Romance and the Mature Client: A Market Agents Shouldn't Overlook
by Mimi Kmet /

Romance travel—it’s not just for young lovers.

With baby boomers reaching retirement age, mature couples who have the time and discretionary income are flocking to travel agents to book anniversary trips, vow-renewal vacations, destination weddings (often for divorced or widowed clients tying the knot again), and romantic get-aways.

“I have never had this much business going to Hawaii, ever,” said Susan Tanzman, president of Los Angeles-based Martin’s Travel and Tours, an Ensemble agency whose specialties include romance travel and Hawaii. “This is becoming the newest, hottest thing in the last year.”

Tanzman said older couples account for at least 30% of her market, with most clients booking anniversary trips.

And it can be a lucrative business. Tanzman recently booked a couple in their 60s on a $20,000 trip to Hawaii.

‘Encore’ weddings
Lisa Sheldon, CTC, and Master Romance Travel Specialist, has seen an increase in destination weddings.

Mature couples are booking “what I like to call ‘encore weddings,’” said Sheldon, who is executive director of the Destination Wedding & Honeymoon Specialists Association (DWHSA) and owner of I Do Island Weddings, a NEST agency in Janesville, Wisc.

“They’re combining a honeymoon that maybe they never got with the first wedding.”

Romance trends
There are two strong trends based on specific age groups, according to Loris Fusco, a romance specialist at Montrose Travel, an Ensemble agency in Montrose, Calif.

Fusco said clients in their 40s and 50s are booking destination weddings and honeymoons usually for second marriages. Some book trips for two while others bring their blended families.

These clients want a one-stop shop like a cruise. “They tend to book close-to-home, fast and furious vacations,” like Caribbean or Mexico cruises, she said. This market segment has grown by about 20% this year over 2013, she added.

Bringing the family along
The other age group, clients in their late 50s and 60s, usually book anniversary trips, and they bring their children and grandchildren along, said Fusco. Cruises are popular for this clientele, although all-inclusive resorts with children’s programs also fit the bill.

“They like something that’s going to deliver the wow to their kids,” Fusco said. This market has grown by more than 30% this year over 2013, she added.

“I have one couple that’s taking their grandchild [on a cruise] to the Arctic Circle from Norway.”

In fact, most of the agents Travel Market Report spoke with said older couples tend to celebrate anniversaries, vow renewals and even weddings by by traveling abroad in multigenerational groups.

Tanzman, for instance, recently booked a multigenerational anniversary trip for 27 people to Hawaii over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Different needs
Agents noted that mature couples have different needs and preferences than younger couples.

The biggest difference is that older couples book higher-end trips, whether or not they bring their families along, according to agents and suppliers.

One of Pleasant Holidays’ most popular romance trips is for 20th and 25th anniversaries, said Jack Richards, the company’s president.

“These travelers have higher disposable incomes,” he explained. “They’re in their peak earning years. They tend to go luxury.”

Exotic destinations
Older couples are more likely than younger ones to travel to exotic destinations, said Nancy Yale, president of Fairfield, Conn.-based Cruise & World Travel, a Virtuoso agency whose specialties include honeymoons.

“Most of them, I find, aren’t interested in sitting on a beach for a week,” she said. “To me, that’s reserved for people who are a little bit younger and are still working. Older, retired couples would like a little bit of adventure.”

Yale pointed to an African safari she booked recently for a couple’s 50th anniversary.

Older couples also are looking for culture, according to Betty Morganti, a travel consultant at Liadis Travel in Newtown Square, Pa., a Virtuoso agency. The agency’s specialties include romance travel and Greece.
 
River cruising reigns
While younger couples tend to book ocean-going cruises with more activities, for example, mature couples book more river cruises that offer opportunities to experience a destination.

“River cruising is very popular this year, especially with older couples, many of whom are booking them back to back,” Morganti said.

River cruises are sold out up to two years in advance, she added. Her agency also is booking a lot of FITs to countries like Greece, Italy and the U.K.

Unique experiences
Brennan Quesnele, vice president of product, advertising and customer experience for GOGO Vacations, noted that experiential travel is popular with older couples.

“[These clients] are looking for unique experiences, such as different cuisines and local guides, that you would not get on a traditional, long-haul tour,” he said.

Older couples’ affinity for experiential travel ties in with these clients’ desire to discover “their place in the world,” said Richard Harris, senior vice president of product development and operations for Abercrombie & Kent.

While younger couples tend to focus on private time with minimal involvement in the surrounding area, more mature couples “will be looking for a lot of outward-facing experiences,”  he said.

These travelers have higher disposable incomes.They’re in their peak earning years. They tend to go luxury.

Jack Richards, Pleasant Holidays