TOURISM IS GROWING OLDER
Find out why the tourism and hospitality sector needs to learn to cater for senior travellers
Believe it or not, the Baby Boomers are packing.
For those who aren’t into labels, that means that folks born between 1946 and 1964 are both travelling and spending more on trips away according to international tourism gurus. In fact, the post pandemic shift to the fifty plusses rushing to tick off all those items on their bucket lists is now raising eyebrows in international tourism circles and it won’t be long before domestic service providers will also have to take note.
The logical reason for this, according to the World Tourism Organisation, is that the world is growing older. Although a lot of attention is given to the antics of Millennials and subsequent generations, the reality is that the older folk will begin to pack a punch in the not too distant future. That’s because it’s estimated that seniors will comprise nearly a quarter of the world’s population by 2050, compared to only 10% in 2000.
The World Tourism Organisation points out that they will ultimately be responsible for more holiday spending in the future than all of the younger age groups combined. They point out that, in 1999, over 593 million international travellers were 60 years and older and accounted for around a third of holiday spending. This number is projected to reach 2 billion trips annually by 2050, they add.
In an ideal world, that’s because retirees have more time to venture out on excursions and are able to make those vacations a little longer than those confined to school holidays and working long hours to put food on family tables. Empty nesters have fewer financial and domestic responsibilities and for many South Africans who are able to indulge in estate living and a lock-up-and-go lifestyle, they have the perfect opportunity to do just that.
But not everyone in the retiree age group has very deep pockets. What they do have, however, is more friends and relatives that enable them to do what Statistics SA cites as one of the main reasons for local travel – visit friends and relatives and have a slightly cheaper holiday as a bonus.
Ian Patterson and Shane Pegg, in an article entitled Marketing the Leisure Experience to Baby Boomers and Older Tourists that was published in the Journal of Hospitality Marketing & Management, summed up the situation perfectly: “Tourism is big business, especially for the increasing numbers of baby boomers who are becoming increasingly targeted by marketers and travel companies as a growing market. This is because many baby boomers are healthier, financially well off, better educated and have a greater desire for novelty, escape and authentic experiences than previous cohorts of retirees. The baby boomer generation is a prime example of a niche market firmly embracing the notion that the next wave of successful tourism businesses will be those geared towards the experience economy. In recent years, ‘boomers’ have demonstrated that they are willing participants in new and adventurous forms of leisure and are opting for more physically challenging and ‘adrenalin driven’ experiences.”
They also suggest that older people – and, in particular, baby boomers – make up an important emerging market that is openly embracing the ‘leisure experience’ in their tourist activities. When, by 2050, there are more than two billion people aged 60 years and over (22% or one out of five of the world’s population), there will be a shift in tourism marketing.
The authors also add that this demographic shift will be seen across all continents and will include a wide variety of tourism offerings.
In other words, these are not tourists who are necessarily looking for places to hang up their walking sticks or park their Zimmer frames. Whereas, in the past, cruises and package tours in luxury busses have been the tours of choice for the slightly older tourist, it seems that many are now looking for adventure tourism and the unusual activities that they may not have had the chance to indulge in during their younger years.
Many have also taken up new hobbies and have new interests now that all their time is not dedicated to building careers. Others may want to visit places of significance such as the Mandela Capture site in the KZN Midlands. Still others might want to indulge longstanding interests (that are also softer options) such as fishing and bird watching.
According to Patterson and Pegg, researchers have already indicated that many boomers are already bypassing the high street travel agent and ignoring the tour operator packages specifically targeted towards their age bracket as they do not want to be tagged as golden oldies.
“The average age of retirement is falling and many people in the “young old” age group are now ‘empty nesters’ whose children have left home. They are generally healthy, more highly educated and financially secure and, as a result, this group wants to increasingly enjoy special interest travel that caters for new and innovative ‘hands on’ experiences. This is especially true for older women and those who are widowed and single who will become a much larger segment of the older adult market as their needs become further recognized.”
For empty nesters with deep pockets, that could well mean luxury safaris and sunset walks along beaches close to five star resorts.
