According to the latest United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO)'s Barometer published on 27 January 2015 , the tourism sector experienced another record year in 2014. The number of international tourists (overnight visitors) reached 1,138 million in 2014, 51 million more than in 2013.
Despite those reassuring figures, Commissioner Bienkowska, in charge of Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, stressed that much still needs to be done and highlighted in her speech at the Spain Global Tourism Forum on 27 January that the European Commission "will act to increase tourism in the low and medium seasons, in particular for senior and young tourism".
Indeed, what about senior tourism?
With senior citizens (55 years old and over) representing around 25% of the European population, the European Union feels that the contribution of senior citizens to the European tourism industry is significant and should be reinforced to face the challenge of seasonality, stimulating economic growth and jobs in Europe. The European Commission acknowledges the importance of fostering transnational tourism activities by developing tourism off-season for seniors in Europe, a population group which includes individuals with both purchasing power and leisure time.
But although senior tourists represent a significant economic market potential, older tourists are a very heterogeneous group and their demand and criteria for choice are far from being obvious. In order to help shed light on this topic, AGE Platform Europe launched a European-wide survey to identify their interests and expectations, and gathered more than 900 replies from across Europe in 3 weeks. Conceived within the EU-funded ESCAPE project, aimed at enhancing existing tourist infrastructure and staff in low season, the survey's analysis offers country-based insights (targeting in particular France, Italy, Cyprus, Greece, Bulgaria and Portugal, project partners' Countries), alongside with widespread trends related to choices when travelling, and provides an overview of older people's approaches to seasonality and preferences for themes and leisure activities. The survey also addressed intergenerational comparisons, accessibility and seamlessness issues, as well as underlined older people's concerns when encountering barriers to their freedom of movement.
The outcome of this survey confirms the heterogeneity of the seniors' population group, whose needs and expectations vary in relation to age, health conditions, social and familiar constraints (e.g. care duties) and economic status. Nevertheless, it also highlights some common patterns and preferences, especially concerning the age range 55-75, e.g.:
- Older people would rather travel with a partner, with relatives or family members, as well as in groups with known people;
- Senior tourists prefer to travel with a budget of up to 100€ a day, to take 4-7 nights breaks, and also to extend the length up to 13 nights, when possible;
- Growing older increases the will to be autonomous in planning and managing travels, opting less frequently for all-inclusive packages, preferring to organise holidays individually;
- The preferred touristic themes are nature and culture, whose accessibility and security are rated as very important;
- Also when older and retired, summer and spring remain the most picked up seasons for travelling.
Besides this analysis, AGE Platform Europe gathered some other interesting insights from some of its members, complementing the width and the depth of the study. In particular, the following remarks are worth being reported:
- Specifically on security, additional comments reinforced the aspect of accessibility and web-accessibility. There should be much more awareness for rules on accessibility, to the benefit of all generations, and especially of those suffering from any temporary or permanent disability. Security goes beyond the protection against pick-pockets and airport security to encompass essential accessibility issues, both of the physical environment (accessible entrances and lifts, accessible and open toilets,...) and the virtual environment (accessible websites, available phone numbers of basic services for tourists, ...).
- With particular regard to health safety, older tourists pay attention to health threats (e.g. risk of legionella) but feel that they need information that go beyond the provision of pharmacies and the availability of doctors. Food safety cannot be neglected and more awareness must be raised.
- Insurances and premiums costs have to be considered as well. In some countries (the specific example came from the UK, but the situation is common across Europe), travel insurance can be very expensive for senior people due to age related fees and discrimination on the ground of age is a concrete risk. Age limits in intra-EU travel insurance in some countries, and as result in car rentals, are barriers that prevent older EU citizens from enjoying their freedom of movement within the EU. Action is needed to cope with such an issue, especially in the light of the elaboration of new and tailored tourist packages for senior tourists.
- Although 38% of older tourists travel with their partner, 28% of the respondents travel with relatives and family members and about 20% travel in groups. Yet, in practice, the majority of offers are meant for 2 persons sharing one room, resulting in an extra cost when opting for single rooms. Tour operators should be more aware of the fact that some older people may prefer a single room (for health or practical reasons ...) and could consider adapting their offers accordingly.
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Additional insight on senior tourism will be developed by AGE within its work in the framework of the Action Plan "Low-Medium Senior Tourism Initiative 2014-2016 – Towards an age-friendly tourism". This Plan has been developed by the European Commission (DG Enterprise and Industry, Service Industries, Tourism Policy) for facilitating cooperation mechanisms in order to extend the tourism seasonality and foster economic growth and job creation in the touristic sector. For this purpose, a Board has been established, in which AGE sits thanks to the commitment of Prof. Heidrun Mollenkopf, AGE expert on senior tourism. This body will elaborate the working groups' roadmaps, and ensure the perspective of older tourists is taken into account.
Last but not least, for digging more into the topic of age-friendly tourism, the AFE-INNOVNET thematic network organised a webinar on 18 February 2015 on that topic. This initiative was an opportunity for finding out how senior tourists can contribute to overcoming the challenge of seasonality, stimulate economic growth and jobs in Europe, and contribute to the objectives of the Europe Strategy 2020.
- ESCAPE project: http://age-platform.eu/age-work/age-projects/mobility-and-built-environment/2379-escape-facilitating-tourism-for-55
- AGE work on senior tourism (task force): www.age-platform.eu/age-work/age-policy-work/senior-tourism