Sunset cruises

Senior citizens are fast becoming a force to reckon with in the travel industry.

By Sushmita Choudhury        Print Edition: July 12, 2007

Old is gold. Yes, that’s a cliche but as far as India’s senior citizens, and tour operators, are concerned, truer words have never been spoken. Shedding the old stereotypical image of doddering geriatrics wrapped in a muffler or a shawl, happily playing babysitters to their grandchildren, today’s retirees are intent on having fun. And what can be more fun than travelling? That’s why travel agencies now hear the proverbial kaching every time a desi senior citizen so much as glances at a brochure.

Healthier, wealthier, better-educated and with more time on their hands than the previous generation, mature travellers—aged 55 and older—are fast becoming a force to reckon with in the travel industry. The demographic trends are already pointing the way: according to Census 2001 data, there are about 7.7 crore people above 60 years. According to WHO, this population’s size will be 13.7 crore by 2021. Of course, this segment has long been a money spinner abroad so now Indian travel companies are following the lead of their foreign counterparts and have started targeting them with special packages.

Take SOTC’s just launched packages for example. The Grand Forever Young Tour, priced at Rs 47,500 plus an additional $1,399 per person, takes one on a 14-day tour of Europe. SOTC is offering senior citizens an additional Rs 10,000 discount per person till July. The package cost is inclusive of airfare, all meals and an overseas medical insurance policy valid for the duration of the tour. To help the tourists keep in touch with family while on tour, international calling cards are specially provided. But the fine print reads that there are other costs involved which have to come out of your own pocket like visa cost, airport taxes, among others, which amount to over Rs 34,000. Some would say it’s a small price to pay for a holiday customised to suit the requirements of the elderly. Says Frederick Divecha, senior vice-president marketing, SOTC, “These packages have received a great response. From March-May 2007 we received more than 400 bookings and we plan to double this number for the months from July to September as this is the ideal season to travel to Europe.”

And it’s not the only player in the market—from Travel Corporation of India to Hi-Tours, everybody is competing for a share of the grey market. That’s not even counting the number of online sites catering exclusively to this segment, like www.50plusexpeditions. com. What this means is that the 60-plus bracket not only has more choice and flexibility in terms of product offerings, but they also stand to save a pretty bundle because of the competitive pricing.

Then there are the various concessions to consider. Most airlines offer a rebate on air fare to senior citizens. If Indian offers a 50% rebate on economy class for those who are 65 years and above, Sahara Airlines offers the same on the basic fare to the 62-plus group. Indian Railways too provides 30% concession in all classes and trains for citizens who have attained 65 years of age.

So what is the best way a senior citizen can ensure the vacation of a lifetime without blowing up too much of his retirement funds? Industry experts chalk out their top three tips:

Travel in a group: This can either be a tour group or your family, but its the best way to save money. Besides, travelling alone if you are above 65 years of age can pose to be more trouble than fun. To begin with there is the issue of travel insurance. If you sign up with a tour agency, travel insurance, more often than not, is part of the package. And seeking the right policy without coughing up a big premium may be a tall order. However, keep in mind that few packaged tours will cover pre-existing conditions. Do look out for all these possible exclusions.

Find the right travel agency: Preferably one that allows you to incorporate all your costs, and possibly give you a special rate. Always compare agents and rates.

Do your research: Figure out where you want to go, what you want to do, and how much you will be able to spend on your trip beforehand. Also, if you take medications regularly, check if you can re-fill any prescriptions while you are away.

That’s the key to clinching the best bargain. As Kanchan and Praful Shah say, “How can the tour operator know what you like doing. Spell it out to him.” The couple in their 60s have been exploring a new corner of the globe every year since Praful retired four years ago. The choice this summer is Macau. “Yes I’m spending my son’s inheritance but we want our share of excitement before time runs out.” But Kanchan is quick to add, “Not that we are over the hill. We are, in fact, just beginning to enjoy the view.”

Uncommon places, the affordable way

The destination: Green Magic Nature Resort, a romantic getaway tucked away in the lush tropical rainforests of Wayanad district, takes you back to an indigenous “tribal village” where simplicity and harmony reigns supreme.

Why go there: Ever fancied playing Tarzan and Jane in a true-blue treehouse not meant for 10-year-olds? Well, here is your chance. Built high atop two towering trees are two cottages, housing two double rooms each. Before you can ask about getting there you are ushered into a large cane basket, which is the elevator.This indigenously developed mechanism manages to avoid using electricity by opting for a combination of pulleys and the counter weight of water. But if you think living in the trees is best left to monkeys and birds, then there are regular cottages in the resort too.

Don’t miss: When you are done exploring the various jungle trails all around, hop over to Muthanga, where you can see the taming and training of wild elephants.

How to get there: Located on the Kozhikode- Mysore highway, the closest airport and railway station are in Kozhikode, 65 km away.

Damage to the wallet: A night in the treehouse will cost approximately Rs 7,500 but the cottages come cheaper at Rs 4,500. For more information call 0495-6521163.

Hot Deals

A pick of bargains for domestic tourists

 Bandhavgarh Lodge

 Cost:  Rs 6,799
 Contact:   011-26266650

This two-night package from the WelcomHeritage group, for their Bandhavgarh resort in Madhya Pradesh, is inclusive of all meals for a couple, accommodation in a cottage room and all applicable taxes.An extra bed will cost Rs 1,300 a night with meals. Valid till 30 S eptember.

 Zanskar Expedition

 Cost:   Rs 76,000 approx
 Contact:   011-29212641

Aquaterra Adventures’ 11-day yearly feature begins with a few days in Leh, visiting ancient monasteries, palaces and villages, before hitting Zanskar river valley.That’s where the rafting trip of a lifetime commences, ending on the mighty Indus river. Carry your sleeping bag along.

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