Is retirement travel a bust for boomers?

Photo by Bottlein, courtesy of

Traveling from Colorado to Maine with my husband and my 93-year-old father has me thinking about my future travel plans and those of other baby boomers approaching retirement.

A majority of boomers cite traveling as something they would like to do after they stop working. Yet, traveling is not nearly as comfortable or convenient as it has been in the past.

Businesses which want to capture the lucrative boomer market need to be aware of and meet the needs of their aging customers, especially as they travel.

For example, we ate in a restaurant in St. Louis that would have been perfect for my husband and me. But add my father to the mix with a walker and the “cozy” atmosphere became problematic. The narrow pathway between tables proved an obstacle course which my father navigated with great difficulty. There were more than a few bumped elbows and knees on the way to our table.

Like many diners, after eating, a trip to the restroom was in order. The tiny men’s room had zero accommodation for the elderly, such as grab bars and space for a walker or wheelchair. As he emerged, the stress of coping with inadequate facilities was visible on my father’s face.

The hotel we stayed at in Toledo, OH had an “ADA compliant bathroom” but a raised threshold was a trip hazard for my Dad. I could easily see me stubbing my toe if I needed to use the facilities in the middle of the night. But a fall for my father could have been catastrophic.

As a result, I spent the night sleeping in a chair in my father’s room so I could accompany him to the bathroom at 3:30 a.m. My lack of sleep was more than made up for by the peace of mind that I had helped my father avoid a possible fall.

At this hotel there was a exit close to our room, we had to leave through the distant lobby because there was no wheelchair-accessible ramp to the parking lot from that exit.

Lighting presents another potential hazard for elderly eyes that can’t see well. In June, Dad missed a step in a dimly lit restaurant in Rockland and is still recovering from his injuries.

Fortunately, he didn’t break any bones, but sprains and bruises have taken months to heal. But like many seniors who fall, what was broken was not his body, but his spirit and confidence. He is now much more hesitant about doing things than before his fall.

A positive trend I have observed is restaurants allowing older patrons to order from the kid’s menu or offering smaller portions at a reduced price. My father rarely can finish a full-size meal, so this practice reduces waste for him and for the restaurant.

Quick growth and high profits are available to companies that can see a gap in the travel market for aging baby boomers and fill it. But if you want boomers to part with their hard-earned money, you also need to understand their expectations and meet them.

Making reservations can be a frustrating experience, especially if they are made through an online reservation service or off-property call center. We had much better luck by calling the front desk at the property where we wanted to stay. This was the only way we could find out the true availability of rooms and whether our requests could be fulfilled.

Of the five hotels we stayed at on our trip only one provided an exceptional experience. At the Hampton Inn in Schenectady, NY, Ryan, the front desk clerk who helped us with our phone reservation, was outstanding. He answered all of our questions and fulfilled our room requests. When we arrived, he went above and beyond by personally showing us to our rooms and making sure we were satisfied. In addition, because our rooms were not connected, a rollaway bed was procured from another hotel and provided without charge.

Hospitality companies that distinguish themselves by creating products or services specifically for the 65+ market are sure to prosper from baby boomers with the time and resources to travel.

Kathryn Avery

About Kathryn Avery

When Kathryn Severns Avery’s husband, Chris, began contemplating retirement in 2014, she knew they had to quickly come up with a multi-faceted plan. They spent the next year discussing, sometimes heatedly, what they would do once he stopped working. On paper their plan looked exciting. They would head from Colorado to the 1891 sea captain’s house they bought and renovated in Rockland on Maine’s midcoast. But the reality of planning and implementing retirement was much different than expected. Kathryn has worked in radio, television, marketing, and public relations. She is the author of five books and has written articles on interior design and crafts for national and regional publications including Romantic Homes, Log Homes Illustrated, The Rocky Mountain News and Colorado Homes and Lifestyles.