AS the over-50s have more cash to splash on travel, coach travel is getting a new upmarket image as operators claim they offer a more comfortable - and cost effective - way to explore the UK and Europe.
At Cosmos Tourama, a leading operator using Platinum Tourer coaches which take David Beckham and his Real Madrid team mates to away games, product manager Ian Hailes says: "If operators respond to changing needs of holidaymakers, there is little doubt demand for coach holidays will grow.
"We are proving this with a premium product for a healthier, more affluent 50-plus market. Bookings for our Platinum Tourer - with 36 adjustable, leather seats instead of the standard 52 - are strongly up on last year.
"The coaches have a lounge area at the back, central video/DVD/multi-track sound system, personal audio headsets and SAT-NAV disc to show people where they are going."
Cosmos's luxury coaches based in Portugal, Italy, Spain and Eastern Europe collect passengers arriving by air who pay extra for a smoother ride.
Seven days in Prague, Vienna and Budapest in May starts at £505, and from £580 on the Platinum Tourers.
While firms like Cosmos Tourama and WA Shearing dominate the market, dozens of smaller, local firms are among 200 operators in the Coach Tourism Council (CTC). Spending on coach holidays is set to climb from £2.2 billion in 2005 to £2.8 billion in 2008.
Says Hugh Cairns, publisher of Coach Touring magazine: "Coach travel has come a long way since the days of catching a charabanc to the Isle of Wight.
"It isn't unusual for operators to spend more than £300,000 on a coach - and there's also a growing choice of long-haul trips combining coach travel with flights which allow travellers to get further afield.