When the coronavirus hit, Jim and Cheryl Drayer, 69 and 72, canceled their planned travel and hunkered down in their Dallas home. But earlier this month, they received the second dose of their COVID-19 vaccinations. In March, armed with their new antibodies, they are heading to Maui for a long overdue vacation.
Across the United States, older people have been among the first to receive COVID-19 vaccinations. And for hotels, cruise lines and tour operators, the data is clear: Older travelers are leading a wave in new travel bookings. Americans over 65, who have had priority access to inoculations, are newly emboldened to travel. For the silver-haired, it's a silver lining.
At the Foundry Hotel in Asheville, N.C., an 87-room luxury hotel housed in what was once a steel factory for the Biltmore Estate, reservations made with the hotel's AARP promotional rate were up 50% last month. Aqua-Aston Hospitality, a Honolulu-based company with resorts, hotels and condos in its portfolio, reports that senior-rate bookings climbed nearly 60% in January.
The Drayers, who have done adventure travel in India, Israel and Egypt, admit that their trip to Hawaii is a baby step. "We didn't want to end up quarantined in a foreign country or not allowed back in the United States. This felt like a safe place to go," Cheryl Drayer said.
That sense of safety is partly because Hawaii, with its mandatory quarantine and contact tracing, has managed the pandemic well. The couple feel confident that if they were to face any health issues while on the island, they wouldn't be stymied by an overburdened health system.
While some older adults are focusing on short distances, others are enthusiastically going big.
Fernando Diez, who owns Quasar Expeditions, a luxury cruise operator in the Galápagos Islands, says that since January, 70% of his booking inquiries have come from guests over the age of 65. In previous years, that number was closer to 40%.
Hotels and resorts are embracing the fresh wave of travelers, with many rolling out programming geared toward their oldest demographic.
The Marker Key West Harbor Resort, in the Florida Keys, has seen an uptick in transactions from guests over 55. It responded by bringing back programming that had taken a hiatus during the pandemic but was popular with older visitors in the past, including aqua yoga and a 5 p.m. "welcome reception" on the resort's pool deck.
"It's very attractive to the senior crowd at that hour," she said.