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The Elderhostel (Now Road Scholar) Story


Courtesy of Road Scholar

The Dream

Many nonprofit organizations began as a gleam in the eye of one dreamer or a group of dreamers.

Elderhostel, the Boston-based educational travel organization for people over the age of 55, is an example.

In the 1970s, Marty Knowlton and David Bianco dreamed up Elderhostel. Knowlton, a former educator and social activist, loved to travel. He spent four years walking Europe with a backpack of essentials, spending most of his nights at youth hostels.

He was impressed with the hostel concept and also by the "folk schools" in Scandinavia where older adults engage in preserving their traditions such as folk art, music and dance.

Knowlton compared the vibrant roles older Europeans played in their communities to the American tradition of relatively inactive retirements.

Once back from his adventure, Knowlton shared his experiences with Bianco, then an administrator at the University of New Hampshire.

Bianco, in a burst of enthusiasm, said that his campus should not have a youth hostel, it should have an "elder hostel."

The Result

Together the two men conceived a program that would combine not-for-credit classes for older adults with comfortable and inexpensive housing.

The two men established Elderhostel as a nonprofit organization, and in the summer of 1975 five New Hampshire colleges and universities offered the first Elderhostel programs to 220 adventurous and pioneering participants.

By the end of the century, Elderhostel was a household name, serving millions of older adults with an amazing array of programs all over the world. 

As the Baby Boomer generation aged, however, it was obvious that the name, Elderhostel, might not be that appealing to the new generation of aging adults. Boomers certainly didn't think of themselves as elderly. A sub-brand was developed to appeal to this group of adventurers. It was called Road Scholar. It was so popular that the name was adopted for the entire organization in 2009. Today, the corporate entity is still called Elderhostel (who could give up such a branding success), but Road Scholar is used for all programs.

Today, Road Scholar is one of the leading providers of educational travel to adults 55 and over with nearly thousands of programs, bringing pleasure and adventure to older travelers who refuse to retire to the beach or cabana.

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