Trends of Senior Tourism Research

Seongseop (Sam) Kim is with The Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

The senior tourism market has evolved from a simple age cohort segmentation to an important and expensive niche in its own regard. This evolution is not only reflected in the typology of senior tourists and their interests but also in the frequency and duration of travel. Such drastic change in the prospects of the niche has partially been accounted for by an increase in the pursuit of leisure and leisure-related travel among the elderly.

The value of the senior tourism market is in its contribution and characteristics which translate into economic, health, and social values to tourism businesses and other stakeholders. Unlike seniors of yesteryear, today’s senior has greater financial means to embark in leisure pursuits overseas. While past researchers suggested that the senior market was unattractive owing to lower income and accompanying frailty associated with old age, today’s senior has greater level of wealth, discretionary income, lower debt, and greater free time (Littrell, Paige & Song, 2004). These factors have accounted for a heavy demand base among the elderly. Beside these, the niche is purported to provide some stability within periods of peak and off-seasons for tourism suppliers and destinations (Hunter-Jones & Blackburn, 2007). Another important trend is that seniors today travel more and for greater distances in addition to their tendency to stay longer at destinations.

Three broad factors account for the ability of today’s senior travel actively for leisure. First, most seniors upon the assumption of retirement are predisposed to great availability of discretionary time. In their empty nest stage, seniors are free from the rigidity of modern work environments and family obligations. Second, seniors today have greater discretionary income and wealth to pursue leisure and even international travel. This is in view of lower dependency by their family and limited social obligations. Third, there exist better health care and welfare provision for seniors in many developed societies. Many countries including USA, UK, South Korea, and Hong Kong have also established departments and agencies for the welfare of the elderly. The hospitality sector is expected to have a heavy and tailored demand for services by senior tourists. Specific industries including the hotel industry, restaurant industry, and shopping industries are expected to be dominated by a new senior demand segment (Bai, Jang, Cai, & O’Leary, 2001; Caber & Albayrak, 2014). Similarly, with expected growth in international travel, aviation and tour companies will witness a surge in demand by the senior market.

The growth and value of the senior tourism niche welcomes a new diversity for the tourism and hospitality sectors. While other fields including gerontology and health sciences have already initiated extensive research into the senior market, the tourism industry is yet to understand the potential contributions of this market. Per projections from many annals including the UN, PRB, and other national statistics, the senior market will soon be a growth engine for the tourism sector. The need for better and innovative product offering to cater for the tailored needs of senior tourists cannot be over-emphasized. It is therefore recommended that more and better research be initiated to identify the scopes and dimensions associated with this niche.

Bai, B., Jang, S., Cai, L., & O’Leary, J. (2001). Determinants of travel mode choice of senior travelers to the United States. Journal of Hospitably and Leisure Marketing 8(3), 147–168.
Caber, M., & Albayrak, T. (2014). Does the importance of hotel attributes differ for senior tourists? A comparison of three markets. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 26(4), 610-628.
Hunter-Jones, P., & Blackburn, A. (2007). Understanding the relationship between holiday taking and self-assessed health: An exploratory study of senior tourism. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 31(5), 509-516.
Littrell, M. A., Paige, R. C., & Song, K. (2004). Senior travellers: Tourism activities and shopping behaviours. Journal of Vacation Marketing, 10(4), 348-362.

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