Introduction and Mature Traveler Profiles
Why This Book?
The original intention of writing this book was to highlight how much the travel industry has grown, even in just a decade, and its considerable contribution to the global economy. Based in the UK, the starting point for discussion and analysis is from a British perspective. However, this has been extended to include the United States alongside the UK and to further extend the picture across several other major countries where tourism plays a significant role in their economic development.
The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of every country receives some contribution from tourism, whether this is a small percentage or a major part of the economic viability of the nation. The travel and tourism sectors incorporate much more than holiday resorts, tourist attractions, flights, and travel for both inbound and domestic visitors.
There is a clear link with employment, improving the infrastructure, construction and development of accommodation and business premises. In many countries, the rise in numbers of visitors to historical monuments and ancient structures, for instance, has led to the need for increased efforts to preserve and maintain them, to ensure their fabric is not damaged or destroyed by sheer volume of footfall. We regularly hear of the impact “overtourism” has on a region, often leading to exasperation and resentment by the local population to these invading travelers! Paris and Venice immediately come to mind.
As a travel writer for several years, with a focus on the mature traveler, it has been interesting to see how much the volume of tourists has grown in so many destinations. Queues are longer than ever for attractions even when a timed entry ticket is introduced. For example, the recent Tutankhamen exhibition in London required up to an hour of extra waiting past the expected entry time, and that was if you were actually at the front of the queue. Once inside, it was so crowded you had to fight your way through the throng to get close enough to see the exhibits.
Feedback, reviews, and blogs were obviously more negative than you would expect for such a special exhibition. Did this make any difference to the organization or the venue? Clearly not, and, to be fair, there was little they could do at this stage apart from warning visitors with prebooked tickets to be prepared for the wait, and to restrict visit time once inside.
On the positive side, from a marketing perspective, the advertising and publicity was extremely successful, leading to demand exceeding capacity. However, a further negative response was because the stunning Tutankhamen Mask was not actually part of the display, although it featured prominently in the promotion literature.
What Has Led to This Rise in Tourism?
The term “bucket list” of destinations you must see before you die (that is, kick the bucket) has come into everyday usage, giving everyone a chance to dream of and plan a series of trips into the future. Of course, how far into the future depends on your age! The list generally includes the same tourist attractions worldwide—see the list of the most visited attractions later in the book—so perhaps this is a good time to carry out research globally to see how the list differs between age groups and geographic location.
A question for marketing professionals may be, “Where does this fit with the notion of a last-minute, spontaneous choice of where to visit next?” How can you attract a customer to a new, different, less popular destination or experience? Evidence from various sources suggests that most people are not so dedicated to just fulfilling the bucket list before anything else, often because these destinations are more expensive or involve a big trip that needs careful planning to make the most from the visit. Thankfully, there are still plenty of opportunities to find and promote exciting new destinations or activities, such as the Aurora Zone trips to find the Northern Lights in the more remote Finnish Lapland rather than Iceland – image 2 shows the Aurora Borealis (Aurora Zone 2019).
A feature of how much tourism has changed is the number of trips or vacations customers are likely to take each year. In the early part of the 20th century in the UK, there would be just one annual family holiday, which meant saving money for a year to be able to afford it. For all but the very wealthy, this holiday would typically be within the UK, often at a seaside resort. It was the 1970s before package holidays overseas, mainly in Spain, became affordable for the wider population.
As we can see in later discussions, we have an aging population globally, with few countries showing a significantly larger younger group, up to the age of 24 and in the 25 to 50 age group, such as India. The term “baby boomer” is used widely, generally referring to 50+ as being the ones with the most disposable income, the wealthiest pensioners ever. This is not actually helpful when you look more closely at the mature travel sector.
