St. LOUIS, MO. — The bread and butter of the motorcoach industry has long been the senior citizen market. Students from kindergarten all the way through college have also been a stable customer demographic for the industry, using motorcoaches for everything from field trips to school or group associated vacations. However, the development of new tours has taken a different turn recently, as tour operators have begun to develop trips devised to attract the more active, social, and burgeoning baby boomer market.
“Our clientele is changing, and we’re trying to meet those demands and desires,” says Randy Julian, president of the National Travel Association (NTA). “There’s a much bigger move toward experiential travel, where people really get a feel and a flavor and maybe actually take part in activities that are unique to that location.”
One way tour operators are meeting these new needs is to develop tours based on the cruise ship model.
Western Tours, which specializes in tours of America’s national parks, such as Yosemite, has set up trips that offer passengers a choice of activities they can take part in during the day before meeting up at night with the rest of their group.
“They can go river rafting, horseback riding, fishing, or whatever they are interested in doing that day, then get together with the rest of the group for dinner or cocktails and compare notes,” Hoelscher says. He adds that in the future his operation is moving more toward longer stays at a central location as opposed to “on the bus, off the bus tours.”
“You have to have specialized people on hand that can do these sorts of things, and resort properties, which at this point we’re primarily looking at, have those types of resources available to pull off these trips,” says Hoelscher.
Sue Arko of Free Spirit Vacations explains that she has set up two annual trips patterned after cruise ship vacations — “Winter Break” in Laughlin, Nev., and “Celebrate Life” in Tunica, Miss. — where customers can choose from several activities, including wine tasting, fitness activities, gaming lessons, or cooking classes, that are doing quite well. In fact, in January of this year, Arko’s fifth annual Winter Break attracted more than 5,000 people.
“Guests used to choose the tried-and-true traditional motorcoach tour with lots of sightseeing. They socialized with others in the coach and were not too anxious to try new things,” says Arko, whose operation caters to the 50-plus age group. “Now I feel that this age group wants choices. They don’t want a strict schedule. They want to socialize with the locals from the destination. They want a new experience.”
Source: Metro Magazine