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Baby boomers hit the road

More "silver travellers", aged 55 and older, are travelling, and not just to nearby destinations, with many venturing as far afield as Scandinavia and South America

The segment of silver travellers - those aged 55 and older - is a fast- growing one for the travel industry in Singapore, as baby boomers hit the road in increasing numbers.

Travel agencies such as Chan Brothers Travel and Dynasty Travel say the number of customers from this market has jumped 10 per cent each year for the past three years - significant growth given that "silver travellers" make up at least 40 per cent of their customers.

These holiday-makers are not limiting themselves to nearby countries; some of them head to places as far afield as Scandinavia, Alaska and Tanzania.

At Dynasty Travel, every year, about 70 per cent of its silver travellers take at least one long-haul holiday lasting 10 to 15 days and at least one mid-haul holiday lasting four to eight days.

The enthusiasm for travel, says Dynasty Travel's director of public relations Alicia Seah, is due to "a satisfactory disposable income, fewer home responsibilities, more time to travel and relatively good health".

"They are an important tourist segment and are expected to spend more than all other age groups on holiday travel," she adds.

For us, it's a lot more interesting to go shopping for traditional items, watch a cooking or handicraft demonstration or go for a massage. It's nice to be with the family but it's tiring.

MS HELEN LIM, founder of Silver Horizon Travel, which organises social activities and trips for seniors, on how tours that try to cater to all members of a family are problematic

Falling oil prices and, subsequently, cheaper flights have also contributed to more travelling this year.

At Insight Vacations, the number of customers above 55 years old has tripled since 2013. About 65 per cent of its guests are aged 52 to 70, and 25 per cent are above the age of 71.

Its chief executive officer John Boulding attributes this largely to luxury tour and cruise companies offering "senior-friendly trips" - itineraries with more than one night in each location, lifts in every hotel, customised excursions to match a guest's fitness level, door-to-door transport and porter services.

Cruise operator Royal Caribbean Cruises is also cashing in on this trend - silver travellers account for 30 per cent of its customers.

Most are attracted to the convenience of cruises, which allow guests to visit multiple destinations while unpacking only once.

Guests can also take part in onboard activities, such as line and ballroom dancing, and join different onshore excursions.

The trend is expected to stick as local agencies and operators fine- tune their offerings to grab a slice of the growing market segment.

  • Tips for the silver traveller

  • ITINERARIES

    When booking with a tour operator or travel agent, be upfront from the start about health and mobility issues and dietary requirements, so it can provide the best options to suit your needs.

    Opt for "At Leisure" or "Relaxed" itineraries, which often mean a later start to the day, such as after 9am, with a minimum two nights' stay at each destination and less time spent travelling and changing hotels.

    In general, silver travellers prefer a free-and-easy day on arrival. Do not dive right into tours without providing a few hours for checking-in, a nap and refreshment.

    Avoid theme parks and strenuous activities which include a lot of stairs to climb or more than an hour of walking at a stretch. Opt for cultural demonstrations and sight-seeing instead.

    If long bus rides of three hours or more are unavoidable, make sure there are ample bathroom breaks along the way.

    ACCOMMODATION

    When booking accommodation, choose a centrally located hotel near the main city sights and public transit lines rather than a place in the suburbs.

    Check to make sure the hotel has a lift; some older European hotels do have not lifts and guests have to climb many flights to get to their rooms. Call ahead to request a room close to the lift if need be.

    You may also want to check the facilities in the hotel. Some offer only bathtubs, which can be dangerous for older people who risk slipping and falling while getting in and out of the tub. Shower cubicles are preferred.

    Hotels which are labelled "disability friendly" are good options for silver travellers, as they can mean fewer steps, accessible step-in showers, wide hallways and rooms with wheelchair access.

    Also inquire whether the hotel has a porter service to help carry luggage.

    DISCOUNTS

    Book three to six months in advance to score early-bird deals. Some tour companies offer special rates, such as 50 per cent off the second guest, or 10 per cent off for groups of five or more. The bigger the group, the better the deals you can bargain for.

    Museums and tourist sites will often offer senior discounts or concessions if you ask, as will some airlines on occasion, including Thai Airways, Emirates, Philippine Airways and Cathay Pacific.

    CRUISE

    Cruises are a great way to meet the needs of multiple generations of travellers. There are many different types of cruises to meet every travel style, from mega ocean cruises in the South China Sea to boutique river cruises along the Rhine or adventure cruises in the Alaskan wilderness.

    Cruises allow guests to visit multiple places at one go without having to unpack. They also offer a variety of dining and entertainment options, the opportunity to go on as many or as few onshore excursions and all-inclusive packages which can often be arranged to include flights and airport transport as well.

Singapore has one of the fastest- ageing populations in Asia.

Currently, one in eight Singaporeans is above the age of 65, but by 2030, this will change to one in four, with life expectancies pegged at about 20 years beyond retirement age.

But there is still much to be done and travel agencies are trying to better understand the needs of silver travellers.

Mr Lee Kah Chuen, 70, and his wife, Madam Tan Jee Pang, 69, who have taken 22 holidays with Dynasty Travel since 2007, regularly join the agency's inaugural tours and give feedback after each trip.

"Sometimes, the tours are so packed, once you reach a place, it's night and all you can do is go to sleep," he says.

However, he appreciates that changes to the tours were made after he gave his feedback.

The couple favoured scenic adventure and walking trips to exotic destinations such as Peru, Eastern Turkey and Kenya but are now opting for cruises and more low-key tours after Mr Lee had bypass surgery in August last year.

The industry's willingness to listen and change, says Ms Helen Lim, 79, founder of Silver Horizon Travel, is key to capturing the market.

Silver Horizon is a cooperative that organises social activities and trips for seniors.

The group, which has 350 members, has nine trips lined up for next year. This is up from just three in 2012 - when the cooperative started with just 18 members.

"Many pre-organised tours try to give you value for money and pack too many activities in a day.

"You might land in Russia first thing in the morning after a 14-hour flight and you will go straight on a tour of the city," says Ms Lim.

"Ideally, we get flights which are well arranged and economical, then we can go to the hotel, rest, freshen up and take a tour in the afternoon."

Multi-generational tours, she says, are especially problematic.

In an effort to satisfy different generations, tours tend to favour younger people and include activities which involve climbing stairs or spending an afternoon at a theme park, during which older folks sit in a cafe and wait for the energetic youngsters to be done.

"For us, it's a lot more interesting to go shopping for traditional items, watch a cooking or handicraft demonstration or go for a massage. It's nice to be with the family but it's tiring," she says.

Dr Koay Siew Luan, a psychologist in her 60s, organises informal group trips for elderly blue-collar, single and widowed retirees who cannot afford expensive travel packages. She has organised one or two trips a year since 1999.

She plans every detail of the itinerary and negotiates discounts with travel agents for up to 42 travellers a year at no charge and goes along for the trip, paying the same amount as everyone else.

By organising the trips herself, she is able to get better rates, she says. The tours cost about $200 a person to Batam, less than $2,000 for trips within Asia and less than $3,000 for trips farther afield.

All the hard work she puts into the organisation is worth it as she gets to experience a new destination with senior travellers, she says.

"When I see lonely seniors transforming into happy individuals and interacting with one another, I feel delighted."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 27, 2016, with the headline 'Baby boomers hit the road'. Print Edition | Subscribe