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AARP launches travel site for growing 50-plus crowd

Kristina Williamson | Photographer's Choice | Getty Images

AARP, the nonprofit membership organization for people age 50 and older, has launched an AARP Travel website that includes an interactive Trip Finder that uses a series of visual questions to help travelers choose an appropriate destination.

"Research shows that 1 in 5 travelers doesn't have a destination in mind when they begin an online search," independent travel analyst Henry Harteveldt told CNBC. So "it's smart" that, unlike traditional booking engines that force you to begin with a specific destination, AARP's new site "uses photography to represent different types of places, different styles of travel and different activities," he said.

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In announcing the new website, AARP noted that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics pegs the personal travel budget for travelers age 50 and above at over $120 billion per year. AARP also shared highlights from its own online travel survey, which found that:

•Americans in the demographic every year take about six overnight, nonbusiness trips of at least 50 miles from home;
•Eight in 10 of this group use websites to plan as well as book personal travel;
•These travelers spend about 30–36 hours per year planning personal trips online but would prefer to spend about half as much time planning; and
•The age group spends about 18 hours per year online booking personal travel but would prefer to spend about 12 hours per year (at least an hour less per trip) booking.

"AARP Travel seeks to fix what our research showed was broken and missing in the current travel marketplace," said Stephanie Miles, AARP's vice president for member value, said via email. "Consumers spend more time than they want—and on more sites than they want—planning and booking their personal travel," she said.

For booking travel, the new site routes users to an existing AARP site powered by Expedia or to an affiliated site offering AARP-approved discounts to its members.

"AARP has a membership that numbers in the millions," said Harteveldt. "So it makes sense to have a product like this that allows AARP to compete for its members' discretionary dollars. It also helps to support the value of an AARP membership."

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The target market is big and getting bigger as baby boomers age.

And "it is no easy task to develop a sufficiently differentiated product," said Douglas Quinby, vice president of research at PhoCusWright.

He said he finds it interesting that the AARP Travel site emphasizes destination discovery and the aspirational aspects of travel over member discounts and benefits, but notes that there has been no shortage of online travel inspiration and discovery apps.

"Few have had much traction," said Quinby, "So let's see if seniors bite!"

(Read more: App helps bumped passengers claw back airline fees)

—By Harriet Baskas, special to CNBC.com. Baskas is the author of seven books, including "Hidden Treasures: What Museums Can't or Won't Show You," and the Stuck at the Airport blog. Follow her on Twitter at @hbaskas. Follow Road Warrior at @CNBCtravel.

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