EMPTY nesters whose kids have gone abroad are using the opportunity to spread their own wings and travel.
Parents are taking off to visit their children and grandchildren but including exotic stop-overs on the way, or travelling more extensively in places like Australia and the US, once they touch base with family living there.
At one stage Irish people in their 50s and upwards were lucky to get off on a package tour to the sun — and were thrilled to do so; now it’s a whole new world.
However, not all tour operators are copping on to the fact, and are still producing brochures for the ‘over-55s’ which project staid images of older people having ‘bog standard’ holidays, says travel agent Cathy Burke.
Cathy is Irish general manager for Travel Counsellors, which specialises in tailor-made holidays, and had a €22 million turnover here last year.
Being 52 herself, with a daughter and step-daughter living in Australia, she can identify with the more adventurous get-up-and-go trend.
“We wouldn’t think twice about going twice a year to see them and we have a lot of clients travelling to Australia to visit their kids.
"They might stay with them for a short time and then go off themselves, or go off with the kids in a camper van. They stop at a couple of places on the way out and back.”
Cathy, who has been 35 years in the travel business in Ireland, notices that older people in recent years are more open minded about travel and ‘younger’ physically.
One big factor in them going on more adventurous short breaks, as well as long-haul travel, is the disappearance of charter flights which would have limited holidaymakers to certain dates, and the availability of direct access from Ireland — without having to go through the UK and other countries — to far-flung destinations.
“The world is a smaller place now and while those in their 70s and 80s are more traditional in their holidays, those in their 50s and 60s are also going on what we call ‘soft adventure’ breaks.
"They do something totally different which is adventurous — like going to China is big now, or South America, or more recently India — but they don’t want to backpack so will stay in four-star accommodation.”
Jonathan Bridge, PR and marketing executive with Trailfinders in Ireland, agrees.
“There is certainly evidence that many older clients are doing round the world trips. In contrast to the classic backpacker round the world tickets, older clients often do it in style, pre-booking much of their accommodation and touring.”
Like Cathy, he says with so many relatives living in Australia, New Zealand , and the US, many older clients build an itinerary around visiting family abroad.
“I guess this type of travel has increased in recent years with the unfortunate emigration during the downturn,” he says.
Retirees are jumping on the bandwagon also — or the luxury version of it, with many taking the ‘trip of a lifetime’ they couldn’t afford before, says Jonathan.
“Examples of some of the types of trips we see being booked are luxury Indian private touring; staying in an over-water villa in the Maldives or taking an Antarctica cruise from Argentina.
"There are also some more adventurous older clients out there who are booking trekking-style trips such as The Inca Trail in Peru. They will often pay a little more to avail of slightly upgraded accommodation.”
Meanwhile we may be lagging behind a bit in our adventurous spirit compared to the baby boomers in America — all aged from their 50s upwards — who leave home to live in exotic places for a cheaper retirement, or to take an extended break away.
It’s a market which is serviced by the US publishing group International Living, with its subscription newsletter which has 100,000 paid up members and which offers valuable information for that transition, from people already on the ground. In addition, its free e-letter called IL Postcards is sent to 500,000 readers.
“Because people are living longer when they retire they know they have 20 or 30 more years ahead of them and they don’t want to sit back and accept the status quo,” says International Living publisher Jackie Flynn who is based in Waterford.
“They want to shake things up a bit and have some excitement in their lives. One article we ran recently was on volcano surfing — there are older adventurous people who do that kind of stuff and enjoy it!
“They might go away for a year or five years, or for good — there are all kinds of scenarios that older people are scripting for themselves,” she adds.
Though IL is explicitly geared towards the US and Canadian market, older Irish readers might pick up some tips on destinations never covered by travel agents.