Are senior travellers really so different?
The tourism industry has been watching closely as aging baby-boomers gradually shift into the seniors category. And with good reason because, for all that it requires special treatment, this category has undeniable appeal. However, an informed approach to the senior market must be rooted in an understanding of its behaviours. Research shows this market is not a homogenous one; certain segments are more profitable than others.
Why target the senior market?
Demographics is one of the few fields capable of generating fairly reliable forecasts. Here are a few interesting statistics concerning the senior (50 +) market:
- In the United States, a baby-boomer becomes a senior every 8.4 seconds;
- People born in 1950 live 20 years longer than those born in 1900;
- In 2025, there will be 63 million Americans over 65 years old;
- Florida currently has the highest concentration of people over 65, and will continue to do so until 2025;
- In 2025, 30% of the French population (over 16 million people) will be over 60 years old;
- Given current demographic trends, there will soon be more grandparents than there are young people;
- On average, seniors spend more than any other population segment on a variety of consumer goods, one of which is travel;
- In 2001, more than 50% of Americans between the ages of 50 and 64 were using the Internet.
William S. Reece (West Virginia University) studied the senior market by isolating specific sociodemographic variables likely to have a positive or negative impact on senior demand for travel. He based his findings on two sample groups: one consisting of senior American leisure travellers (average age: 69) and another one of non-senior travellers (average age: 40).
Certain variables can have a greater or lesser impact on seniors’ demand for travel. Study findings revealed that propensity to travel varied between groups of individuals that were defined by a specific variable. Thus, 40-year-olds with an annual household income between $75,000 and $100,000 are more likely to travel than seniors in the same income category.
The accompanying figure shows the extent of each factor’s influence. The orange arrow (1.96+) marks the point beyond which the variables become significant. Only two criteria reach that threshold: the distance from residence to destination, and the type of residence (house). Based on these variables, seniors show a markedly greater demand for travel than people in their 40s. One possible explanation for this is that older consumers generally have fewer financial obligations: 80% of Americans over 65 are home-owners, and 80% of that group are no longer paying off a mortgage. As for the other criteria, the differences are not great enough to be deemed significant.
The study’s author rejects the idea that senior travellers behave the same as other travellers, although the differences are not as marked as one might have expected. However, the results do show that older people travel further than the average.
The term “baby-boomers” refers to people in the 40- to 60-year age bracket. Within that group, those over 50 are called “young seniors.” Even though their demand for travel may – by and large – be the same as that of their older counterparts, their reasons for travelling are significantly different. According to Lalia Rach of the Tisch Center for Hospitality, understanding the new reality for seniors is key to grasping their influence on the tourism industry.
The new generation of 50+ seniors was born in the 1950s and lived through the dramatic social changes of the 60s. As a result, people in this consumer segment no longer conform to the stereotype of an elderly stay-at-home. Inaccurate assumptions about seniors abound:
They are brand loyal;
They are not comfortable with technology;
They prefer organized travel (such as senior tours);
They prefer activities geared towards older people;
They retire at 65;
They live a slow-paced lifestyle.
The 50-year-old senior is much more likely to be:
experiencing a sort of personal awakening;
living a fast-paced lifestyle;
able to enjoy life on their own terms;
eager to make choices;excited to learn.
These days, tourists in the over-50 set are more adventurous than ever. According to a survey of UK residents conducted by NOP World, seniors are now choosing far-flung destinations over the traditional beach holiday, with roughly 65% expressing the desire to go on a safari. The survey also showed that fully two-thirds of individuals over 50 find they are still able to enjoy all aspects of life. Tourism products and marketing strategies need to reflect that reality.
Certain industries are ahead of the game in this area, offering innovative equipment that allows older people to keep practicing their chosen sport for longer. Skiers can wear the much more comfortable soft boot (see illustration), and golfers can use the «Big Bertha» club (see illustration), enabling them to hit a long, straight shot with less effort.
Advertising campaigns have not adapted to certain aspects of the aging boomers’ sociodemographic profile (for example, 31% of this group are single). Destinations should make a point of showing photos of radiant older people in their advertising material. Seniors have never felt so youthful ? roughly 63% say they feel younger than their actual age, and they want to see that perception acknowledged when they purchase a product. To win over this market segment, be prepared to do the following:offer them a product that is simple, yet original;
- provide an activity that others are unwilling or unable to offer;
- don’t try pigeonhole them;
- encourage them to get involved;
- offer an experience, not a product;
- guide but do not manage them;
- build in frequent breaks and rest stops.
Advertising messages aimed at seniors must be pitched in such a way that they target them without pandering to blatant stereotypes. Seniors do not want to be thought of as ?old,? or consumer automatons. Merchants take note: the following terms are to be avoided when speaking of seniors: golden agers, the elderly, senior citizens, retirees, the grey rinse set, etc.
Companies will have to adapt their approach to the new reality. Golden age discounts can stay, but they should be renamed ?specials for 60+ customers,? in order not to stigmatize those who use them. Finally, managers should be constantly evaluating their products or services for signs that they are no longer relevant to an aging clientele.
– Direction du Tourisme de France – Département de la Stratégie, de la Prospective, de l’Évaluation et des Statistiques. «Les pratiques touristiques des seniors en 2003», octobre 2004.
– Littrell, Mary A., Rosalind C. Paige et Kun Song. «Senior travellers: Tourism activities and shopping behaviours», Journal of Vacation Marketing, vol. 10, no 4, 12 mai 2004.
– Outburst Advertising/Marketing News. «Why Target the Senior Market?», octobre 2004.
– Rach, Lalia. «The Aging Society: Realities and Perspectives Impacting the Travel Industry», 18th Annual Governors Conference on Travel & Tourism, 29-30 mars 2005.
– Reece, William S. «Are Senior Leisure Traveler Different?», Journal of Travel Research, vol. 43, août 2004.
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