Baby boomers, strictly speaking, are those born toward the end of, and in the immediate years following, World War II in 1945. The birthrate naturally spiked as military personnel returned home, the UK seeing the only time 1 million births were recorded in one year, 1947. The rate of births then went down to a more stable level. The next spike of 1 million births was in 1964—babies of baby boomers, so the next generation. Note that the age of mothers was much lower than it is now, as a woman aged over 25 was considered to be an “old” mother biologically.
This later generation had a different social and economic environment as they grew older and now, in their 50s, may indeed have had better private pensions than those who are now over 70 years old. As a mature market sector, it is, therefore, unhelpful to count them as a single target group.
There has been a staggering (not a term I would normally use but appropriate in this case) rise in the range of media channels and the use of social media in particular in just the last five years. Although this was initially associated with younger age groups and the millennials, where it is the norm and a significant part of their everyday life, the rise in the use of iPads and smartphones in the 65+ age group has opened up so many more opportunities for the travel and tourism sectors to reach new customers.
How Do We Tap into this Growing Mature Market?
This book provides a broad picture of the mature travel market starting with demographic profiles. There are many sources referred to here, with a range of different criteria for collecting and collating the data, so some variation in the results is inevitable, although these sources are generally in agreement on the broad picture.
Of particular interest are the sections on choices for booking a trip, where potential customers go to find out more information about a destination in order to make their final choice, and emerging patterns in what they are looking for from a trip. The varied use of social media, reviews, online searches, and hard copy is considered in some detail, identifying some of the most effective ways to reach the mature traveler.
The country profiles consider data on where travelers go to and come from and the types of trip they currently research and/or book. Current trends identify emerging international travel destinations that have the potential to attract new visitors. Finally, this leads to strategies that those in the travel sector need to consider in order to meet the changing, but growing, demands of individuals and families wishing to travel more in the future without causing too much damage to the earth.
Whether you are a student on a university course covering Travel and Tourism, part of the global travel agency network, a tour operator, or provider of other products and services, this book covers the underpinning profile of what is on offer, who the potential customer is within the mature age group of 50+, what they are looking for, and, ultimately, strategies to inform and encourage them to buy. The reference section at the end provides information on those who have contributed to this study and where more detailed examples of successful strategies and methods of targeting the mature travel market can be followed up.
Definitions to Consider
What Do We Mean When We Refer to the “Mature” Traveler?
There are so many ways to describe a mature traveler that it does not present a clear-cut definition from a marketing viewpoint. For instance, many definitions include reference to the 50+ age group, 55+ age group, or maybe 70+. Let us face it, at 50 you are not looking for the same things on holiday as your 75-year-old mother!
Below are some broad profiles to consider:
• may still have children living at home
• grandparents looking for multigeneration trips
• solo travelers across all age groups
• those with some form of disability that makes traveling to a new place more difficult
Depending on individual age or profile, they may:
• be interested in the busy nightclub scene and popular tourist spots
• want to relax at beach and pool resorts
• prefer luxury facilities for spa treatments and relaxation
• be looking for adventure and excitement
• enjoy exploring, trekking longer distances, or just walking locally
• prefer city breaks and are interested in experiencing the local culture
• enjoy river or ocean cruising
• want to visit locations where they can sample food and take part in wine tasting
• look for special interest and hobby breaks, either to take part in activities or visit to learn more
• enjoy art and architecture associated with the place, visiting galleries and studios of local artists
• look for the entertainment available such as the theater, opera, concerts
• want to enjoy slower forms of travel such as the train or coach
• be looking for something different, new experiences and destinations
• prefer to book a complete package rather than an ad hoc list of separate elements
• the bucket list! Still have a list of things they must do at some time
We cannot assume that the older age groups are immobile. Also note that solo travel features across many age groups.
A more detailed breakdown is provided by Silver Travel Advisor in their 2020 Report (Silver Travel Advisor 2020). They have identified significant differences within the mature sector, not necessarily related to a specific age group but more closely related to their individual circumstances. These categories are particularly useful when considering strategies to target the sector and to align the product or service more closely with their individual needs.
