When Li Caohua retired in her late 50s, the former doctor immediately joined millions of other mainland seniors and hit the road to see more of her giant country. At the top of her destination list was tropical Hainan island in the south and the ancient villages around her hometown, Beijing. Then there was the most grandiose of the mainland's landscapes - the mythic brown waters of the Yangtze River and its mist-enveloped Three Gorges. Over the decades, Li survived such horrors of 20th century Chinese history as the man-made famines that killed more than 30 million people in the late 1950s and the political anarchy of the Cultural Revolution that followed. Now, as she and hundreds of other seniors danced, played cards and chatted on Thursday in the winding walkways of Beijing's Temple of Heaven, Li said it was her time to play. "We are fortunate in China that we can travel, and I've seen so much," the 60-year-old woman said. "We're all travelling now to a lot of places." Before, the elderly saved all their money … Now, they want to see the world QI CHUN GUAN, TRAVEL AGENT Travel agencies and packages catering to elderly mainlanders say business is booming, amid overall growth in the country's travel industry. The number of senior tourists jumped by 58 per cent last year compared with 2013, according to China Daily, and 62 per cent of senior citizens join organised tours. One such tour ended tragically last Monday when a river cruiser carrying more than 450 people, mostly elderly tourists, capsized in a heavy storm on the Yangtze. By yesterday, nearly 400 had been confirmed dead, making it the deadliest maritime tragedy in the country since the civil war seven decades earlier. The tour was organised by the Shanghai Xiehe Tourism Agency, with the ship run by the state-owned Chongqing Eastern Shipping Corp, which specialises in Yangtze River travel. The ship, the Eastern Star, was plying the river upstream from Nanjing near the eastern coast all the way inland to Chongqing , a 10-day voyage of about 1,400km. There are many versions of senior-friendly trips designed for different income groups, with some low-cost options charging 3,000 yuan (HK$3,790) for five days on Hainan island, not including airfare, Beijing travel agent Qi Chun Guan said. For Yangtze River travel, most groups flew to Chongqing and then travelled downstream to Yichang , where the giant Three Gorges Dam was located, Qi said. "Before, the elderly saved all their money," Qi said. "Now, they want to go out and see the world. These people have seen their share of suffering in their lives. Now, with economic development, it's so different from previous generations." The boom in travel has been one economic bright spot to a greying population that's presenting the country with one of its most serious challenges. With UN data showing the number of mainlanders older than 65 projected to almost double to 210 million by 2030, the country's retirement system would struggle to keep up, especially as the one-child policy limits the number of working-age people who can pay for the pensions and meagre benefits of their elders, said Yong Cai, an assistant sociology professor at the University of North Carolina. "It's very clear that the next 10 to 15 years down the road will not be so good for the pension system," Yong said. "President Xi Jinping has been saying China has to deal with the new economic reality and part of this is a new demographic reality." For middle-class seniors, however, came strength in numbers, Qi said. Elderly "dancing grannies" fill the parks of many cities with their music and dance routines. Enormous groups of seniors are regular sights at tourist attractions such as Beijing's Forbidden City. One 55-year-old property manager, who would only identify himself by his family name of Shu, said he took two-day trips to towns around Beijing with other older people, paying 600 yuan for each excursion. On Thursday, he strolled along the Temple of Heaven's historic walkway, part of his morning routine. "If you have the money, you go out and play," Shu said. "I've learned to like it."