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The Mature Traveler

Value, Service in Touring Are Most Important

June 07, 1987|BILL HUGHES | Hughes is a 30-year veteran travel writer living in Sherman Oaks

Bill Siefke, a Pasadena travel agent and tour operator, already knows a semi-surprising fact about mature travel that a major new research study will reveal later this month.

The detailed examination of the 50-years-and-over market in a National Geromarket Omnibus Study will show that only 25% of people in the mature market rate price as the most important factor in travel planning; 35% of the same group rate price as not an important consideration at all.

"It's value and service, then maybe price," says Siefke, president of Great Western Travel. "We learned long ago that you cannot buy travel satisfaction at bargain-basement prices.

"Careful, professional attention to travel details are not marketed at discount prices anywhere in the world. It's unwise to invest a substantial amount in transportation and then risk spoiling a great experience by using inferior accommodations and attractions in places visited. And a poorly conceived itinerary is just a poor investment."

Must Be on Target

Siefke's philosophy must be on target with his mature audience. His Great Western Travel helps plan and operate tours for more than 40 senior groups in the area, some for just several tours, some for a whole year's travel schedule.

To cater to the large mature market, Siefke is proud of what he alternately calls his "menu" or "product," an extensive spectrum of tour offerings.

More than 60 people-proven, one-day tours are available for groups, plus another two dozen or so two- to four-day tours of California and another 10 to 12 more similar offerings that cover Nevada, Arizona and Utah, with still others to Mexico and Canada.

And that's only the shorter-length stuff.

Great Western also has a string of longer tours, mostly domestic, combining air, rail, motor coach and cruises, both on lake, river and ocean. All, from the one-day outings to those two- and three-week tours, are planned and operated with the mature traveler in mind.

Siefke will be one of the first to admit that none of this is exclusive with his Great Western Travel. Many other fine travel agents and tour operators have similar offerings.

"It's a very competitive business," Siefke said. "You have to have an extensive menu of tour offerings and keep them fresh and updated. But you also have to stay in touch, not just with the product but what the groups want.

"Seniors are great travelers. Many have taken most of the regular tours and look for something new. So we are always looking for new destinations, new ways of changing our product to meet the desires of the group."

Great Western is a full-service travel agency with a staff of seven, representing all air, land and sea carriers, hotel chains, car rentals, and other domestic and foreign tour operators. But Siefke says only about 15% of his business is walk-in trade.

By far his largest market is mature and most of that in senior groups. But if an independent mature traveler, not attached to any senior group, was looking for a specific tour, Siefke could tell him or her about the various offerings that the 40 to 45 senior groups he works with are planning for the year.

Works With the Groups

Great Western works with its senior groups in several ways.

First, they have access to Siefke's menu of regular offerings, all set and ready to go at any time. Or sometimes the senior group will set their own destination and ideas and let Great Western take care of the planning and operation. And others sit back and wait for Siefke and Great Western to create specials on the menu.

This year Great Western has fashioned tours such as the California Rail and Sail. It's a five-night, six-day mostly motor-coach tour that includes San Francisco, Sacramento, a cruise on the Emperor in the California Delta between San Francisco and Sacramento, a scenic train ride through the heart of the Sierra to Reno and an overnight stay at the Carson Valley Inn before returning to Los Angeles. Set for Sept. 24 and Oct. 1 departures, the price is $398 per person, sharing a room.

Among the longer tours is Great Western's Maritimes Magic, a 20-day air and motor-coach tour to five Canadian provinces: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. This one goes out Sept. 8 and is priced at $1,995 per person, sharing a room.

The Ozarks call with two October departures, Oct. 6 and 15, with a nine-day air and motor-coach tour of St. Louise, Lake of the Ozarks, Eureka Springs and its Passion Play, Silver Dollar City, Memphis and Elvis' Graceland mansion, plus other points of interest. This is $1,150 per person, double.

There's also the 11-day air and motor-coach Freedom Tour that includes Philadelphia, New York, West Point and Annapolis, Gettysburg, Hershey and the Pennsylvania Dutch Country, plus Atlantic City and other attractions. Departure dates are July 18 and Sept. 26, with a per-person rate of $1,495 double.

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