What do the over 50s look for in a holiday?

Peter Morrell talks to Susan Hooper, Chief Executive of Saga Holidays, Hotels and Cruises

Susan Hooper

Susan Hooper is probably one of the best qualified people to answer this question as, following other senior management positions in the travel industry, she now heads up the largest and one of the best known providers of holidays for the over 50s, Saga Holidays.

Susan starts by talking about the reputation of the tour provider as Saga, who turns 60 this year, sees this as a major factor when choosing a holiday. Travellers look for an organisation that they can trust and that can give them adventure while assuring their safety.

According to Susan, the over 50s are also very aspirational about the type of holiday they want to take. Saga has done extensive research which reveals that 65 percent of travellers want to go somewhere new, 53 per cent want to experience a new culture, and 42 percent are interested in wildlife. They are pretty adventurous too, as almost a third of those surveyed would consider a trek to the Everest Base Camp

Talking in more depth about this quest for somewhere new to visit, I was surprised to discover that Saga had pioneered the provision of exotic destinations by running trips to Chiang Mai, northern Thailand’s most culturally significant city, more than 30 years ago.

Over time this trend for novel destinations has increased with strong demand for journeys to Nepal and Bhutan. Trips to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are becoming ever more popular and there is a strong interest in relatively undiscovered Latin America, particularly Peru and Bolivia and the Galapagos Islands which are part of Ecuador. And probably because of its past inaccessibility and lack of tourist infrastructure Burma is now one of the hottest destinations and is sold out for this year.

A big advantage of being an older traveller is that holidays can be taken outside the peak seasons, not only are some destinations quieter, with more adult holiday makers, but they are also less expensive and the over 50s are particularly savvy about getting value for money.

Although many are looking for new destinations, trips closer to home still remain popular with the UK and Spain continuing to attract a large number of visitors. Another significant trend is that many people like the idea of returning from a holiday with a new skill or some knowledge under their belt. A number of the UK destinations offer special interest experiences like bread-making and wine tasting and in October Saga introduced a 4-day holiday featuring Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s famed River Cottage where visitors get the opportunity to work with Hugh’s staff to create some delicious dishes.

Susan went on to talk about those who travel alone, which is another growing market segment. Saga provides holiday specifically for singles but their regular holidays are another good option as they attract like-minded people of a certain age range.

Many people as they get older can question their role in life and this has led to an emerging demand for volunteer tourism. The traveller gets to do something worthwhile and the communities that they visit also gain enormous benefit. Saga Volunteer Travel operates as a non-profit part of the Saga Group and with all profits going to the Saga Charitable Trust.

There are currently volunteer projects running in St Lucia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and South Africa where travellers work in schools and with orphans. The vast majority of returning Saga volunteers have rated their experience as either excellent or very good.

Finally I talked to Susan about the continuing demand from the over 50s for cruises.  She feels that much of the appeal is that the Saga fleet features smaller ships. It’s also important that there’s a good selection of departures from the UK, as many people either don’t want to fly or be restricted in their baggage allowance.

A new Saga ship, the Sapphire was introduced this year which alongside the Saga Ruby offers the classic cruise experience. For those seeking the ultimate in faraway places their ship Quest for Adventure, which only carries just over 400 people, could be just the thing. It is one of the few cruise ships that can sail to Manaus right in the heart of the Amazon basin.

One of the beauties of cruising is that you always return to the ship for your meals and accommodation which ensures that you have a safe and comfortable experience.

After chatting with Susan I can see that the over fifties know exactly what they are looking for in a vacation; adventure with safety and comfort, a trustworthy tour operator, value for money and a life enriching experience.

For more information on Saga Holidays visit www.sagaholidays.co.uk