COVINGTON, Ky. -- The age and interests of motorcoach tour
passengers taking trips to the 10 states in the Southeast Tourism
Society, and elsewhere for that matter, are changing annually, Mark
Hoffmann, president of the National Tour Association, told an
audience at the spring meeting of the society here.
Hoffmann, who also is president of Sports Leisure Vacations,
Sacramento, Calif., said he can see the changes in his own
operation and has acted accordingly.
The traditional motorcoach market for many years "has been
silver-haired ladies 65 and older," he said.
But people are living longer, he said, and many travelers who
are 65 do not consider themselves old, he said.
In fact, the 55- to 67-year-old group, which Hoffmann calls the
"Tweener Gray," is a growing market because of the influence of the
Internet and cable TV broadcasts, such as the History Channel.
These educational influences yield more knowledgeable travelers
and encourage exploration vs. passive touring, he said.
Destinations offering "cultural and heritage" attractions will
be big winners, he said.
The Tweener Gray travelers are younger than today's "senior"
travelers, whose numbers also are increasing as people live longer,
he said. He defined true seniors (for 2000, subject to change next
year) as 68 and older for leisure travel purposes.
In fact, it is not uncommon to find travelers in their early 80s
on motorcoach tours, and in eight years, people in their 90s,
rather than in their 80s, will be the ones who stand out on a tour
because of their age, he predicted.
In addition, there is still a third market, those 54 and
The Tweener Gray travelers, he said, no longer want to be
grouped with those in the new "senior" category, because the former
group feels that it has little in common with "old" people,
The traditional senior market, he said, satisfied with limited
activities, will remain viable, but will be shrinking as their ages
increase and the lower end becomes the upper end of the Tweener
Gray market in the next few years.
Many motorcoach tours will have to be redesigned to satisfy the
two younger age groups, he said.
For the Tweener Gray and the 54-and-younger travel groups, there
must be more active pursuits in tours and more free time for
optional activities for individuals, he said.
Tour operators, long associated with large motorcoaches, may
find it prudent to be flexible and to offer some van tours for
smaller groups of "adventurous" passengers, Hoffmann said.
Sports Leisure Vacations introduced three- and four-night City
Escapes tours, with departures from northern California to places
such as Salt Lake City, Seattle, and Vancouver.
The tours are popular because passengers are offered "lots of
choices" as to their activities once they arrive, he said.
In the past, a tour escort's on-board narration was often
sufficient as the coach passed points of interest, but today's
Tweener Gray passengers want more.
They want to disembark and touch an interesting tree, for
example, instead of viewing it from the coach, he said.
During his talk he said that destination knowledge (which can be
provided by convention and visitors bureaus) is essential if agents
and tour operators are to "stay ahead" of their clients, thereby
assuring their place in the industry.
The Internet has its limitations, he said.
People can purchase a hotel and air ticket easily enough, but
it's difficult and time-consuming for them to plan an entire
itinerary combining sightseeing points with unrelated activities
and free time because they probably lack in-depth knowledge of the
vacation destination, he explained.
Travel agents, he said, in today's airline commission
environment, are better off selling a $1,500 tour vs. a $1,500 air
"Airline revenues are minimal," he said.
"In addition, tour operators appreciate the opportunity to work
with agents on a long-term basis," he said, taking another jab at