/ Travel & Leisure

Too old to tour at 81 – are age limits on holidays fair?


Is it fair to be told that, at 80, you’re too old to join a tour holiday? And how different is this from over 30s being excluded from 18-30 trips? Laws are set to change next April, so are age restrictions ever acceptable?

I never went on an 18-30 holiday. I never really wanted to. But when I turned 30 there was a bit of me that felt it was wrong that the option had been taken away and I couldn’t go even if I wanted to.

One day I could go, the next I couldn’t. It seemed an arbitrary cut off point that didn’t take into account the different courses people’s lives take.

What if someone had spent their 20s caring for an elderly relative and then became free of the responsibility when they were 30 and wanted to let off a bit of steam? Why shouldn’t they join the fun?

Harsh and arbitrary age limits

The same arbitrary nature of age limits applies at the other end of the scale. In October’s Which? Travel magazine we highlighted how anyone over 80 is barred from small group cultural holidays run by an escorted tour company.

The company, Martin Randall Travel, did previously allow people over 80 to join. But it said it found there were many cases when they proved unable to keep up with the brisk pace of its tours, and spoilt the trip for the younger members of the group.

So it imposed the ban, which it admits is “harsh and arbitrary”.

Is this legal?

But does the law allow “harsh and arbitrary” age limits? Under provisions of the Equality Act 2010, which come into force in April next year, travel companies such as Club 18-30 and Saga can legally impose such restrictions as long as the purpose of the holiday is to bring together people of a particular age group.

The law cannot be used to restrict access to general package holidays unless the restriction can be shown to be a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.

So is it proportionate and legitimate to exclude anyone over 80 from cultural tours because they might not be able to keep up?

Martin Randall argues it is, says the policy is based on objective experience, and points out that the age limit does not apply to its music festival holidays where the pace is slower and the groups are larger.

Can’t we decide for ourselves?

Age UK believes banning anyone over 80 is making assumptions based on stereotypes rather than treating people as individuals, and suggests anyone aged 81 and above should be told the tours are strenuous and left to make the decision themselves.

But if the tour company did that, would people over-estimate their abilities only to find they couldn’t keep up? Would that leave other people spending their holiday having to care for the older members of the group? Can an age limit ever be fair?


I can’t think of anything worse than a tour holiday, but that is because I have always taken holidays with friends or with my family. Maybe I will be glad of them one day, but I would not want to join a party with people who are 20 or 80. Companies who have age restrictions will lose potential customers but presumably the reason is to make the tour holidays work better. I am happy for age restrictions to apply, though I suggest that there are exceptions to help keep families together.

When I was travelling in New Zealand we did lots of ‘tramping’ (their word for long, often strenuous, walks). On one three-day tramp we got friendly with a man who was in his late 70s. He was on holiday on his own and was checking out different tramps ahead of a tour he was organising the following year. He was unbelievably fit – everyone takes the walking at their own pace at meets at the point in the evening, but he was far from last to arrive. My point is that everyone is different – he was probably fitter than many people in their 40s or 50s – age isn’t necessarily the defining factor in whether you’re up to a certain trip or not.

I do agree that certain holidays that are targeted at a certain age group, like Saga or 18-30, should have age restrictions – purely because it wouldn’t be much fun for people way outside the age group to be on a holiday like that, but then again, I can’t imagine many would try to book anyway!

As long as the Rolling Stones are still touring, I don’t think anyone has an excuse not to 🙂

Gerard Phelan says:
23 September 2011

Some tests can compute your mental age so perhaps other tests could be devised to compute ones effective physical age – at least as far as participation on holidays go.

In 2006 I was on a walking holiday in North Wales with HF. The venue also hosted a Painting holiday so when an grey haired lady in her 70’s started talking to me on arrival day I naturally assumed she was a painter – an assumption which her boots and rucksack the following morning quickly disabused me of. I was on the “High Level” walking group – so was she. I was 20 years younger than she was, and she was walking way out in front. Moreover on the mid week “day off” she went off with the sole 20 year old in the party to scale the more difficult peaks in the Snowden range, that HF deem too hard for ordinary folk like me!

Years earlier, also with HF, I had been clambering over Barnacle Ridge on the Isle of Arran admiring the daring of the man in front. Now in his 70’s he had only taken up walking after a life as a butcher. Whilst I was wet, tired , puffing with exhaustion and extremely fearful at the death defying scrambling I was committed to, he was looking for more interesting (= difficult) routes across the ridge ahead. On being asked if he worried about the dangers he responded that he had enjoyed a good life and it did not matter much if he fell off in pursuit of a little more excitement. Intellectually I agreed, but emotionally I was not comforted!

