Over the Hill and far away

March 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel the new movie about a group of retired Brits heading for India, reflects a growing trend for adventurous travel later in life.
Sarah O’Meara reports.

If you can remember the global travel industry of the late Seventies and early Eighties, then you probably didn’t take a gap year.

Back then, if you wanted to attempt adventurous, mind-expanding international travel, you’d be fighting a Thomas Cook rep who didn’t expect anyone to come back from a foreign trip with anything more than a suntan and a bottle of sangria.

But priorities have changed dramatically in 30 years. A desire for life-changing travel experiences has seen teenagers heading off to every corner of the globe, and the same impulse is now fuelling the travel market for the older age group.

According to a new survey by Saga Holidays, which caters primarily for the over-50s, only one per cent of its customers would now consider “getting a tan” to be significant.

More important, say regular Saga travellers, is a desire to feel physically and mentally refreshed after a trip.

In new film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Dame Judi Dench plays a widowed retiree, Evelyn, who’s looking for a second chance after she realises her pension won’t go far in Britain.

Evelyn’s happy reaction to the colourful culture of India, after a life spent in Sussex, reflects just how positive and stimulating an experience travel can be when enjoyed later in life.

Graham Edgeley, a founding director of Village Ways, a socially-minded travel company, set up the company five years ago with the retirement market in mind.

“Our clients love the idea of broadening their horizons, while giving something back to the communities they visit,” he says.

“It’s definitely a trend. These are people who might have final salary pensions, have seen their properties soar in value and feel quite well off.

“They’ve also got their health, and children have gone on gap years, and they’re thinking, ‘We should get out there’.”

Set up to improve the lives of impoverished communities via sustainable tourism, Village Ways runs walking tours in the far-flung reaches of India and Ethiopia.

When our groups come back they are ebullient. It’s the antithesis of mass tourism. There’s a fascination with seeing a part of India that’s not part of these rolling tours, where you hop on and off the coach at each palace,” says Edgeley. “Our main market is 50 to 70 years and we’re expanding.”

According to another survey by Saga, nearly two thirds of its customers didn’t travel abroad on holiday when they were younger, but 71 per cent wish they had been given the chance.

Projects Abroad, a leading gap year and volunteering company, says the over-60s market is growing as retirees become more radical in their travel choices.

“While younger people still take the majority of our placements, we are getting a lot of older volunteers going away,” says Ian Birbeck, Projects Abroad’s marketing manager.

“We had one chap whose son was doing a teaching course in China, so he decided to go to Romania to teach kids. It was a case of ‘Well… if the kids are doing it, let me have an opportunity’.”

Saga says 82 per cent of its travellers believe they are making up for missed opportunities in later life, and also admit to doing everything possible to push boundaries, exploring new and exciting destinations.

The “gap year” trend is definitely being taken to the next level by parents and grandparents, says Saga’s Carl Catterall.

“Exploring and trekking through the original hippy trails of Nepal, clambering through jungle excursions in Borneo and delving into the rainforests of Costa Rica with Saga are just a few of the increasing popular destinations being requested,” he says.

It is little wonder that, according to Saga’s research, one third of children and grandchildren are now envious of the travelling, their parents and grandparents are doing.

Go to the Articles About Projects Abroad page.

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