Senior Travel Plans Changing

July 10, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Grand Rapids Convention and Visitors Bureau is taking a new approach to attracting retired travelers.

“The traditional market of groups isn’t growing,” said Vice President of Marketing Janet Korn. “Newer seniors, active seniors are very active. They want to be in control. Baby boomers are going to travel very differently than their parents traveled. History, cultural attractions, arts or new experiences are really where the opportunity for growth is.”

Instead of the traditional motor coach travelers, Korn said she is seeing potential in small groups traveling together and visiting a variety of attractions, many of those on weekdays as well as weekends.

“In Grand Rapids we have fabulous attractions that really offer fascinating experiences for them,” she said. “Retired seniors have the ability to travel seven days a week. They can help provide weekday visitation.”

Korn said these active seniors are reuniting with friends from church, college, neighborhoods or other groups and using the Internet to plan their travels together. These groups may travel together to a single destination or several destinations, or the individuals may travel from various parts of the country where they live and meet somewhere else.

“They’ll go to a place, and then they’ll venture out into different spokes, if you will, and do different activities during the daytime,” she said. “As the baby boomers age, there’s a huge opportunity for delivering the experience in a new way.”

Korn said marketing this kind of group travel over the Internet is a route that should be further explored.

“We’re trying to grow in the area where there’s growth,” she said.

While Grand Rapids is tackling a new market, Holland is trying to capture the interest of a more traditional group: the Red Hat Society, a social organization of women 50 and older that has chapters all over the country. The Holland Convention and Visitors Bureau advertises in a Red Hat Society publication, featuring package deals. For instance, Dutch Village features a Red Hat Society package that includes lunch and customized wooden shoes.

Wendy Link, sales director at the bureau, said though it has traditionally only marketed to the American Bus Association and the National Touring Association when it comes to group travel, the bureau is starting to look at other venues.

“We’re hoping to put together a mailing list of the Red Hat clubs that are out there and do some postcard campaigns,” she said.

Executive Director Sally Laukitis said Holland has strong senior travel, including three elder hostel cruise ships coming into the city this year.

“We’re looking at, from a leisure travel standpoint, roughly 40 percent of our visitors on a year-round basis are 55 or older,” she said. “What we’ve found with our leisure travelers is they’re typically heading right along the lakeshore.”

Jill Foreman, tourism marketing coordinator for the Muskegon Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the area has several attractions that appeal to the older generation, such as the Hackley and Hume Historic Site — the restored 19th century homes of two of Muskegon’s lumber barons — and the Port City Princess, a cruise ship that offers daytime and evening cruises.

“We’ve seen an increase with the new Lake Express Ferry,” she added. “We certainly love it when they stay overnight in our hotels.”    

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