So although I too have suffered from slow people holding up a holiday group – they have almost always been my juniors by a generation or two. The only “age” that matters in such matters is the effective age for the activity and who can manage to define that?

I’ve been on a lot of guided walking holidays and age has no bearing on the clients abilities; the older walkers usually have more stamina and are still going strong at the end of the walk !

Frugaldom says:
30 September 2011

How can age restrictions be fair unless they are in place for legal reasons? It’s ridiculous! However, ageism does seem to crop up rather often in our society. I would suggest any elderly citizens affected by such ludicrous ‘rules’ simply take their business elsewhere.

I know there are tour operators who cater for over 80’s because the WW2 veterans can still apply for lottery funding (ends Jan 2012) through the Heroes Return 2 programme. I’ve just finished reading about Ted Cachart, who, at 85, is now helping others apply for these grants so they can afford to travel overseas on World War Two heritage tours, even if it’s for no other reason than to pay their final respects to lands where their loved ones fought and died. It’s still a tour and it’s still over 80s, no age restrictions that I’m aware of – I expect all veterans and their spouses, widows or widowers must be 85+

18-30 I can understand, it is age specific and it is drawing a similar group of people together without there being a generation gap if they ‘get it together’ while on holiday. But imposing an upper limit without involving the health, fitness and mobility aspects is just ridiculous.

J. Cleland says:
3 October 2011

Honestly, I feel that age limits as well as being unfair, do not always solve the potential problems that traders invisage.

In the case of Martin Randall’s Travel policy, I know of several over 80’s who are very fit and would easily manage this type of holiday. I also know of just as many under that age – some in their 50/60 who are in poor health and would not be able to manage a holiday of this type. In that respect, what about the disabled? Are they to be refused admission to certain types of holiday because of sight/hearing/mobility problems? This is certainly a contensious issue and I will be interested to hear the judgement in this matter.

Deebee says:
6 October 2011

Some years back we travelled with a major group tours company on a quite adventurous itinerary in Costa Rica. Before we left Heathrow we had met one of our fellow travellers, who was extremely confused and probably would not have made it onto the plane without assistance. He was in his mid-eighties. On day three of the holiday, we travelled by coach over unmetalled roads then by boat to a remote beach/jungle area inaccessible by road. The man slipped on leaving the boat and gashed his shin quite badly. It transpired that he was on Warfarin and the bleeding could not be staunched. He had to be air-lifted to hospital accompanied by our tour manager, whom we did not see again. We eventually completed the trip with a local guide only, thankfully a very good one.

Whilst I do not think a blanket age-related ban would be reasonable (we have travelled with remarkably fit octogenarians) I do feel that travel companies would be well-advised both to make clear the fitness levels they require for a given trip and to require clients to sign up to them, including provision of a ‘fit to travel’ medical certificate where felt necessary.

PS I have always wondered whether or not he had travel insurance and if so, how he secured it (or at what price).

Brian Seaman says:
18 September 2012

I know I’ve joined this conversation about one year too late, but I’ve just had an enquiry from someone asking about whether holiday companies can set age restrictions. As this was the first time I’ve been asked the question in over 18 years of working for a tourism charity, this article was very helpful in finding out where we are. I’ve also submitted their question to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, although it may take a while for a response.

I’m the director of a small tour operator specialising in cultural tours similar to the (much larger) company Martin Randall which we are discussing here. In some ways I sympathise with Martin Randall but I do think there are ways round the problem. We don’t have an age cut-off for booking as we recognise that age isn’t necessarily a reliable indicator of fitness – we sometimes have perfectly fit people in their 90’s on our group tours! However we do ask everyone who is over 80 to take a letter to their GP which explains the fitness levels required and asking them to confirm that they think the client is going to manage. The reason that we do this is that in almost 30 years of operating tours we have experienced our most serious problems abroad with clients who are over 80 and who have over-estimated their fitness. At this age, many of them are travelling on their own (having been widowed) so there is often no-one else there to help, which otherwise may make all the difference. We have had clients with dementia wandering into other people’s rooms at night, several bad accidents needing hospitalisation where frail clients have fallen, and even deaths abroad. At a guess I would say well over 90% of these problems occurred with clients who were over 80. Similarly to Martin Randall we have also had letters of complaint from other clients, some asking for compensation, when a group has been unable to see everything advertised because one or two clients have not been able to keep up. The GP letter that we ask for is not fool-proof – we still get clients with signed letters who we only discover whilst on the tour are actually unable to cope, however in doing this we feel we have done our best to help people make informed decisions and we can honestly say to the other people in the group that we have done as much as we can to ensure everyone is fit to travel without discriminating against anyone arbitrarily. I don’t know why Martin Randall can’t do the same.