‘‘Six per cent were planning to travel to South America.’’

Childs says today’s seniors are the richest generation Australia has seen (holding a disproportionate amount of Australia’s wealth due to the housing boom) and are optimistic and adventurous travellers.

‘‘This group is economically important but much misunderstood,’’ she says. ‘‘This is the first generation of Lonely Planet users – think [Lonely Planet founders] Tony and Maureen Wheeler. We loved working with the focus groups; we found them so intellectually lively.’’

Childs says senior travellers often have more in common with young gap-year travellers than they do with the age groups in between.

Senior travellers are among the biggest participants in volunteer-related travel and are driven by the spiritual or experiential aspect of travel as much as the younger market is.

Childs says senior travellers are also becoming big technology users.

‘‘They have come later to the internet but are engaging passionately with it.’’

Two-thirds were using search engines and one in 12 was using a travel app or travel guide on a mobile phone.

Childs and White say much of the marketing that is targeted at older people is deemed insulting and stereotyped, an example being the commonly used imagery of a grey-haired couple walking hand-in-hand along a beach.

‘‘They [senior travellers] don’t see themselves like that, they see themselves as young and hip,’’ White says. ‘‘They’re not being spoken to the way they want to be spoken to.’’

Childs says the research found that it was ‘‘possibly all right’’ for men in advertisements to have grey hair but not for women.

The most effective images were those that showed people a decade younger than the target market.

Childs says today’s senior travellers form two groups: those who did the backpacking thing in the 1970s and those who missed out on doing so and want to make up for it now.

A popular style of travel is small group tours, where single travellers in particular can have the company of others without being herded around in a big group.

Cruising is also popular, but many opt for ‘‘the adventurous end’’ of the sector, such as expedition cruises and trips to Antarctica.

The head of marketing for Harvey World Travel, James Brodie, says the research findings are reflected in the bookings being made by older travellers.

While there is still a ‘‘mainstream core’’ of older travellers doing trips such as European river cruises (often with plenty of active shore excursions), there are also many heading to Africa, South America, Antarctica and emerging destinations such as Burma.

‘‘A lot of senior travellers are actively looking for new destinations,’’ Brodie says.

The key to catering for the more active end of the senior travel market is to offer adventure combined with a level of safety and security.

‘‘They are very active but they have to be catered for in a particular way ... they want trips that are full of adventure but are well organised and not reckless,’’ Brodie says.