Seniors take advantage of off-peak season to travel

The destinations most demanded by senior travelers are European because relatively close and tourism infrastructure is most developed.

With the High Holy Day tourism peak behind us and the Christmas and New Years rush still many weeks away, November and December are usually considered the lull season in Israeli tourism. But for one sector of the population, the relatively calm period presents an ideal opportunity to hit the road.
Recent years have seen increased activity of tourism targeted for the senior citizen population during this time of year, and as the industry learns the value of this increasingly desirable demographic, more and more options are becoming available for people in their golden years.
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With life expectancies in Israel continuously on the rise, there is a growing market for tourism products that are tailor made for the elderly population.
There are currently roughly 700,000 seniors and pensioners residing in Israel, and a growing number of them enjoy good health and sufficient financial resources to enjoy their retirement years.
The lull season is a great time for seniors to travel since the destinations are relatively empty, which means less running around and less standing in lines. It is also a good time because prices tend to be lower than in the peak periods and they can reduce the price of trips that tend to be on the expensive side.
Siman Ovadia, director of Beshvil Hazahav, a company that focuses solely on seniors tours, said that in the past 10 years the average age-range of his company’s clientele has gone from 60-70 to 65-80.
“Many retirees enjoy good health and longevity,” he said.
“They are also at an age when they no longer have mortgages to pay and children to support. Many choose to spend their retirement years catching up on things that they missed out on in their adulthood and traveling tops the list.”
The recipe for success in the seniors’ tourism market, according to Ovadia, is attention to details, the ability to listen and recognize the client’s desires and identifying the right destinations.
“For us the process begins in the planning phase. While more and more elderly people are becoming comfortable using the Internet, many still want to talk to a human being and seek advice about choosing the right tour,” said Ovadia. “It is important to be a good and patient listener and to take note of the client’s interests and requirements. Though all our trips are planned with seniors in mind, we are aware that there may be big differences between one senior and another that manifest in things like physical endurance, mobility, personal interests and health requirements.”
Choosing the routes of the trip is key in seniors travel and according to Ovadia, it requires detailed knowledge of the destination.
“While in regular tours there is room for improvisation and spontaneity, with seniors we really have to have everything mapped out properly,” he said.
“When you are with a group of people and some have difficulty getting around, you need to know that you have vehicle access to every point. If a site is only accessible by a long stairway, some of the participants may not be able to visit it and will feel left out.”
One of the staples of seniors’ tours is having a doctor accompany the group.
“Though they are rarely put to work, often just having them around puts the participants at ease. Knowing there is someone with you who can really help in case of an emergency provides peace of mind. Having an additional person escorting the group also provides more personal service to the travelers. Stragglers don’t feel stranded behind because the doctor always rounds up the group,” said Ovadia.
Food is another key issue.
While most tours provide participants with a single meal at the hotel, usually breakfast, in seniors tours, many offer dinners too. “Many seniors don’t want to have to look around for a restaurant to eat at, at the end of a long day of travel. In our tours, both breakfasts and dinners are provided,” said Ovadia.
Other unique features that are offered by seniors’ tour operators are things like private pick-up and drop-off services to and from the airport and small groups of up to 20 people, instead of the standard 50.
The destinations most demanded by senior travelers are in Europe because it is relatively close and because the tourism infrastructure is most developed, according to Ovadia.
However, he said, more and more seniors are choosing to go further away and that his company offers seniors tours to places like China, India and Thailand, as well as to the United States and Canada.
Ovadia said that the two most popular types of tours in recent years are “star tours” and river cruises. Star tours are trips that focus intensively on a single region. The participants spend the duration of the visit in one hotel and everyday hold a day trip to somewhere relatively nearby.
“Seniors like to have a familiar place to go back to at the end of the day, somewhere where they can unpack their bags and feel comfortable in. Many prefer not to switch hotels every day, and the star tours provide that comfort,” said Ovadia.
River cruises operate on the same principal, only instead of staying in one place, the hotel travels along with the participants.
Because of all the extras and perks, seniors’ tours don’t come cheap. Ovadia said that an average 10-day trip to a European destination should cost roughly ¤2,200 per person, but that the process fluctuates depending on the length of the trip, the destination country and the time of year.