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