Back in the 1980s, Ward Luthi — an experienced Outward Bound instructor and adventure tour guide — served on the President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors. The commission, he says, found that “active outdoor travel was rated one of the top three goals of older adults.”
Based on the commission’s findings, Luthi in 1987 founded Walking the World, which he says was the first company to offer active outdoor adventures just for those aged 50 and above in the U.S.
It was a prescient move, because with almost all the 76 million U.S. baby boomers — the most active generation of older travelers ever — now reaching 50-plus (the youngest boomers are 49), Luthi’s target market is growing exponentially.
I’ll be talking more about Walking the World tomorrow and some of the good things Luthi is doing to help the planet and its people, but today I want to focus on why Luthi chose to focus on the 50 and above age group.
“Older adults,” Luthi told me, “are an absolute joy to travel with. With their kids mostly gone, work either over or ending, and more free time and money available, it’s their time to strike out for adventure. Adventure travel fits their desire to live life as fully as possible for as long as possible.”
In addition, Luthi continues, “Older adults are naturally curious about everything around them; they want to learn and interact with the local people wherever they go. They want to taste life in as many forms and varieties as possible.”
Compared to their earlier years, Luthi contends, older adults “are more open to trying new things, to taking ‘a walk on the wild side’ than in their earlier years.” (My note: some may find this “new openness” surprising, but having studied boomer behavior for years, I don’t — even though it defies outworn stereotypes of people becoming more rigid with age.)
Taking his cue from his years at Outward Bound, where participants were encouraged to test their limits, Luthi says that older adults are “excited to be testing themselves, to seeing what their limits really are. We believe that adventure travel means going to places and doing things that we might not normally do or that we might not do on our own.”
While Luthi stresses that safety is his highest priority, he notes that “Our trips are almost always a bit more active and challenging than most programs.”
Still, Luthi adds, one doesn’t have to be an Olympic athlete to join; most people in reasonably good physical shape can do most of what they organize. Travelers, he notes, should be able to comfortably walk 4-5 miles a day 4-5 times a week prior to their trip.
There’s no maximum age — all applicants are evaluated on a case by case basis, based on a health questionnaire. Some may have to get a physical exam before being allowed to sign up if doubts arise. And different trips require different minimum levels of fitness (Nepal vs. Costa Rica, for example).
Walking and hiking tour destinations this year range from Spain to Madagascar, Utah to Bhutan, France to Laos.
But why limit participants to those aged 50 and above? One reason, Luthi says, is that “A lot of them enjoy traveling with others with similar interests and at similar stages of life. This is their time — to explore, to learn more about who they are, to test themselves in the wild and see places they’ve always dreamed about — on their own terms and at their own pace.”
I’d say that after a successful quarter century in business, Luthi is onto something here.
Tomorrow: how Luthi gives back to the world he explores.
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