Silver Tourism: What senior travelers deserve

Over 60. Over 70. Over 80. Traveling the Planet

The senior traveler has money and currently spends $30 billion annually, occupies 70 percent of all passenger spaces on cruise ships, and spends 74 percent more on holidays than 18-49 y/o. As a group they are becoming more interested in self-education and entertainment, treating tourism and recreation as the prize they deserve for their previous work life which was filled with personal sacrifices. The “new” oldsters, (i.e., the Baby Boomers, 1946-1964) travel frequently (on average 4-5 times per year) and are likely to comfortably afford the expense.

Senior travelers are changing and evolving and are likely to become one of the most significant social transformations for all sectors of society, including labor and financial markets, housing, and transportation, along with changes in family structure and inter-generational relationships.

Tourism Executives Oblivious

Many executives in travel-related sectors are operating without understanding the characteristics and interests of senior travelers and the diverse ways they consume tourism. It is important to recognize that the “newer” older adult has higher levels of human capital in terms of education, skills, abilities, and improved health profiles than their predecessors, enabling them to remain active, and productive, contribute longer to society, and travel.

Define Seniors: A Challenge

There is no clear definition of “older adults.”

The term is inclusive, encompassing such terms as mature market, 50-plus market, senior market, and baby boomers. Some researchers subdivide the group into Life Stages:

1.            Empty Nesters (55-64). Still working; children may no longer be at home; children not dependent on parents; few financial debts; sufficient funds to finance wants/needs; luxury goods affordable due to relatively high and stable income; take short trips; travel frequently.

2.            Young Seniors (65-79). Recently retired; entered the time-rich group; use past savings to cope with current expenses; high awareness of health issues; no serious health problems; chooses to travel and spend on quality goods/services.

3.            Seniors (80 +). Late retirement phase. In some cases, health status may decline; may need health care or retirement homes; travel less frequently; prefer domestic destinations

Because there are many variations in the profiles of seniors, the Life Stages view provides a quick look into the senior market; however, it is likely to be imprecise. What is probably a better fit, is the Cognitive Theory of Ageing (Benny Barak and Leon G. Schiffman, 1981) where “age” is based on how people feel about themselves, how they look and act, linked to their personal interests. It is this personal viewpoint that determines what they will do and how it will be done. The research reflects the reality that many seniors “felt” they were between 7-15 years younger than their chronological age and this “self-perceived or cognitive age seems to influence their purchase behavior,” according to Barak Schiffman (1981).

Newly OLD

The senior market is wealthier and healthier than their predecessors and therefore represent a huge opportunity for the hotel, travel, and tourism industry. As the numbers increase along with their spending patterns, it is obvious that many in the business sectors will benefit including hotels, airports, airlines, trains, food/beverage, wine/spirits, architects, interior designers, insurers, spa/gym/activity providers plus telemed and other remote medical services. Referred as “compression of morbidity” – the length of HEALTHY old age appears to be increasing and may be attributed to the length of life, partly due to shorter and later periods of illness. The net effect is an increase in the number of years lived in old age, often without major health problems.

Up to and including this point in time, tourism marketers and product developers have concentrated their efforts on younger consumers, ignoring those who are 50+.

Unfortunately, the industry continues to treat all senior consumers as one homogeneous segment. This focus is based on inaccurate and misunderstood stereotypes of “older” people. The stereotype suggests that most senior travelers are too old or too frail to travel compared to many younger demographic groups. The result? Superficial assessment of the senior travelers and the absence of services, accommodations, and activities that address their needs and wants.

Seniors Bring to the Table

The increasingly significant number of senior travelers are bringing many assets to the table including higher life expectancy, higher disposable income, improved health, free and flexible time. Because this group includes experienced travelers, they have a more precise idea of what they want, making it challenging for the industry to surprise them. Tourism marketers will have to step up their game to meet this new market, addressing their expectations for personalized service, quality, and travel options that include exotic destinations. 

Seniors are placing importance on physical activity – a key part of healthy lifestyles and “aging well.” This is linked to improvements in the economic status and health conditions of this group. People are living longer, and feeling substantially healthier than previous generations. Physical activity extends beyond walking, hiking, swimming, snorkeling, diving, fishing, and skiing, and includes exercise and yoga classes, fully equipped gyms with trainers and coaches, as well as sky diving and bungee jumping. A “young at heart” seniors might prefer to reserve a ranger-led nature walk in Yellowstone or a horseback riding tour along a beach in Costa Rica. However, the” old at heart” might opt for low physical activities and select a wine-tasting tour in Italy, a pottery class in Santa Fe, a dance class in Austria, or a bus tour in Scotland.

At the core of several travel trends, the silver traveler has sparked interest in ecotourism, adventure travel, medical tourism, multigenerational travel, passion/hobby vacations (combining a vacation with a passion for painting, language learning, antique collecting, and gourmet dining/fine wines and cooking classes as well as spiritual expansion. This diversity of interests means that there are many opportunities for niche travel markets to provide services to this target market as many big brands have overlooked this tourist.

All tourism stakeholders will need to meet and/or exceed the senior’s travel motivations, including the need for social interaction, special events, memorable experiences, cultural amenities, educational offerings, and a desire for self-actualization. A more experiential senior traveler seeks authenticity, self-improvement, and new experiences.


Senior travel has become seasonal and many older adults travel outside the peak season as it is cheaper and they can afford to stay away from home for longer periods of time. Travel agencies and destination managers have the opportunity to offer discount prices to older adults because of lower occupancy rates for flights and accommodations during the off-peak seasons.

Dana Jiacoletti (RightRez, Inc.) has noted that seniors purchase travel insurance at a higher rate than their younger counterparts, “Insurance is extremely important to seniors because it covers costs if something prevents them from taking the trip.” This is another instance where one size does not fit all. Some senior travelers will be interested in monetary reimbursement for cancellation or interruption while others value the protection a policy offers including short-term medical coverage.

Design for Senior Travel

All tourism products are multi-faceted and may need to be tailored to individual profiles. Yes, there are commonalities such as all-inclusive packages, hassle-free transit; quality over quantity, and well-balanced food options that consider special dietary requirements.

It is important to note that senior travelers do NOT like to think of themselves as senior travelers which is why they do not respond to ageist marketing (i.e., images showing their limited abilities or use of outdated technology). The preference is for imagery of mature adults living their full authentic lives. Marketers should show photos of seniors kayaking, hiking, dancing, socializing, learning, cooking, and doing all the things they imagined doing when they became empty nesters and retirees.

Related Posts

Previous post Don’t Globetrot Without These Essential Travel Guidebooks
Next post Airbnb prepares for fans as hotel prices skyrocket