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Meet the 'Queenagers' breathing life into the travel industry: 'You've got to go for it'

Midlife women are a growing market for travel operators, whether still working or retired, and they're looking for adventure

A woman poses beside pyramids

Caroline Blakeney in Cairo – the trip that changed everything. Image: Supplied

Caroline Blakeney had only been back home a week after the trip of a lifetime to Egypt before she made a booking to go to India. The 62-year-old hadn’t been abroad for 23 years before she took the flight to Cairo, now there’s no holding her back.

“It’s all out there to be seen, you’ve got to go for it,” she says. “A couple of people I knew of a similar or younger age had died of heart attacks. I thought, ‘Come on Caroline. You’re never going to see the world unless you go’.”

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With eyes well and truly opened and new friendships forged, Caroline, from Thornbury near Bristol, is a prime example of a new kind of midlife woman dubbed the ‘Queenager’. Some like Caroline are still working, others are retired; they have grown-up children, fewer commitments, are confident and ready to make the most out of life.

According to research carried out by media consultancy Noon, the most in-depth study of ABC1
(middle-class) women aged 45-60 undertaken in Britain, Queenagers have spending power, authority over decision making, autonomy and years of wisdom and experience to put to good use. They’re interested in finance, politics, health and achieving joy in their lives. 

In Britain there are 8.5 million in the ABC1 group aged 40-65. They spend £92 billion annually, make 95% of the household spending decisions and out-consume their 30-year-old friends by 250%. Yet they are often invisible in marketing and advertising.

Not so in the travel industry, which is turning away from cliched images of traditional silver-fox couples clinking champagne glasses on cruise ships and setting its sights on women like Caroline.

Specialists in small group and adventure travel, Intrepid Travel have seen a big increase in women over 45 travelling – a rise of 84% year on year.

Sharon Cheung has never heard of the term Queenager but says she kind of likes it. At Christmas 2019 she sold her house and all her possessions to travel. The pandemic stalled that but she’s now making up for lost time and has been travelling since June 2022 with occasional visits back to the UK to catch up with her grown-up children.

“I think there are people like me who decided either before the pandemic or after, to just stop working and live a bit,” she says. Sharon travels independently and occasionally joins a tour with Intrepid Travel, visiting places as diverse as Romania and Transnistria to Azerbaijan.

“I think since Brexit there are more older women travelling, which is interesting. I think a lot saw Brexit as, ‘If we’re going to do it, we need to do it now.’ And it has kick-started a lot of people into activity.”

For some the term Queenager is nothing more than another clickbait label and feels more pitying than empowering. For others, it might be a faddy marketing term but it successfully captures a corner of the market that shows no signs of slowing down.

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The top Intrepid destinations booked by women aged 45 and over include Costa Rica, Vietnam, Jordan, India and Morocco. Meanwhile, a separate customer survey Intrepid carried out this year of midlife female customers found 80% of them made a friend on an Intrepid trip, and 70% of them are still in touch with that friend.

Sharon is one of them. “On the first solo trip I did with Intrepid I ended up sharing a room with
a Swiss woman who was about 30 years younger than me. And we had a great time. There were five
single women on the trip, from all over the world. Apart from one girl, I’m still in touch with all of the people from the trip. And that was 2017. Some of us have met up since and travelled together.”

Angela McManus is a travel and lifestyle writer.

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