But for those with slightly smaller treasure chests, it means self-catering getaways and even holiday offerings that appeal to a far wider range of generations. For example, 65-year-old grandfather, Peter, wants to enjoy time spent with his grandchildren and has no intention of letting a few aches and pains deter him from playing golf or even bungee jumping and white water rafting with his sons.
“The important thing is that I don’t feel like a different person to the one I was 30 years ago. Although I lost my husband a few years ago, I have continued to add value to my life by teaming up with a group of similarly aged single people and going out to do all the things that we haven’t been able to experience but are still quite able to do,” says 70 year-old Sue.
Her holiday scrap book includes self-drive visits to game reserves, stays in the Drakensberg as well as a recent seaside stay in Mauritius. Next on the list is wine tasting in the Cape.
For others, it’s all about nostalgia and visiting places they enjoyed in their youth. In short, this is an opportunity to “feel young again”. 69-year-old Lance is planning a class reunion.
“Covid made me want to not only visit those special places that suddenly seemed out of reach but to get to all the ones I hadn’t reached as well. It also made me value the people that I haven’t seen for years and to make a plan to visit them and catch up,” Peter added.
A LOCAL TAKE ON TRAVEL FOR SENIORS
All of that is well and good for globe-trotting (or province trotting) sixty somethings. But, for many of the Baby Boomers in South Africa, travel was something they simply did not do because the political dispensation of the day meant that they were barred from travelling. Because they have never cultivated the habit of taking a holiday, there may simply be no demand or not enough funding for such an indulgence.
But, for organisations such as Tourism KZN, it’s never too late for locals to learn to travel – and travelling is also not reserved for the young and moneyed.
Nhlanhla Khumalo, acting chief executive for the organisation, says that exploring one’s own city or province is the perfect way to ignite that travel flame.
A group of senior citizens from the South Coast recently experienced this first hand as part of the Gogo Durban Tour hosted by Tourism KwaZulu-Natal.
Speaking to gogos at the end of their tour, Khumalo urged communities and families to make sure that their senior
citizens had a chance to travel. “They have taken care of their children and their grandchildren and have not had time nor money to travel. Now it is the responsibility of the young to treat their parents to a holiday.”
He also encouraged the gogos involved to talk about their trip to everyone at home and inspire others to travel and create experiences to remember.
The group was part of the Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs Khumbulekhaya Programme held at the Mpisane Sports Grounds in December 2022 and were winners of a tourism “Know Your Area” competition on the day.
These senior travellers stayed at the four-star Blue Waters hotel on Durban’s Golden Mile, lunched at uShaka Marine World, took a tour of Durban on the City’s Ricksha Bus which took them to uShaka Marine World, Victoria Street Market, the Mosque, City Hall, Francis Farewell Square, the ICC, KwaMuhle Museum, The Cube at Mitchell Park, Florida Road, Moses Mabhida Stadium and the Blue Lagoon. They were also treated to a boat cruise within the Port of Durban before heading home on Monday with plenty to talk about.
The boat tour of the Port of Durban was clearly the highlight for the group. Some Gogos we scared as the boat bumped and rocked over the swells in the harbour while others were absolutely delighted. Sizakele Chiliza said: “When I fell asleep, I dreamed of the boat and music, Gogos dancing and being happy.”
For most of the new tourists finding words to express how they felt about their weekend was difficult. This was a trip they had only ever seen on TV or heard about. Now, they had experienced it.
The itinerary was specially crafted taking senior citizens’ needs and abilities into account, by African Wild Travel, a tour operator which focuses on providing the highest level of service. It was their depth of care for all on the tour that the gogos unanimously applauded.
Tourism owners are playing their part in ensuring tourism in KZN is inclusive by ensuring that there are better rates for senior citizens. While there may not be a sign saying reduced rates for senior citizens, it’s worth asking about discounts when it comes to accommodation, restaurants and activities.
There are also discounts and value-for-money packages to be had for those who are retired and able to travel out of season.