By Ian Patterson

The populations of most developed, and some developing societies are growing older. This is because birth rates have decreased and life expectancies are increasing due to medical advances and better health care, as well as greater public health education with regard to diet, exercise and improved safety awareness. As a result, population projections have estimated that there will be a huge increase in the numbers of older people who are living longer; and it has been estimated that by 2050, 2 billion people will be aged 60 and older, accounting for 22% (or 1:5) of the world population.

Old couple snorkelling

Because of this global trend, business operators are becoming increasingly aware of the significant impact that baby boomers (who are born between 1946 and 1964) are having on the tourism industry. It has been estimated that in the future this population growth rate will begin to dominate the tourism market. Already this growing segment of this population is exerting its significant ‘economic clout’ by demanding a diverse range of tourism services not previously considered mainstream offerings for older individuals. Tourism researchers and practitioners alike are beginning to appreciate that as a direct consequence of global aging patterns, baby boomers are now accounting for a greater share of all vacation and holiday spending than previous cohorts of older travellers.

In 1999, over 593 million international travellers were aged 60 years and over. This level of tourism activity accounted for approximately a third of the total amount spent on holidays in that year. By 2050, this figure is projected to exceed two billion trips per annum (World Tourism Organization, 2001). These future population projections imply that becoming older does not necessarily restrict people’s desire to travel, in fact the opposite is actually occurring.

This significant population shift is having a notable impact on the type of holidays undertaken and the destinations that are chosen. Although travelling to warmer climates is still popular, many older travellers are now demanding new and exotic destinations in their search for memorable experiences which often includes special interest areas such as educational tourism, soft adventure holidays, visiting heritage sites, and volunteering holidays.

As a result, it is becoming more likely that the volume of beach holidays will fall markedly, and educational and/or cultural tourism will increase as baby boomers prefer to take holidays where they can learn something new, and/or embark on different historical and cultural experiences.

Travel trends are showing that being older will no longer restrict people’s desire to travel within their own country or overseas. They are now becoming a separate and distinct market because they are still feeling healthy, are often wealthier, better educated, and more independent than previous generations of older people who are aged 65 years and older. Because they have more time for leisure and are relatively free of family obligations, they prefer to travel for longer periods of time, often in the off peak seasons and have a greater concern for personal safety when travelling compared with younger age groups. Because of the great heterogeneity and diversity of this older population, they require a greater variety of travel options than previously, ranging from soft adventure travel that they may want to organise themselves through the internet, to group travel where everything is done for them by the travel agent and they stay in five-star hotels.

However, tourism researchers need to be careful not to lump all people together as ‘older’ or ‘mature’ if they are over an arbitrary age such as 55, 60 or 65 years. If they do, this shows a lack of understanding about what each particular age cohort is really like, especially in relation to their individual needs, interests, and lifestyles. It is important to understand that each cohort group of older adults has lived through a specific time in history that adds to their distinct characteristics, needs and interests. At the same time, there is individual variability in a person’s physiological changes, health status, psychological wellbeing, socio-economic circumstances, social and family situation and ethnic minority status. Despite this great variability, travel businesses are beginning to appreciate that the senior market is an important market segment and because of this, has begun to shift their advertising dollars away from other target groups to this growing baby boomer travel market.




World Tourism Organization (WTO) (2001) Tourism 2020 vision: Global forecasts and profiles of market segments. Madrid.


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Tourism and Leisure Behaviour in an Ageing World

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About the Author

Dr Ian Patterson completed his PhD at the University of Oregon in 1991 and has been a member of the academic staff in the School of Tourism at the University of Queensland since 2001 when he was appointed Associate Professor (He retired in 2015). He was Research Director of the School between 2001-2004, and 2008. His main research areas are exploring the social-psychological experiences of older people who undertake tourism and leisure activities that promote healthy lifestyles. He has published over 70 peer reviewed journal articles and 20 book chapters. In 2011 Dr Patterson was awarded a citation for his significant contribution to the development of his professional association, the Australian and New Zealand Association for Leisure Studies (ANZALS), and Life Membership in 2015. He was the Keynote Speaker at a Conference on Tourism and Ageing in Lisbon, Portugal, 26-28th November, 2015.


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