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Affinity group travel remains strong in the face of the recession

SALEM, Ohio — As the economic downturn played havoc with business travel and family vacations stayed closer to home, one travel sector bucked the trend and is enjoying a spurt of growth.

Affinity group travel seems to be the bright spot in today’s travel market and reports indicate that the 2010 travel season will continue to show increased group travel market activity.
Affinity groups, once defined simply as the mature or senior travel market, have blossomed in recent years to include new baby boomers as well as the SMERF groups — senior, military, educational, reunion, and fraternal.

And the survey says
A recent survey of over 5,000 SMERF travel groups by Group Leaders of America (GLAMER) found that 64 percent of groups see an increase in their number of travelers and 52 percent anticipate running more trips in 2010 than last year.

“This is great news for the group travel industry,” said Joe Cappuzzello president of GLAMER, which has more than 25,000 group travel leader members who annually operate trips for 3.6 million travelers.

GLAMER members are volunteer travel planners who are the grassroots organizer for their local community. This can include church groups, Red Hatters, bank clubs and an ever-increasing African American group travel market.

The group travel market growth seems to be a result of four factors that spell great opportunity for the travel industry.

1. Health: This generation of boomers and seniors enjoys the best health in the history of mankind. Advancements in medicine have people traveling with knee replacements, new hips, lens implants and heart valves. All of this results in the mature market’s ability to continue to travel.

2. Wealth: The 60-plus population controls 80 percent of the wealth. Homes are paid off, retirement packages provide annual income and discretionary income is spent on travel. Most senior investment is in certificates of deposit and has not been effected by the stock market. The boomer market is in the process of receiving $7 trillion of inheritance, the most in history, and they will spend some of it on travel.

3. Time: They have it and use it to take tours.

4. Companionship: As people retire they lose close daily contact with people and seek to replace it by joining affinity groups, a side result of which is traveling together with like-minded people. “It’s a great thing for us in the travel industry because it creates customers,” said Cappuzzello.

Find the groups

All of this has resulted in a strong group travel market for those who get out there and find the groups.

The most important statistic of the affinity group is that the average age of a member is 65 and they can expect another 16 years of active life that includes travel.

“So the next time you see a mature customer, you can see gray hair or you can see a customer until the year 2025,” said Cappuzzello.

“Since affinity group travel leaders are volunteers, they do not belong to the same travel industry associations that we know, they do however gather at meetings where you can find them.”

The most recognized meetings are:
1. GLAMER: An organization of 25,000 travel groups that holds chapter meetings in 54 cities each year. Contact Tammy Knox at (800) 628-0993,

2. BankTravel: An upscale sector of group travel that holds an annual conference where bank travel clubs meet with the travel industry. The 2011 conference will be in Baton Rouge, La., Feb. 6-8. Contact Teresa Burton at (330) 332-3841,

3. The African American Travel Conference: This market takes group travel at a rate twice that of the population as a whole. The next conference is in Niagara Falls, N.Y., April, 20-22. Contact Cappuzzello at

4. Going On Faith Conference: An organization of church travel groups that meets each year. The next conference is in Joplin, Mo., Aug. 24-26. Contact Burton at