A growing trend for U.S. retirees to seek out overseas communities with health-oriented amenities can be a lucrative source of business for travel agents.
Many agents already have clients at or near retirement age who may be considering living abroad for at least part of the year. Agents can mine the market further by linking up with financial advisors and others who have clients in a similar demographic.
That’s part of the message that David Vequist, founder and director of the Center for Medical Tourism Research in San Antonio, Texas, plans to impart during his presentation at the Well-Being and Medical Travel Conference, June 20-21, at the Phoenician resort in Scottsdale, Ariz.
For agents, the overseas retirement phenomenon represents “gray gold,” Vequist told Travel Market Report. Vequist discussed the potential for agents of the overseas retirement boom and looks at the interplay between overseas retirement and medical tourism.
How big is the trend for overseas retirement and what is driving it?
Vequist: As many as 3.3 million U.S. baby boomers – out of a total of 78 million – are planning to retire abroad. The reasons are economic. People simply do not have the money to retire comfortably in the U.S.
Most of the major U.S. metropolitan areas are far too expensive for retirement. While it’s likely that a lot of people will go to places like Florida and Arizona, with the economy the way it is and rising gas prices, even these traditional retirement places are still too expensive.
By contrast, you can go to a country like Belize and retire comfortably on $1,500 a month.
How is the growing number of overseas retirees relevant for travel agents?
Vequist: If you have 3.3 million people retiring abroad, that’s a large pool of people who could be keeping travel agents busy.
Overseas retirees tend to be people who enjoy traveling. So once you get a client who has retired abroad, you are likely to have a client who will travel to other places and need your services. These are good clients to have.
Why are people retiring overseas likely to call on travel agents?
Vequist: These people are involved in the kind of complex travel where agents are needed most. The first trip or trips in searching out an overseas retirement destination are especially good opportunities for travel agents. For instance, people might want to tour five or six countries in Latin America to find the right destination.
Once people relocate to the destination, they still may need the travel agents’ services for other travel. One reason is that Internet access can be very expensive and unreliable in some countries. So they might be more prone to pick up the phone and call their agent, rather than try to plan their own trip over the Internet.
Is the overseas retirement market on the radar screens of many travel agents?
Vequist: Most agents are not exploring this market – they don’t see the role they can play. They are not marketing their services to baby boomers retiring abroad.
How can travel agents find these clients?
Vequist: One way would be to partner with financial advisors and others who share a similar client demographic. Agents and financial advisors have a lot in common, but have not traditionally worked together. In many cases, they are both small businesses who serve people at or near retirement age. Why not hook up these clients together?
What countries are gaining popularity as retirement locations?
Vequist: The International Living Global Retirement Index puts countries such as Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama and Nicaragua as affordable places where people can comfortably retire.
What are people looking for in an overseas retirement destination?
Vequist: Along with the cost of living, a top consideration is the quality of healthcare. People do not want to retire someplace where they do not have good feelings about the healthcare facilities.
For the most part, these retirees will be living overseas for six to nine months of the year, if not full-time. So they will be in the overseas location long enough to need health services.
Are overseas retirement destinations improving their healthcare infrastructure as a result?
Vequist: A number of countries are developing healthcare facilities as a part of retirement communities.
These facilities are very comprehensive, combining the elements of hospitals, spas and wellness centers. They are being centered around longevity principles, including programs on nutrition, acupuncture, massage, physical therapy and brain health.
We’re starting to see these types of facilities crop up in Mexico, the Philippines, Costa Rica, Guatemala and El Salvador, among other places.
Does development of these retirement facilities relate to growth in medical tourism?
Vequist: Yes, the development of these facilities is also a result of the desire for more countries to develop medical tourism. There is a real convergence between medical and retirement tourism in this regard.
As more countries build up their healthcare infrastructure by hiring the best doctors and getting accreditation, they are able to receive more medical tourists as well as attract retirees. So a dual purpose is served.
I am a group travel agent who lives in Belize full time. I sold my company last fall and continue to work with the new owner. I think that the $1500/month amount could be misinterpreted--probably too small for most people wanting to live in a more US-style way i.e. especially with a car, acceptable internet etc.