The categories were developed over time and based on experiences of those who subscribe to Silver Travel Advisor. Note that this is not a travel agency but an online site that offers ideas and insights into travel and activities enjoyed by the more mature traveler. Its success is built on the reviews posted by members (moderated but not paid for) and links with many tour operators and service providers catering specifically for this target group.
Sandwich generation—those with both teenage children and elderly parents to consider. They are likely to take vacations during school or university holiday breaks.
Empty nesters—often work into their 60s, with no children now living at home. They are likely to have a bucket list, look for luxuries, and take multiple holidays over the year, including short breaks. They are also interested in expedition cruises, safari trips, and other new experiences.
Golden oldies—retired, often grandparents, spending up to £20,000 on travel each year. The survey shows they like to take lots of holidays, including short breaks, worldwide travel, city breaks, cruising, and escorted trips—similar findings to those of the Titan Travel survey (Titan Travel 2019–2020).
Multigeneration family—a mix of generations who holiday together and may be retired, working, or in education. They are often looking for big holidays to celebrate birthdays and other significant events. They want unique experiences to make “memories” such as private tours, personal service, short breaks, often staying in the UK; 29 percent of respondents have taken a multigeneration break in the last five years (Silver Travel Advisor 2020).
Single by circumstance—this category includes those who travel on their own, not by choice but often widowed, divorced, or separated from a previous partner. Likely to have high disposable income—although note that if widowed or divorced, they may not have as high a disposable income as they might have had as a couple.
Single by choice—The survey found that around 68 percent of solo travelers are single (for various reasons) and 32 percent have a partner but choose to travel alone (Silver Travel Advisor 2020). Feedback shows that this group of solo travelers may be working or have taken early retirement and are likely to have a higher income available for travel. They are often willing to travel as part of singles groups with interest in self-development; therapy; holistic, learning, and themed breaks; active and adventure breaks.
Note that there were 8.2 million people living alone in the UK in 2018 to 2019, forming a significant market sector (ONS, 2018–2019).
Happy home birds—an interesting definition that may well be reflected in other countries globally. They are mainly retired from employment; like to holiday in their home country; and enjoy coach tours, Christmas events, family holidays, and returning to favorite places.
Less mobile—note that a disability may not always be visible or mobility related. 50 percent of people registered disabled in UK are over 65 years old, and 72 percent of wheelchair users are over 60. Depending on the criteria used, 44 percent of UK pensioners have some form of disability. The “Purple Pound” relates to the spending power of the disabled market and their families, currently thought to be £249 billion. Of course, within this group there is a considerable range of finance levels available to spend on nonessentials.
As we can see, these broad definitions and assumptions may not fit the profile of all mature travelers globally, but they do give a clear picture of the current UK mature travel market. Although we do not want to restrict the opportunity to extend a customer base, we have to start somewhere before we can overcome any stereotypical image of what “mature” represents.
Demographic profiles are produced by every country on the basis of official births, deaths, and, sometimes, a regular census—every 10 years in the UK for example. They are usually broken down into categories such as those in Table 1, sometimes with more detailed profiles about gender, marital status, and those who have reached 100 years of age.
Table 1 World demographic summary by age group 2020 [worldometers .info/demographic]
For us, the main categories are those over 50, in some profiles over 55, as these are deemed to make up the mature travel sector. As a general picture, the chart shows between a quarter and a third of most nations have a significant population over 55 years old, more than the world average of 18.44 percent. The exception in this demographic profile for 2020 is India, which is well below the average at just over 14 percent.
The World demographic table (Table 1) gives a clear picture of national profiles according to age of the population. This is a sample of nations to indicate differences and similarities between population profiles compared with the global average, so other national profiles are available on the Worldometers website (Worldometers 2020). They also provide several demographic summaries based on criteria other than age.
