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Elderly Spark Boost in US Travel Industry - 2002-04-14

U.S. travelers seem to be overcoming the fears that kept them close to home after the September terrorist attacks, and are venturing out into the world again. Older travelers are leading the way. Companies specializing in tours for people over the age of 50 report escalating sales.

Sales plunged in the aftermath of September 11 for all travel companies.

Then, says Gary Murtagh of ElderTreks, a firm that specializes in adventure travel for those over 50, interest gradually perked up. The last week in November 2001, he says, turned out to be the firm's busiest week ever. "I think what happened was people still wanted to travel, but there was the fear factor that prevented them from traveling," he says. "And so, you had this pent-up (confined) demand, and people were waiting for a time when they felt at ease to travel."

Alan Lewis, the chairman of Grand Circle Travel, which also specializes in older age groups, says business at his company is now running 32 percent above last year's levels. "We have just had 500 people come back in the last month from Egypt. We have over 10-thousand people who have been booked to the hotspots like Egypt, Morocco, Turkey India, Nepal. We even have some people who are still going to Jerusalem," he says.

The fact is, Gary Murtagh says, older Americans are far more adventuresome than the public realizes. "Ten years ago, when we first started ElderTreks, we heard ridiculous comments like, "Are you going to push wheelchairs through the jungle?" There's a whole health, lifestyle, attitude change that has happened that reflects in travel styles. They want to experience. They want to meet the people and have an active trip, and that's what we provide," he says.

Alan Lewis thinks the senior citizens market is strong because traveling and meeting people around the world has a lot to do with dream fulfillment. "The clock is ticking. They are much more aware of that. This year, the average age of people who are traveling is in their 70s. Fifteen percent of our business is over 80. It's just incredible," he says. "It's older than it has been in recent years."

Older Americans' enthusiasm is driving the U.S. travel industry, Mr. Lewis says. His company alone will take about 125,000 senior citizens to places around the world this year.