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Tuesday, 23 February, 2016, 15 : 00 PM [IST]

Reading Into The Real Mmarigold Hotel

Senior travellers present a growing opportunity in more ways than one.
Anurag YadavJust a fortnight back a new series on BBC created a buzz not only amongst viewers in the UK, but also across the world where it was seen. ‘The Real Marigold Hotel’ , a three-part series, inspired by the hit movie—‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ traces the experiences of some senior celebrities who visit Jaipur in a professed bid to explore if India could be a good pace to retire to. The stellar cast of the movie had its forceful impact on the audiences worldwide, and it was good for Indian tourism in its own way. In this just concluded series, the different set of yesteryear celebrities from diverse fields that feature in it have raised varying reactions across the board.

The series has the air of a mild version of the excitement - contrived or otherwise, of reality shows, but it has once again brought India into focus which comes across as an interesting and attractive destination, despite the ‘difficulties’. Such shows, films and series are not ad films, but can immensely make or disrupt perceptions. Slumdog Millionaire actually did a better job of creating interest in India than most candy floss ad films, and this despite its heavy undertone of negative images.

While this series is a ‘show’ and a reality one at that, the subject it raises and the premise its based on opens the discussion to intense possibilities. The important issue it indirectly also connects to is that of senior travel in India. There is a rising market of senior travellers who grayed in the age of the information and Internet revolution. They are not the typical ‘old people’ of the world. Together with the silent majority of well off and independent communities of retired people, they make a sizeable section of the society world over. Tour operators can seriously look at this market.

Tourism does not grow in a vacuum. Perceptions, opportunities and out of the hat thinking can create new vistas. This is all the more important as the old cultural package tour is fast dwindling and turning more specialised and niche.

India is a young country, but reports suggest that in less than a decade it will have a sizeable older population too, and it will be a demanding and influential segment that the travel operator who plans for the future can ill afford to ignore.

Medical tourism is a well recognised and ‘lucrative’ activity, and India is emerging as a smart choice in that area. Medical tourism, safer travel for senior citizens, old-age care opportunities and infrastructure – all contribute to the strengthening of the senior segment travel sector in a mutually symbiotic way.

Europe shows the highest potential as source for senior travellers, due to the volume of its elderly population and the increasing penetration of travel among its citizens in general. In the next two decades, experts opine that Europeans are expected to generate 89 international tourists’ arrivals by every 100 population. That is a remarkable figure indeed.

The Internet and the emergence of information and communication technologies have revolutionised many segments of society, included the elderly. According to the WTO, some of the 2020 future market trends are: an increase in the number of elderly tourists, a change from active vacations to experience-based holidays and an ever increasingly complex segmentation.

The confusion in the psyche of some sections of the travel industry, especially in India is about the terms ‘older’ and ‘elderly’. If understanding the subtle difference between those two terms is not enough, the differently-abled are at times lumped in the same category.

Tourism activities of older people cover a broad spectrum. Juggling them all together and even adding a dash of medical tourism to the cocktail leaves marketers quite confounded, and unable to select one or perceive how the varied segments actually relate to each other. Senior tourism is not a non-seasonal type of activity, but a collection of different and diverse parts.

Recently the government launched an initiative called “Accessible India Campaign” that is directed towards people with disabilities. The initiative seeks to make at least 50% of all government buildings in the national capital and all state capitals “fully accessible” for the differently-abled by July 2018. The similar deadlines set to make airports and railway stations accessible to the disabled will have a direct effect on tourism too.

When the celebrities in ‘The Real Marigold Hotel’ navigated the streets of Jaipur and other places in Rajasthan, the difficulties they faced was only a part of the humour and spectacle for a reality show. While it has helped to create a buzz and might inspire younger travellers to come and explore, the real theme of the show does throw up interesting questions.

The answers however can only come from the policy-makers and the usually quite voluble industry think tanks.

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