Change is coming to a popular travel program for senior citizens.
Elderhostel, a nonprofit organization that has been around for more than three decades, is trying to update its image and attract younger travelers. But many elders say if the young folks are in, they may be out.
For more than 30 years, Elderhostel has been a way for seniors to see the world. But with 70 being the new 60 — and 60 the new 50 — a lot of Elderhostel customers actually have an issue with the notion of an "elder" anything. Some participants said they were embarrassed to tell friends that they had been on an elder hostel program.
So Elderhostel Sr. 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 opening their trips to all adults, not just the 65-and-older set.
"If you don't appeal to the baby boomers, you're pretty much done," Moses said. "I mean — let's face it."
But the appeal to boomers is a turnoff to many elders.
"If [you're] gonna put 21-year-olds with 80s and 60s — that's nutty," said 69-year-old Helen Schleimer. "They won't understand when we go up stairs slowly and they are elbowing past us."
Schleimer and 72-year-old Carol Welsh said that when they're traveling with their peers, they feel young and spry. They worry that bringing in what they call "young hotshots" will make them feel old and feeble.
Moses admitted that it has been hard to reassure some seniors who tend to have trouble with change in general.
"We've always used no surprises," Moses said. "Because we know if there's a change, it's gonna really upset them and freak them out. And I think there are a lot of people who just don't like change."
But Moses said this change is much less radical than folks fear. Exploritas will continue to cater to mature travelers interested in lifelong learning.
At a Portland, Maine, fishery tour put on by Exploritas, discussions of welcoming a younger set couldn't have been more apt.
"They'll set out net behind [the] boat," said a tour guide, describing how the fishery catches fish. "And they'll have [a] certain size of the mesh. This way, it's selective fishing gear. The smaller fish will swim right through the net. So all the juveniles will stay in the ocean to mature. They should do that for Elderhostel!"
If Exploritas does land a few more juveniles, not everyone will mind.
As one patron put it, "They could learn a lot from us."
Flo Lipstein, who regularly travels with the organization, sees some benefit in having a younger crown accompany her on tours.
"If the younger ones came with us, they could carry our bags."