1 Build a rapport: Many customers in the older age bracket still prefer booking a holiday through a travel agent – they appreciate the experience, knowledge and customer service that a traditional high street agency continues to offer and find it more reassuring than a call centre or the internet. If you can build a relationship with such customers, you will find they are more likely to become repeat clients than younger holidaymakers.
The over-55s market is still a growing market so travel agents who specialise in this area should fare better than those who just focus on the family market or walk-in trade.
2 Get involved in local groups: Offer to host talks for groups such as the WI, local associations, societies, bowls clubs, church groups, retirement complexes and sports/social clubs. You need to be proactive to target these customers as it remains a highly competitive market and the 'personal touch' is the most important aspect of the relationship with organisers and members from these organisations.
3 Cater for solo travellers: A greater proportion of the over-55s are solo travellers, either through divorce, being widowed, or just wanting to travel without their other half. Swot up on operators and hotels which cater for solo travellers, and don't penalise them with single supplements. Also, operators often run special tours for single travellers, which help clients to feel relaxed in a group of like-minded folk.
4 Be aware of mobility and other such issues: As we get older, we may need more help with carrying luggage, or negotiating stairs, or reading the small print – so ensure your agency and staff comply with the Disability Discrimination Act and are aware of any special needs clients may have.
5 Don't stereotype them: The over-55s are a diverse bunch with a wide range of different holiday tastes – those in their 50s and early 60s are now computer-savvy and more likely to make independent arrangements so catching their attention early, perhaps with a 'self-drive' offer, will pay dividends in the long run. As customers reach their 70s and 80s, they are more likely to consider escorted tours, so they can forget about driving or carting their luggage around.
6 Highlight out-of-season deals: The retired holidaymaker doesn't have to worry about school term times or work commitments so they can book deals when hotels and fares are cheaper – and resorts are often quieter too. They can nip off at the very last minute, so late deals are practical options for them.
7 Train for coaching! Coach holidays are always a popular option for many over-55s as they like the idea of local departures and the benefits of luggage handling and someone else to worry about the driving. Operators may also arrange direct coach tours from an agency's own town if an agency wants to promote an exclusive local departure.
8 Don't assume anything on budgets: Customers are not simply looking for cheap and cheerful breaks and many are happy to pay a premium for a superior product – with mortgages paid off and kids who've flown the nest, they may well be able to afford to indulge themselves even during these difficult times.
9 Keep track of birthdays and anniversaries: Many over-55s like to travel several times a year to make the most of their retirement so suggest special weekends to mark anniversaries and birthdays – especially key landmarks such as Ruby and Golden wedding anniversaries.
10 Specialise in special interest and hobby holidays: Mature holidaymakers are on the look-out for activity-based holidays such as bowls and dance breaks. Themed tours, looking at nostalgia from the 'good old days', the rock and roll era and popular TV shows will always prove attractive and provide a good reason to get up and go!