Comment: Cherish your older clients to boost your sales

Kirker Holidays’ Ted Wake says agencies that look after the older demographic will reap the rewards

This year was scheduled to be the third consecutive bounce-back year as we head towards full recovery after Covid. However, I sense consumers are still feeling a little tentative – not quite ready to pick up where they left off in 2019 when we were all flying high. What are we all doing to remind travellers that life is far too short to run the risk of not booking a great holiday this year?

From our perspective, after a slower start than we might have wished, the past four weeks have seen a very encouraging uptick in enquiries and bookings – we are now, at last, 10% up on last year. It’s still a little way off the budgeted 20% that would take us back to 2019’s record revenues, but from what I hear from travel agent partners and other tour operators, 10% isn’t a bad position to be in for a specialist business aiming for high-end consumers.

So, what advice can I offer in terms of persuading more of your clients to book? Crucially, make sure you look after your ‘most experienced’ customers – and by that I mean the older demographic. Our latest stats confirm that the fastest-growing age segment for our business is 75-plus.

Thoughtful service

I don’t recommend putting a banner on websites, or above doors, stating ‘old people welcome’, but there are many ways to ensure your business is equipped to nurture the ‘most experienced’ clients. This market segment may take a little more effort in terms of confirming their first booking: they might prefer to see you face-to-face and to sit comfortably at a desk; perhaps they will prefer telephone to email; and payment by cheque rather than Bacs/credit card.

An older, more discerning client will certainly appreciate a little thoughtful, old- fashioned service.

Older clients tend to prefer short-haul flights at civilised times, private car transfers (rather than the bus), and a low-floor hotel room. And please don’t suggest the fancy duplex room with a spiral staircase. As one client said recently: “Ted, that staircase is a death trap – have you any idea how often my husband has to get up in the night to visit the loo?”

Looking after older clients can also be very rewarding. First, they are quick to say “thank you” (don’t underestimate that simple courtesy if you need a morale boost) and, second, they tend to be loyal and won’t be tempted to book elsewhere the next time they travel.

Listen up

Of course, you need to ‘speak up’ to make sure you are heard, but many would argue that ‘listening up’ is an even more crucial skill when dealing with experienced travellers. Very often, it’s what they don’t say that helps inform you how to look after them brilliantly. Treating them respectfully also means they are much less likely to challenge you on price.

Other advantages include their understanding of ‘book now to avoid disappointment’ when you suggest an upgrade. And, as one of my favourite agents confirms, on a clearly displayed office sign (a large font size is advisable…), “If you don’t travel Club Class… your children will!”.

One interesting recent stat is that the average age of our direct client bookings is 10 years older than the bookings that come to us through agents. Surely travel agents must be missing an opportunity here, and should be able, easily, to improve the levels of reassurance offered to older clients?

A final key message about nurturing older clients – never underestimate their energy, enthusiasm or inquisitiveness. It’s especially true on cultural tours. Many older clients have an insatiable curiosity and thoroughly enjoy holidays that test their understanding of topics. While not a new phenomenon, it is certainly a growing trend.

The good news? Our latest wine tours are among the most successful themed holidays offered by Kirker, so your next bottle of wine could be allocated to the product research budget! And did I mention April blues? I hear escorted jazz tours with Joe Stilgoe are selling very well…

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