In this example of country profiles, India has a higher proportion of GenerationZ and millennials than the world average. Older age groups of over 55 have declined to 14.41 percent, fewer than the world average at over 18 percent. All the other nations included in this sample exceed the proportion at 65+ by a significant amount, particularly Japan, at 28.4 percent, and Germany, at almost 22 percent. Germany is seen to have an interesting demographic profile, with a much lower birthrate than others and twice the world average in the 55+ age group.
The Silver Travel Industry Report 2020 is their fifth annual report based on a growing number of respondents from their membership base. It incorporates statistics from various sources as well as specific responses from survey participants. It therefore presents a detailed, comprehensive picture of the UK population demographic. The general picture shows that
75 percent of respondents are in their 50s and 60s.
62 percent are married, with a partner.
61 percent are retired from work/employment.
In 2020, 30 percent of the UK population is over 55 years old, and by 2030, 50 percent of all UK adults will be over 50. This is a significant rise in the proportion of people over 50, which has implications for all sectors of the community, both socially and financially. If you look more closely at the rate of growth in these older age groups, you notice a constant rise evident over each decade, and projections by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), as well as other government sources, reaffirm this trend.
In 2007, 15.9 percent of the population were over 65, rising to 18 percent by 2017, and in 2027 this is likely to rise to 20 percent (see Table 2).
Table 2 Projected rise in number of UK population 65+ years old
|2007–2027||% population 65+|
Staying with the UK demographic profile, the actual number of individuals in each age group shows an interesting spread. Table 3 shows that there are almost 24 million people over 50, with 8.85 million 50 to 60 years old and a further 7.07 million 60 to 70 years old—a substantial sector of the population that still actively takes holidays/vacations and enjoys a wide range of activities (Silver Travel Advisor 2020).
Table 3 Number of UK population in millions
|Age group||Number in UK 2020 (in millions)|
|50–59 years old||8.85|
|60–69 years old||7.07|
|70–79 years old||5.29|
|80–90 years old||2.65|
This profile is further supported by the Mature Marketing Association (MMA) as part of their ongoing research into mature market sectors for a range of product and service providers, not just those in the travel sector. They note that there are 23 million over-50s in the UK (MMA) representing 33 percent of the population, 31 percent of the UK workforce, and who are estimated to own 80 percent of the disposable income available.
Other sources of data related to the demographic profile include Gransnet, one of the biggest online communities in the UK, with 300,000 members who are grandparents. It was developed as a follow-on to their successful Mumsnet, a site for mums of any age with children still living at home. Gransnet provides information, guidance, and support for anyone who is a grandparent through regular news features, forum discussions, and surveys. They work with many partner organizations that target this demographic to provide data based on regular surveys of members.
There are 14 million grandparents in the UK, and their average age is 49 (Crisp 2019) (www.gransnet.com). Their demographic breakdown shows the majority, 67 percent, of Gransnet members are aged 55 to 64, with the 65 to 80 age group making up a further 30 percent—see Table 4. They also note that around 75 percent of their members use the social media platform Facebook regularly.
Table 4 Age profile of Gransnet subscribers
|Age of Gransnet subscribers|
|65–80 Baby boomers||30%|
Estimates show there will be 20.4 million aged over 65 by 2041, representing over a quarter of the UK population in just 20 years from now (Keeley 2019) (Travel weekly). A further point related to the growing mature population is that the majority of CEOs in UK are aged over 50 and that in many professions, particularly those in service sectors, there is growing alarm that such a high proportion of the working population will be nearing retirement around the same time. This picture is similar to that in the United States, where there are currently around 40 million over-50s.
This has practical implications for companies that need to replace experienced, knowledgeable staff at higher levels in the organization as well as the need to train new staff or, indeed, to recruit from what may be a dwindling pool of young professionals coming forward. For governments facing a similar situation globally, this has significant financial and social implications. However, the profiles of what the mature sectors are looking for when planning to travel suggests that this opens up a wider potential market because the number of people with more time and money available will inevitably grow.
What Are They Looking For?
