Europe will make a comeback this year as the top international travel destination for mature travelers, according to leading tour operators catering to the mature traveler. Perhaps they had their eyes raised to heaven in supplication and their fingers crossed to ward off recurring terrorism and the declining value of the dollar.
Having learned the hard way the mistake of having too many European eggs in their travel baskets, the same tour operators, however, are also ready with alternate destinations, far more of them than last year.
John Peckham, president of Insight International Tours' North American operations, could have been speaking for the travel industry in general when he said, "God bless Paul Hogan."
The easygoing Australian actor/spokesman has helped make the land Down Under one of the hot destinations for the mature traveler (and others) in the last six months. New Zealand, Fiji and other South Pacific areas have shared the benefits of Hogan's beguiling pleas.
Still, Australia can only absorb so much of the big mature travel market. If travel is to have a great year, it must come from European travel.
From all appearances right now, it looks favorable to the folks who run the travel operation for the nation's largest mature organization, the American Assn. of Retired Persons, 25 million strong.
"We've noted a pent-up demand from members, especially those older and retired," says Richard Hefler, creative director for AARP Travel Service in Culver City.
"It appears that these people are not going to be distracted too much by the dipping dollar value or overall political environment," he adds. "Most of them have lived through the Depression, two World Wars and other conflicts. They don't see threats as other age groups do."
This far into 1987 the extensive tour program to Europe offered to members by AARP is selling well compared to last year, which, like travel for all ages, was way down.
"This year won't be as good as two or three years ago," Hefler predicts, "but it's just as much a market cycle as it is dependent on the declining dollar and political scene."
One segment leading the trend back to Europe is AARP's extensive Hosted Holidays program; two weeks or longer package plans centered around apartment-hotel accommodations in one place rather than touring.
"Actually, our Hosted Holiday program bucked the trend in European travel last year with an increase over the previous year when the numbers of tour groups were falling way off," Hefler pointed out. "We expect an even bigger year in 1987."
AARP's Hosted Holidays in Europe for 1987 are available in London and the Costa del Sol, like many other offerings from companies serving the mature traveler. But AARP also adds apartment stays in Paris, Vienna, Portugal's Algarve, Majorca in the Canary Islands and, heading for a big year according to early bookings, Nice and Cannes.
"The French Riviera is outselling Paris right now," Hefler notes. "Mature travelers seem to enjoy southern France and find the people more gregarious and friendlier than in Paris."
All of the Hosted Holiday programs to Europe, which average about $100 a day (per person, double) for apartment accommodations, air fare and fine social programs, are selling very well.
(In addition to Europe, AARP's Hosted Holidays are also available in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Taipei, Bangkok, Seoul and Singapore, plus AARP has one of the industry's most extensive international tour offerings for the mature traveler who is a member of AARP.)
Grand Circle Travel, the large, classy direct marketer to the mature traveler, also sees the long-stay vacation very strong in Europe as well as elsewhere. It calls its apartment/hotel stays Extended Stay Vacations.
"These Extended Vacations, from two- to 25-week stays in apartments rather than touring, will boom this year as the traditional 'If-it's-Tuesday-this-must-be-Belgium' tours and European Grand Capital tours become relics of the past," says Alan E. Lewis, chairman of Grand Circle. (Not all tour operators agree, but more on that later.)
Grand Circle's Extended Stay programs for 1987 include London, Gstaad in the Swiss Alps, Seefeld in the Austrian Alps, Locarno, Baden, near Vienna in the Vienna Woods, Portugal's Algarve, Yugoslavia, Canary Islands, Torremolinos and Majorca.
Outside of Europe, Grand Circle also has Extended Stay programs in French Polynesia (Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora), Hong Kong, Bermuda, Mexican and U.S. resort destinations.
Overall, Grand Circle's Lewis sees 1987 as an excellent year for the mature traveler for touring as well as extended stays, with many areas, even parts of Europe, having record travel years.
"Exotic destinations like the Orient, South Pacific and Australia, which did extremely well in 1986," adds Lewis, "will see even more growth in 1987.