Is the Red Hat Society a Viable Group Travel Market?

Affinity Travel, Expert Advice

We are the mothers, grandmothers and daughters of society, so say a jubilant group of women who don red hats and purple dress-up outfits and play with girlfriends who are all members of the Red Hat Society.

The Red Hat Society is based on a philosophy of giving yourself and life a break by embracing and enjoying all things privately longed for, to share your joy within a sisterhood of Red Hatters, and do it all with style and a lot of fanfare. The organizations genius stems from a fun birthday celebration when Sue Ellen Cooper, Red Hat Societys now Exalted Queen Mother, gave a copy of the Jenny Joseph poem Warning and a bright red vintage fedora to a friend who was celebrating her 55th birthday. Taking the poems message to heart, they and a group of girlfriends decided to meet on a regular basis and live the message. Throwing caution to the wind, following the prescribed dress code and calling themselves the Red Hat Society, these fun-loving ladies traveled around conservative Orange County, Calif., having a jolly good time. It was not long before they caught the attention of a local news reporter whose story about the society was picked up by the wire service. As soon as the first story hit the papers, Sue Ellen received hundreds, and then thousands, of emails asking how to join her group. I did not know where this was going, but I knew we would have fun getting there, said Sue Ellen.

The Beginnings of the Red Hat Society

The concept of the Red Hat Society has been infectious and now boasts more than 40,000 chapters in 33 countries. The typical chapter has 20-25 members, though some are larger. Membership is primarily women age 50 years and older. The groups trademark is to wear a stylish purple ensemble with a stunning red hat, and younger members wear pink and lavender. The organization is very loosely structured, having only a few rules and formalities. Whoever starts a chapter is referred to as Queen or Queen Mother. All members have an opportunity to join the Red Hats Purple Perks merchandise and service discount program.

Each chapter organizes get-togethers that are fitting to the style that is most appealing to its membership. Most include a luncheon or tea, and many take trips to the theater, a museum, shopping center and to events promoted for Red Hatters. At some point in every gathering, the Queen Mother will calm the members chatter and ask, Ladies, what should we do and where should we go next? Members offer suggestions and the group votes on what they think are good ideas. More often than not, whoever brought forth the idea is put in charge of making the arrangements.

Viability of Red Hat Society as Group Travel Prospects

Professional travel companies find that making a connection with one chapter member is a great way to secure an inside ambassador who can pitch the company’s packages to the membership. Most companies that work with Red Hatters agree on certain key elements to keep in mind when packaging for these groups. Never forget the philosophy of the Society and avoid anything that might interfere with the ladies having fun and a good laugh. Standard sightseeing does not work for Red Hatters; most positively respond to a trip that has quirks, themes and fun surprises. Main Street Tours has been effective in developing this kind of relationship with several groups in Southern California. We find that most groups make their own trip arrangements when there is only one feature to be organized, said Shawn Tokudomi of Main Street. This tour operator is well known for its unique and clever packaging ideas, and of the 20 Red Hat groups we operated this last year, our Chocolate Covered LA was by far the most popular. This itinerary includes visits to a chocolate packinghouse, candy-maker, Chado Tea Room for chocolate infused tea and other delights.

The word is out that Hatters love a party. More and more attractions and destinations are creating a celebration day just for Red Hat clubs.

Suppliers are taking notice and developing travel packages for the Red Hat Society groups. Bonfante Gardens in Gilroy, Calif, reserves a spring day just for Red Hat Chapters. The park is closed to other guests and special amenities are arranged, including horticultural tours of the grounds, an all-you-can-eat picnic lunch and Red Hat afternoon tea. Groups came from all over Northern California and Nevada, said David Slone, one of the visiting Red Hat Day husbands.

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