Senior Tourism Program Seeks Facelift Elderhostel, a nonprofit organization that has been around for more than 30 years, is trying to update its image and attract younger travelers. But many elders say if the young folks are in, they may be out.
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Senior Tourism Program Seeks Facelift

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Senior Tourism Program Seeks Facelift

Senior Tourism Program Seeks Facelift

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The tour company called Elderhostel wants to be a little less elder. Elderhostel offers tours and lodging for mature travelers who want something a little more exciting than a typical tour. It's been around for more than three decades. Now it wants to change its image. But as NPR's Tovia Smith reports, many elders say if the young folks come on board, the older folks may not join.

TOVIA SMITH: For hundreds of thousands of seniors, Elderhostel has been just the ticket to get out and see the world.

Unidentified Woman: OK, we'll all get out in - whoops.

SMITH: On this trip, a slew of 70-somethings are taking a food and wine bus tour of New England, starting this morning at a fish pier and auction house in Maine, where they're greeted by General Manager Bert Jongerden.

Mr. BERT JONGERDEN (General Manager, Portland Fish Exchange): OK, welcome to Portland. First time here?

Unidentified Group: Yes.

Unidentified Woman: No.

SMITH: But with 70 being the new 60, and 60 the new 50…

Mr. JONGERDEN: So you still going to that cold water vodka place, too?

ELDERHOSTEL Members: Yeah.

SMITH: …a lot of elder hostel customers have an issue with being called elders.

Mr. PETER SPIER (Senior Vice President, Elderhostel): We had participants who said that they were embarrassed to tell their friends that they'd been on an Elderhostel program.

SMITH: So Elderhostel Senior Vice President Peter Spier says Elderhostel is renaming itself Exploritas. And with an eye toward all those young-at-heart baby boomers now approaching retirement, President James Moses says they're also reaching beyond the 65-and-older set to all adults.

Mr. JAMES MOSES (President, Elderhostel): If you don't appeal to the baby boomers, you're pretty much done. I mean, let's face it.

SMITH: But the appeal to younger folks turns out to be a turnoff to many elders.

Ms. HELEN SCHLEIMER: Well, if you're going to put 21-year-olds with 80s and 60s, that's - get - a little nutty. So…

Ms. CAROL WELSH: They're not going to understand when we're walking up the stairs a little bit more slowly and they're elbowing past us.

SMITH: Sixty-nine-year-old Helen Schleimer and 72-year-old Carol Welsh say traveling with their peers makes them feel young and spry. They worry that traveling with what they call the young hotshots will make them feel old and feeble.

Ms. SCHLEIMER: I mean, a 21-year-old is going to hike up the hill there and what are we going to do? Here we come.

Ms. WELSH: I will feel - I'll feel I should get out a cane or a walking stick.

Mr. MOSES: Twenty-one-year-olds are not going to come on this program. It's just not going to happen.

SMITH: Still, Exploritas's James Moses admits it's been hard to convince some seniors, who tend to have trouble with change in general.

Mr. MOSES: Actually, you know, we've always known that from our programming, no surprises, because we know if there's a change, it's going to really upset them and freak them out. There are a lot of people who just don't like change.

SMITH: But Moses says this change is much less radical than folks fear. Exploritas will continue to cater to mature travelers interested in lifelong learning.

Mr. JONGERDEN: Any more questions? Well, let me talk about the boats a little bit.

SMITH: Back at the fishery tour, the lesson of the day couldn't have been more apt.

Mr. JONGERDEN: They'll set out a net behind their boat, and they have a certain size of the mesh. So the smaller fish will swim right through the mesh. So the juvenile fish will stay in the ocean to - obviously - mature.

Unidentified Woman: They should do that for Elderhostel.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: If Elderhostel, now Exploritas, does land a few more juveniles, not everyone will mind. As 83-year-old Flo Lipstein sees it…

Ms. FLO LIPSTEIN: If the younger ones came with us, they can carry our bags.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: Tovia Smith, NPR News.

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