As we have seen, this is a diverse group of customers, so it is vital that they are not just “lumped together” under the heading of the mature travel sector (Keeley 2019). Although evidence suggests that 30 percent of over-50s spend more than £3000 per trip on holidays, it also shows that around 12 percent spent at least £5000 on holidays in 2018 (Mail Metro Media Travel Team 2019).
The number of trips they take is also significant, particularly in relation to the spend per trip. The Silver Travel Report 2020 gives a more detailed picture of the number of trips taken by UK respondents. Responses suggest that more than three-quarters take at least one break away from home each year, plus maybe one or two others, with figures staying consistent over this period. Note that respondents may have chosen more than 4 trips and more than 5 trips combined, depending on how they interpreted the question, so more than 100 percent total is recorded (Table 5).
Table 5 Number of trips taken per year 2019–2020
|Number of trips three or more nights each year||2019 survey (%)||2020 survey (%)|
|4 or more||23||19|
|5 or more||11||11|
These figures show that by 2020 they were spending a little less than the previous year in the £1000 to £3000 per person bracket. More people are searching for trips at less than £1000 per person, but high-end spending of £5000 or more per person remains stable at 12 percent. Luxury breaks are clearly holding their own, and a recent poll by Classic FM Radio found 88 percent of listeners listed luxury holidays as their top preference.
Although this is the average spend, which differs according to which demographic profile and source of data is used, it represents a formidable opportunity in the UK alone.
However, the things potential customers look for when choosing a holiday, based on their individual ranking of elements (note this is not 100 percent total as they could rank several options), are consistent across various sources of data. Silver Travel Advisor respondents noted that “cheapest price” was least important and decisions of what to book were identified in the same order as those in the Travel Weekly survey 2019:
71 percent said previous good experience with a tour company or holiday destination was a factor in choosing their next holiday/vacation.
54 percent noted Air Travel Organiser’s Licence (ATOL) protection was the first or second most important factor when choosing (a critical issue in early 2020 as the travel industry tries to deal with the impact of COVID-19).
48 percent said the reputation of the provider was an important factor.
46 percent identified good customer service as important.
It is also useful to look at the main motivators when choosing which travel company to book with (Table 6). While around 17 percent paid little or no attention to the brand, and can therefore, potentially, be swayed in their choice, whereas 79 percent consider the brand very seriously (26 percent) or to some extent (53 percent)—also see later section on shopping habits.
Table 6 Reasons for choosing to book with a particular brand
|Reasons behind choice||2019 (%)||2020 (%)|
|Previous good experience with the brand||71||45|
|Choice of destination available||45||38|
In the 2020 Report, there is a broader spread of criteria that motivates them to make their choice compared with the 2019 survey and several options to choose in some of the survey questions. Despite all these factors, previous good experience with the company remains the top criterion overall.
Major differences appear in the importance of ATOL protection, presumably linked to recent difficulties and collapse of some major players in the tourism industry. Customer service has ranked at just 20 percent in this latest survey, which may, or may not, reflect improvements in support provided to customers.
The Travel Weekly survey also allowed several options to be chosen when considering their preferred type of holiday (Travel Weekly 2019). Results from this survey show that:
45 percent said city breaks were their favorite option
42 percent were looking for country house hotels within the UK—up from 37 percent in the previous survey
33 percent still opt for beach holidays
The Mail large-scale surveys found that for the 58+ age group, sea cruises were still a favorite ranking higher than beach resorts, lakes, and mountains. The United States has also seen a growing river cruise market since 2018 (Mail Metro Media Travel Team 2019). It is useful to note that 48 percent of Mail readers class themselves as well traveled, so they know what they are looking for and have lots of experience to draw on when deciding where to go. Yet they are still open to new suggestions and are willing to try something different as their next travel experience.
The Silver Travel Report 2020 gives a more detailed breakdown of what type of break respondents are looking for. The biggest rise in trips they are considering has been in adventure holidays (up from 7 to 25 percent), cultural trips (up from 21 to 34 percent), and luxury markets (up from 11 to 21 percent). Table 7 shows the difference in choices between 2019 and 2020.
