Adventures in lifelong learning
The heroes of the past have gathered again. Our ages range from 50 to 80 and beyond. Two years ago, we had an eight-day tour that studied Russian literature. This time, we went for an overnight trip to Namhae and Hadong in South Gyeongsang. Our choice of accommodation for the weekend trip was a pension on Banga Island off the coast of Jingyo-myeon in Hadong County. The lodging was located on a private island without connections for televisions or computers, but we had other things to look out for. Banga Island is famous as the site of the discovery of a pterodactyl’s shoulder in August 2001.
As we were taking a stroll down the same beach where the pterosaurs walked 200 million years ago, I thought about the meaning of time. We were a group of 28 friends, and the youngest one and the oldest one were about 30 years apart. Compared to the time that had passed since the dinosaurs, 30 years is not a very long time. But it was not easy for the septuagenarians and octogenarians to spend several hours together on the bus.
In general, it is not so common in Korea for a group of friends of various ages to get together and take a journey together. The majority of senior tourists are old couples taking trips provided by their children or group tourists traveling with senior centers. Sometimes, seniors are lured into short trips by salesmen promoting them along with health supplements.
Senior tourism has to have a different focus compared to tours organized for young people. According to a survey, elderly tourists prefer natural scenic beauty, safety, convenient transportation and easily accessible facilities. They also tend to value the quality of local food more than younger tourists. And as the seven million baby boomers enter their senior years, the tourism industry serving the elderly will only grow.
Martin Knowlton was a pioneer in tourism for the elderly in the United States. Born in Dallas, he joined the Free French Forces and fought against Nazi Germany. Upon returning to the United States, he served in the Pacific theater and was awarded the Silver Star. After the war, he worked as a high school teacher and founded Elderhostel, a nonprofit organization for senior citizens.
Under the slogan, “Adventures in Lifelong Learning,” Elderhostel first started out as a program offering short-term lodging at college dormitories for war veterans who did not have a chance to get college degrees. But the organization grew to offer various theme-based discovery adventures, multigenerational tours and cruises.
Elderhostel was created to help American war veterans, and the older generation in Korea deserves similar services and programs as they have gone through even more turbulent times, from the colonial occupation to the war to industrialization and democratization.
Organizations should plan various programs geared toward our senior citizens. One way would be to expand the travel voucher program available for low-income families to include older Koreans. Another basic service would be to provide tourism brochures in bigger fonts for seniors.
* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Noh Jae-hyun