Sixty, armed with a map and fabulous

Move over partying teenagers and intrepid discoverers. Silver-haired Gen S travellers are holidaying away across the world

Published - May 04, 2017 02:43 pm IST

Couple of senior tourists using a city guide searching locations and pointing

Couple of senior tourists using a city guide searching locations and pointing

Harsharan Matharu’s travel diaries begin at the age of 82. When we call her, she is packing her bags to Himachal Pradesh for a holiday with a bunch of other senior citizens. “Many from Bengaluru and Bhubaneswar have already reached Chandigarh, which is the assembly point. Before we leave, we are planning to go shopping... I won’t buy anything, I just want to get to know the team,” says Matharu in a wavery voice.

This is her second trip in less than six months. Earlier this year, she had explored the palaces of Rajasthan, and enjoyed being in the company of “like-minded” people versus a solitary life within the walls of her Gurgaon-based house.

Both trips were registered through Bengaluru-based 50+ Voyagers, which, as the name suggests, specialises in tour packages for senior citizens. Matharu lost her husband five years ago, and although she has the support of her three sons who “have beautiful families, are financially stable, and easily accessible,” she says, “staying alone can get to you, sometimes…” And this is despite her involvement with a club the Lioness Club (an offshoot of Lions Club) and managing a knitwear business. “One day, I logged into Facebook, and happened to find the 50+ Voyagers page. I called them up.”

In no time, she was part of a forum that enabled new friendships even at 80.

Matharu is among the burgeoning number of Gen S travellers who, far from the stereotypical persona associated with them, are “active, adventurous and raring to go — with a delightfully youthful approach to travel,” says Rajeev Kale, President and Country Head Leisure Travel and MICE at Thomas Cook (India). The segment accounts for 30% of the company’s leisure outbound business, and their internal data shows that “the combination of early retirement, high disposable income {often enough, topped up by their children} and a healthy lifestyle has given room for more leisure time, creating a demand for travel — indicating an approximate 12-15% year over year growth.”

While travel for purpose — travelling abroad to meet children, and pilgrimage — still significantly contributes to the overall Gen S travel spend, more seniors are searching for tourism products that offer personal holidays with enriching experiences, says Sangita Bhattacharyya, founder of 50+ Voyagers.

The trend

“W e get calls from Gen S travellers for second honeymoon holidays and foreign leisure trips as anniversary gifts. Beyond London, Paris and Rome, Gen S travellers are looking for packages which cover the Scottish highlands or a trip to the Amalfi coast or even an off-beat destination like Corsica.” What’s also gaining traction is a long vacation that is a combination of VFR — visiting family and relatives — and leisure.

Portrait of happy senior paddling kayak in the lake with man supporting from behind. Mature couple  enjoying a day at the lake.

Portrait of happy senior paddling kayak in the lake with man supporting from behind. Mature couple enjoying a day at the lake.

Contrary to the long-held thought that people want to ‘settle’ down after fulfilling responsibilities — be it professional or personal, more people now see retirement as a push to soak in some sun on that island they had dreamt of while sweating it out at work. The Aegon Retirement Readiness Survey 2016 report suggests that travelling is the most important retirement aspiration globally, followed closely by ‘spending time with family and friends’. We hear stories, now more than ever, from across the globe, which support these statistics. Take for example the Vancouver-based couple, Don, 70, and Alison, 60, who sold their apartment and car, and started travelling around the world a few years ago; Kerala-based sexagenarians Vijayan and Mohana, popularly known as the ‘tea-shop’ couple, have which has visited over 17 countries; or Lena Toksanbaeva, an octogenarian from Kazakhstan, who decided to throw caution to the wind and pack her bags for a world tour at the age of 79.

According to a report by Amadeus, an IT service provider for the global travel and tourism industry: “Overall, there will be an increase of 250 million over-65s by 2030, across the seven countries we have researched, with most of the increase coming from China and India.” And tapping into these increasing numbers are platforms such as 50+ Voyagers and Seniorworld, which are quite similar to their western counterparts Seniortours Vacations (USA) and Suddenly Senior. Many of the top travel agencies have also introduced exclusive packages for Gen S — Silver Breaks by Thomas Cook, Second Innings by Kesari Tours and Travels, Coach tours by Flight Shop, Senior Citizens Nature Club by Insearch Outdoors, Twinkles with Wrinkles by Navbharat, and special tours by India Vision Travels.

MP Deepu, co-founder of Seniorworld (Rahul Gupta is the other co-founder), talks passionately about his work that requires meticulous planning, patience and sensitivity. “I have seen an 80-year-old ziplining, another swimming with dolphins; in one of the trips, an elderly woman asked to be covered dug neck down in sand... it’s amazing to watch them discover the child inside,” says Deepu, whose company has catered to around 1,200 clients since September 2016.

Planning the trip

“We start with creating a WhatsApp group, where we connect all those who are part of the trip. And another for relatives to keep updated about their parents or grandparents.” Notes are taken on each customer’s health. “Do they have diabetes? Arthritis? Heart problems? Or are they high on anxiety?” The accompanying staff from Seniorworld are CPR-trained; the nearest hospitals, buses, food markets and scenic spots are listed; and the facilities at the hotels — lift, bathtub, and so on — checked.

Members include couples, single men and women, professors, Defence personnel, doctors, businessmen, college principals... every WhatsApp group becomes permanent once created, with conversations ranging from trips to everyday life. “ A few in every group tear up when the trip ends. They reminisce through albums sent to them by us. Most come back for another trip.” And become part of a new WhatsApp group, which in its small way, helps seal the void created by loneliness as the years go by.

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