AGE OF CER­TAINTY

Th­ese days, se­nior trav­ellers are not so much over the hill as climb­ing up it, re­ports Kaye Fal­lick

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

TWENTY years ago, those of a cer­tain age (read: over 60) were au­to­mat­i­cally steered by travel agents to­wards a tour where pas­sive par­tic­i­pants in sa­fari suits were herded on and off coaches fol­low­ing the If It’s Tues­day ThisMustBeBel­gium mode of rush-through travel. An­cient and amaz­ing sights were viewed fleet­ingly through coach win­dows, West­ern-style meals were con­sumed in beige ho­tel din­ing rooms. Par­tic­i­pants were guar­an­teed to be tucked up in bed by 8.30pm. Sounds bor­ing? It prob­a­bly was.

The good news is that things have changed dra­mat­i­cally. The past 25 years have seen a com­ing of age not only for trav­ellers but for the travel in­dus­try, which is re­spond­ing to a grow­ing mar­ket of older trav­ellers with more rel­e­vant, flexible and af­ford­able prod­ucts and an in­creas­ingly en­er­getic approach.

In line with many other ar­eas of so­ci­ety, the main im­pe­tus for this change is the de­mo­graphic wave caused by the post-World War II baby boom that has re­sulted in about 280,000 Aus­tralians a year turn­ing 60. It is a tired cliche to state that 60 is the new 50 but, as with most cliches, it is based on fact. To­day’s av­er­age 60-year-old is fit­ter, bet­ter ed­u­cated, more trav­elled and much more pre­pared to get off the beaten track.

For role mod­els, think Mick Jag­ger (64) or Goldie Hawn (62). Would they be sat­is­fied with a sani­tised coach jour­ney around Rome fol­lowed by an early night? Or per­haps Olivia New­ton John (59) or Jimmy Barnes (52). This April, both en­ter­tain­ers walked along the Great Wall of China rais­ing money for breast can­cer. A se­date bus tour is most un­likely to ring their bells.

The com­monly ac­cepted def­i­ni­tion of a se­nior is some­one aged 60 or over. This def­i­ni­tion is based upon state gov­ern­men­t­op­er­ated se­niors’ card schemes. Th­ese pro­grams in­volve the is­su­ing of cards by state and ter­ri­tory gov­ern­ments to Aus­tralians over 60 who are work­ing less than a pre­scribed num­ber of hours a week. The num­ber of hours you may work, and the con­di­tions of the cards, vary from state to state, so it is im­por­tant to check the de­tails. Th­ese state­based se­niors’ cards of­fer hold­ers many po­ten­tial dis­counts, the most highly re­garded be­ing those on trans­port sys­tems. Sadly, like the old gauge rail­ways, most of the dis­counts (in­clud­ing trans­port) stop at the state borders.

A pre-elec­tion prom­ise of the Rudd Gov­ern­ment was to in­tro­duce an Aus­tralia- wide trans­port dis­count for all se­niors card hold­ers; this will hope­fully be de­liv­ered be­fore the end of this year. While in­ter­state vis­i­tors do not of­fi­cially re­ceive travel dis­counts in an­other state, it is al­ways worth ask­ing in­di­vid­ual busi­nesses, as many are happy to hon­our dis­counts for se­nior clients.

An­other dis­count card, the Com­mon­wealth Se­niors Health Card, is for those who, while not qual­i­fy­ing for the age pen­sion, are on lim­ited in­comes. This card is pri­mar­ily in­tended for con­ces­sions on med­i­cal and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal re­quire­ments but it of­fers hold­ers sig­nif­i­cant con­ces­sions on Great South­ern Rail­ways, in­clud­ing jour­neys on the In­dian Pa­cific and the Ghan.

Asked when he turned 60 if he would be us­ing a se­niors’ card, Mick Jag­ger fa­mously replied that he would burn it. With his earn­ings that makes sense, but many Aus­tralians of sim­i­lar age are pre­pared to ig­nore the con­no­ta­tions of be­ing called a se­nior and will hap­pily use a card that de­liv­ers sig­nif­i­cant sav­ings.

Some older Aus­tralians be­come more in­trepid with age, and de­light in their own com­pany as they visit new cities, towns and re­mote ar­eas. Oth­ers pre­fer to share new sights and ex­pe­ri­ences with like-minded com­pan­ions. Se­niors Hol­i­day Travel founder Perry Mor­combe has cre­ated a sin­gle-se­niors travel club. This free match­ing ser­vice works par­tic­u­larly well for sin­gle se­niors wish­ing to book a cruise, but not wish­ing to pay for sole use of a cabin.

Mor­combe sends emails to his sub­scribers, alert­ing them to op­por­tu­ni­ties to join com­pan­ions on coaches and cruises to all parts of the globe. More: 1800 300 999; www.se­nior­shol­i­day­travel.com.au.

The irony is that al­though it has been dif­fi­cult for Aus­tralians to ac­cess dis­counts as they cross borders, when visit­ing the US and New Zealand we can, for a rel­a­tively small out­lay, pur­chase se­niors cards that de­liver ex­cel­lent sav­ings.

In par­tic­u­lar the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of Re­tired Per­sons, with 35 mil­lion mem­bers, of­fers a mul­ti­tude of dis­counts and deals, par­tic­u­larly for rental cars and ho­tel chains. But re­mem­ber to join early as it will take at least six weeks for a mem­ber­ship kit to be pro­cessed and mailed.

In the US, $US28 ($30): www.aarp.org. In Canada, $C19.95 ($21): www.fifty-plus.net. In NZ, $NZ20 ($16): www.se­niorscard.co.nz.

But while travel is in­deed about the jour­ney, the dis­counts are not con­fined to get­ting there. Ac­com­mo­da­tion chains are also woo­ing older trav­ellers, par­tic­u­larly those with the free­dom to travel mid­week.

Of­fers can change as fre­quently as the weather, but one chain with an on­go­ing se­niors’ pro­gram is Choice Ho­tels. Trav­ellers aged 60 or over re­ceive a 10-20 per cent dis­count at all Com­fort, Qual­ity and Clar­ion ho­tels in Aus­tralia, NZ and the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion. The spe­cial se­niors’ rate must be re­quested at the time of reser­va­tion, and terms and con­di­tions are listed at www.choice­ho­tels.com.au/ho­tels/of­fer­spro­grams-ma­ture. Kaye Fal­lick is the pub­lisher of www.about­se­niors.com.au.

Free time: Many older peo­ple use re­tire­ment to ex­plore the world, tak­ing ad­van­tage of spe­cial deals and dis­counts Pic­ture: Photolibrary

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