Ali NaqviTravel Weekly asked Cosmos Tourama marketing director Ali Naqvi how best to target mature holidaymakers

Q How do you market to the over-50s?

A Our website is our most significant marketing tool, so we’ve made it clear and easy to navigate. We offer appropriate destinations and include as much detail as possible. We highlight the value-for-money aspects rather than being purely price-led.

Q What trends do you see in over-50s web use?

A The over-50s are increasingly wanting to dynamically package their holidays and are using our ‘Holidays without flights’ and ‘Design your own holiday’ sections. For example, clients might want to combine a trip to the US with a visit to friends or relatives.

Q What’s popular with the mature market?

A Long-haul tours to destinations such as China, Australia and South America are booming, especially escorted tours.

Q What’s changing in the over-50s market?

A The 50-plus travellers take several breaks a year, so the trick is to offer them as many types of holiday as possible. Themed or special interest holidays are becoming more popular, which is why we’re offering everything from ‘Elvis and the southern sounds’ to ‘Walking in Madeira’.

The Internet may once have been the preserve of the young and trendy, but now it’s the old and trendy who are getting online. And they are doing it in droves.

Statistics show 6.5 million over-50s are now connected to the Internet in the UK alone. These figures are bound to make interesting reading for travel agents – and, some might say, depressing. The empty-nester demographic is supposedly one of the trade’s most valuable client bases.

Cash-rich and time-rich, they have the money to spend on upmarket holidays and time on their hands to go away on several trips a year.

As more over-50s now book holidays direct online, is this just another nail being driven into the coffin of the high-street travel agent?

“Not necessarily,” said Dick Stroud, managing director at 20plus30, a marketing consultancy that advises companies on how to target mature consumers.

Stroud says agents must start competing online and ensure their websites are attractive to older users.

“There are some straightforward things you can do that many of the big companies simply aren’t doing,” he says.

‘Page creep’ is a common problem: the original navigation of the website being lost as more elements are added.

“Don’t lose sight of what the website is for: to enable people to search for and book holidays. Get rid of all the rubbish and make it simple to use,” he said.

That includes ditching unnecessary animation and flashy pop-ups.

“Older people find it more difficult to concentrate – all this animation will just be aggravating,” said Stroud.

Effective search functions, an easy-to-find telephone number in case users want to make the final booking over the phone, and a straightforward online booking process that doesn’t lose people halfway through, are all areas where agents can grab a valuable online advantage.

At web design consultancy Foviance, director Catriona Campbell said: “As people age, they are more likely to encounter accessibility issues, such as long-sightedness, cataracts, and short-term memory decreases, so usability is key for this market,” she said.

Other advice from Campbell is not to put senior users off with too much jargon and to give them the option to e-mail offers to their friends, as older people often travel in groups and like to compare deals.

Fiona Canavan, market development manager at travel website company Netizen, points to the success of Saga’s website as evidence of the opportunities in this market.

“Agents need to differentiate themselves from the competition by offering good travel advice, themed holiday ideas and excellent customer service,” she says.

“And the good thing is, this will make your website attractive to all users, not just older people.”

Over-50s statistics

Just how Internet-savvy are today’s ‘silver surfers’? To find out, Travel Weekly spoke to Millennium, a marketing company that advises operators such as Cresta and WA Shearings on how to target mature consumers.

Millennium recently carried out a survey of 850 over-50s. Here are some of the findings:

¦ 75% of over-50s are most likely to research their holiday on the Internet
¦ The over-50s is the fastest-growing segment of Internet users, up from 20% to 25% of the online population in the last year
¦ 73% taught themselves how to use the Internet
¦ 77% believe the Internet is a very secure or quite secure place to shop and 50% have bought through the Internet in the past year
¦ 48% of those with Internet access have been online for between two and five years
¦ 75% of the over-50s take two or more holidays a year
¦ Of respondents with Internet access, 70% used it for travel research and 87% of these book and pay online
¦ 86% of over-50s with Internet access have their own computer with an Internet connection at home
¦ In a typical week, 71% of over-50s spend more than five hours online

For a full copy of Millennium’s Greypower report call 01274 723 481 or e-mailtrevor.speight@millenniumdirect.co.uk.