Survey Says: Benefits Aplenty on Group Tours

Hughes is a 30-year-veteran travel writer living in Sherman Oaks

Mature travelers who take group tours feel better, are happier and expect to live longer than others of the same age who stay home. They also consider themselves more physically and mentally active.

These are some of the findings from a nationwide survey of 1,750 Americans aged 50 and over that was commissioned by the National Tour Assn.

The travel business is feeling the pulse of the mature market today with an ever-growing appreciation of its size.

According to the Census Bureau, there are about 55.3 million Americans 50 or older--roughly a quarter of the U.S. population.

By the year 2010, more than a third of the population will be 50-plus.

The survey, which asked respondents to list their preferences in order and not to choose just one, showed other things, too:

Cost is the most important consideration for mature travelers when making travel plans and was listed on 74% of the replies. Climate was second at 59.6%. Then came the opportunity to see something new, 46.5%; desire to see cultural events and sites, 32.7%; a wish to return to a particular site, 32.7%, and personal recommendations from others, 29.3%.

The top five vacation choices were historic sites, 62.9%; natural wonders/national parks, 56%; warm-weather destinations and beaches, 46.9%; fall foliage, 46.4%, and special events and festivals, 32.4%.

The survey was conducted for the National Tour Assn. by Donnelly Marketing and the Mature Market Network.

The NTA has more than 500 tour-operator members, plus a great many suppliers such as hotels, attractions, restaurants, bus companies and airlines.

One of the features of NTA membership is a consumer protection plan that protects traveler deposits and payments in case of bankruptcy, a not-unheard-of happening in today's travel industry.

Members must also carry $1 million in liability, errors and omissions insurance, adhere to a strict code of ethics and must have been in the business of operating and selling tours for at least two years.

In looking at tour offerings, look for the NTA logo on brochures--it's one guide to the travel company's experience and dedication to service.

The study also disclosed that more than 20% of mature travelers have taken at least one escorted group tour and that the percentage is likely to grow.

For more information on group tour travel and for a free booklet, "Travel Together," write to the NTA at P.O. Box 3071, Lexington, Ky. 40596-3071, or call toll-free (800) 284-4NTA.

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