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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Romance travel—it’s not just for young lovers.
These travelers have higher disposable incomes.They’re in their peak earning years. They tend to go luxury.
Jack Richards, Pleasant Holidays
Tips for Tapping Mature Romance Clients
Mature couples are an untapped market for romance travel, said Lisa Sheldon, executive director of the Destination Wedding and Honeymoon & Honeymoon Specialist Association (DWHSA).
Sheldon and other romance travel specialists had these tips for agents who’d like to develop this niche.
Become an expert. Older couples are “looking for the experts, because this trip is very important,” said Susan Tanzman, president of Martin's Travel and Tours in Los Angeles. She advised becoming a specialist. And, to attract clients who are celebrating events like anniversaries, also get educated on the family market.
Post your credentials. Advertise your specialty on your website for search engine optimization. “Even when [prospects] Google you, the one thing they’re looking for is the best, the most knowledgeable,” Tanzman said.
Publish your knowledge. Write a regular travel article or column for a local publication focusing on older couples, Sheldon said. “People of that age still read the newspaper,” she said. Older clients though are also into social media so reach out to them through those platforms.
Get local. “For home-based agents especially, you don’t know when someone is getting married” unless you are connected with your community, said Loris Fusco of Montrose Travel in Montrose, Calif. Churches, synagogues, country clubs and athletic clubs are among the places where you can find leads.
Earn clients’ loyalty. Provide great service, and they will stay with you for years. “We’ve grown with them,” Betty Morganti said of her clients at Liadis Travel in Newton Square, Penna. “Once we get them, we keep them.”
Be suggestive. For those long-term clients, Pleasant Holiday’s president Jack Richards advised using “suggested selling” for long-term clients. About six to eight months before a couple’s 20th anniversary, for example, ask them if they’ve decided where they want to go to celebrate, he said.
Suggest a destination wedding. Whether it’s a repeat client or a new prospect, suggest a destination wedding to a mature couple planning their honeymoons. “I get a lot of honeymooners and I always ask them about their wedding plans,” Fusco said.