Judging from reader reaction to the column on the European Travel Commission's study on senior travel, the tour company that offers a European tour for seniors with plenty of rest stops, cracks down on smokers, skips some cathedrals for factory or other interesting tours, and adds more free time for shopping, will find a ready market in this area.
And if such a tour operator somehow finds a way to accommodate single travelers without the onerous "single supplement," the tour company might well be enshrined in a Travel Hall of Fame.
But some specifics from readers based on their European adventures . . . or rather, misadventures:
"One of the main problems with our Cosmos tour last year was the 'pit stops.' We had an Italian guide named Guido, who took a vindictive delight in seeing how long everyone on the bus could hold out without going to the toilet," wrote A. S. of Corona del Mar. "Both my husband and myself have opted for no more tours, as this was barbaric."
Mr. and Mrs. H. P. of Norwalk concur. "We will never again take a (European) tour unless the buses have restroom facilities. We learned the hard way about this omission. And we hope you will call it to the attention of the right people. "We were told that the buses would stop every 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Forget it!"
"Why is it that restroom facilities are so few and distantly located in Europe?" asked W. R. of El Toro. "France is the only country that has made any attempt to remedy the situation. I have no objection to paying a small price for this necessity, and France has recognized the money-making feature of the pay toilet. Why can't other countries do the same?"
The El Toro writer also goes after meals in Europe.
"The total absence of bulky, fibrous food in even the classiest of restaurants (is a problem). We Americans need this, one way or another. The normal European diet after about a week really gets me down."
P. B., a senior from Huntington Beach who has been to Europe five times in the last nine years, agrees. "One escorted tour my wife and I took made a big pitch about how all the meals were furnished. They were and we were all overfed and wasted much time over multicourse meals. Sometimes just plain 'eating' is preferable to 'dining.' "
The 73-year-old P. B. had some comments on other tour features, namely guides and attractions.
"One of the worst parts of tours is when one is subject to local guides who lecture interminably on what happened here 2,000 years ago," he adds. "This emphasis on history, culture and so on is not so very interesting to the average person, albeit not many will say so for fear of being thought uncouth.
"One would never suspect while listening to the average tour guide that anything was happening now. Unless it happened 100 years ago, they won't talk about it."
B. K. from Camarillo writes of her experiences on two European tours. "On the first tour there was little opportunity allowed to shop, except for the places the tour guide had lined up . . . the diamond factory in Amsterdam, some watch place in Lucerne, perfume place in Paris, wool and Waterford place in Kent, England. I realize that some of these are necessary for him to make money, but in five days' touring we only had four hours of free time.
Points Out Landmarks
"On the second tour, this of Austria, the woman tour guide cheerfully pointed out the landmarks so we wouldn't get lost when on our own . . . then told us of some special shopping places and other things we might want to see."
B. K. noted in her letter that the second guide received twice as much in tips from tour members as the first.
"Do you think it worth mentioning," wrote L. E. M. of Huntington Beach, "that most mature travelers, especially those over 60, abhor smoking? Last year we had only two smokers on our Elderhostel tour of the U.K., but those two made life miserable for the rest of us."
R. A. of Somis, Calif., concurred. . . . "I'd like to see no-smoking on tours, especially on the buses and at meals."
H. E. S. of Glendale also pointed out a major senior concern. "I'm surprised so little has been noted about the hearing problem of older travelers. Do you know the statistics?
"One American in 13 has some difficulty hearing.
"One out of three persons past age 65 is hard of hearing.
"People speak glibly about hearing aids," continued the Glendale senior who wears a hearing aid. "That's a help but not a complete solution. Trying to cozy up to the tour director to hear what is being said is quite a problem. I also have had to give up on Elderhostel because I can't fully take in what the teacher is telling us.
"As a solution," she adds, "(tour guides) could start by being conscious of the problem. Too many people mumble, don't speak clearly and make no effort to project their voices. They might get a microphone . . . or look into the amplification gadgets that are on the market. Anything you can do to bring this lack to the attention of people in charge would be greatly appreciated."
Perhaps the largest number of letters concerned the old travel problem of extra charges for single travelers. A number of writers, mostly women, said that it is the only thing holding them back from taking a European tour.
Information Passed On
Many other readers took the time to add other points and experiences, good and bad, on their European tours. I'll try to digest them in another column soon. Meanwhile, all the information gathered is being passed on to the European Travel Commission, and will be also passed along to those tour operators planning tours for the mature traveler.
My thanks to the readers who took the time to share their insights on European tours.