By Stan Turkel
Turning Gray Into Gold
There are now more Americans age 65 and older than at any other time in U.S. history. According to a new Census Bureau report, there were 40.3 million people age 65 and older on April 1, 2010, up 5.3 percent from 35 million in 2000 (and just 3.1 million in 1900).
The 65-and-older population jumped 15.1 percent between 2000 and 2010, compared with a 9.7 percent increase for the total U.S. population. People age 65 and older now make up 13 percent of the total population, compared with 12.4 percent in 2000 and 4.1 percent in 1900.
All regions of the country have seen growth in their 65-and-older population since the 2000 Census. The older population is growing most rapidly in the West, where the number of senior citizens increased 23.5 percent, from 6.9 million in 2000 to 8.5 million in 2010. The Northeast is home to the largest percentage of people 65 years and older (14.1 percent), followed by the Midwest (13.5 percent), the South (13.0 percent), and the West (11.9 percent).
What does all this mean for the hospitality industry? Simply that there is a largely untapped market out there that is growing at a phenomenal rate. This mature market is generally willing to travel in the shoulder seasons if there is enough incentive. Since many are retired, they can travel midweek and arrange their travel plans in accordance with rooms availability. Many pay in full on departure by personal check (reducing credit-card commissions) and many are willing to give large deposits, providing a cash-flow benefit.
Older Traveler’s Needs And Preferences
Prejudice against seniors, which is characterized by rude behavior toward older persons is fairly widespread. Direct-contact hotel personnel must be trained to work with the older traveler. The hotel staff must be taught how to communicate with guests who may have weak eyesight or poor hearing. Many prefer rooms with two beds and locations on the lower floors near an elevator. Safety and security are concerns, so room sprinklers and smoke detectors can be strong selling points. More than other travelers, older guests enjoy public areas where they can gather to talk and socialize. Such rooms should be separate from the cocktail lounge.
Groups of senior travelers usually enjoy attending some kind of welcoming reception. You might meet them upon arrival to explain meal times, hotel amenities and community facilities and then offer coffee, lemonade and home-baked goods. Most older persons also like to participate in organized entertainment after dinner, such as a trip to a local theatre, a sing-along, or a shopping excursion. Guide services for these activities and for day trips are a plus.
Older Travelers Physical Requirements
Interior design for senior citizens must take into account the elements of hearing loss, diminished vision, lessened color perception, poorer short-term memory and weakened upper body strength. While experts agree that hotel facilities for seniors should be designed to offset these difficulties, I believe that, in fact, all hotel guests would benefit from the following improvements:
In Guest Rooms
Better lighting at room entry, writing table, at bedside, in closet, at TV set.
Master electrical switch at bedside to control all room lights.
TV operating instructions and docking connections that are easy to read, clear in direction, simple to operate and well lit.
Blackout drapes and/or shades that actually keep light out.
Clear instructions on how to connect to the Internet and free WiFi.
An alarm clock that is easy to program and read at night.
Lamp switches at the base of the lamp where they can be easily seen and reached.
Real clothes hangers in the closet along with irons and ironing boards.
Descriptive printed materials that are well-written, clearly printed, and large enough to read easily.
Provide a refrigerator and a microwave oven.
Apply non-skid material to both the bathtub floor and bathroom floor.
Install well-placed and secure hand holds and grab bars in bathtub and shower area.
Make sure the adjustable shower head is easy to adjust and does the job.
Eliminate hot water surges and provide scald-proof hot water.
Provide good lighting over the mirror.
Install night lights which won’t disturb sleeping but will provide safe night trips to bathroom.
Install a magnifying mirror on an accordion bracket.
Provide a UL approved hair dryer with a wall-hung bracket.
Supply better-quality, more absorbent towels in color.
Make sure all shower curtains are long enough to reach well below the bathtub top.
Provide bathroom amenities (shampoo, lotion, etc.) in containers which are easy to identify (with large print) and which have raised surfaces on the cap for easy turning when hands are wet.
In Corridors And Elevators
Make certain that corridors are well illuminated, especially over guestroom doors to expedite the use of electronic door lock cards.
Corridor exit signs should be installed close to the floor so that they won’t be hidden by rising smoke in case of fire.
Elevators should have clear and well-lit floors button with “Door Open” button easily located.
Elevator door bumpers should retract readily when touched.
Elevator signs describing restaurant facilities should be colorful, simple in design with clear directions.
Security And Safety Considerations
Voice-activated fire emergency alert systems.
Medical service availability in the event of an emergency illness.
Well-lit parking areas with shuttle to and from the front of the hotel.
Uniformed security guards on duty at critical times.