Table 7 Type of break they are looking for in 2019–2020
|Type of vacation||2019 preference list (%)||2020 preference list (%)|
Factors Related to Type of Break
Factors related to the type of holiday being considered, though clearly this varies considerably according to the individual traveler, generally fall within the following main categories.
City breaks appear consistently near the top of the “to do” list in many surveys. For instance, the most-booked places to visit in 2019, identified by Trip Advisor, support this reference to the continuing popularity of city breaks, particularly, though not exclusively, in Europe (Trip Advisor 2019). Trip Advisor is a major source of information and advice for travelers worldwide. They identified the 10 most popular destinations booked through them, or reviewed on their website, in 2019 as primarily Europe, with three out of 10 being trips to the United States.
The attraction often quoted by the mature traveler is the opportunity to explore outside of the busy tourist attractions, to stroll around the quieter streets, and see more of the local culture.
Ocean cruising continues to grow in popularity with the mature traveler, whether as a solo, couple, or intergeneration group. Previously considered to be at the luxury end of the market, and obviously some cruise lines still pride themselves on this element, there is now a growing range of options promoted in the lower price range, adding to demand.
Two million people from the UK booked an ocean cruise in 2018, citing the main attraction as the range of destinations on offer (61 percent rated this the highest issue in 2019, up to 76 percent in 2020), and around two-thirds said they would consider going to a new destination. Overall, 92 percent said they would choose another ocean cruise (Silver Travel Advisor 2020). However, Condor Ferries (Condor Ferries 2020), offering shorter ferry trips and cruises from and around the UK, found that the first factor customers cited when choosing their trip was the price, followed by reviews, with 65 percent booking over the phone on the same day. The general picture was that customers book between one and three months before the planned trip.
In the 50+ group, only around one-third have been on an ocean cruise, with the majority of clients in the 60+ age group, representing a potential market to tap into. The U.S. travel market noted (2019) that 30 percent of baby boomers opt for a cruise.
Many are now looking for smaller cruise ships, whether they have cruised before or not, as the massive cruise liners feel “impersonal, too crowded, and you cannot get to some destinations because they are too big.” Cruising is seen as a positive option for the solo traveler—41 percent aged over 65 said they were likely to go on a cruise at some time (Solo Traveler World 2019) provided single supplements were not too great.
Note that as cruise liners get bigger, with much more to offer as onboard entertainment and facilities, this may alter the balance of customer profiles, which may or may not be seen as a positive step for some.
The latest research from Titan Travel (Titan Travel 2019–2020) found that the cruising market is changing as more smaller cruise ships come into service. These are ideal for river cruising, of course, but also smaller ships on longer routes can get closer to ports than many of the ocean liners. This opens up new opportunities, with more trips considered to have a focus on exploring or being more adventurous than before, such as in Alaska, and allows some relief from overtourism in hotspots we have seen.
The destinations on offer are the critical factor in customer choice, with the opportunity to see so many different places in a shorter time—and only unpack once—still the main attraction for 70 percent of respondents. 23 percent of them had been on a river cruise before, with a significant majority, 74 percent in 2019, rising to 93 percent in 2020, who would choose to do another. The main reason stated by 40 percent of respondents who had not taken a river cruise was the perception that it was too expensive (Silver Travel Advisor 2020).
Spa and Well-being
The growth in spa, relaxation, and well-being facilities has generally been in the luxury sector. In the UK, for instance, these facilities are incorporated into most high-end hotels and resorts ( see Image 3).
With a focus on healing and well-being at spa resorts, both the 50+ and 65+ client groups may have different expectations of, and attitudes toward, more cosmetic treatments being introduced at many established facilities globally. This is echoed in the later section on popular and new destinations.
Rail travel is a growing area, considered more environmentally friendly than other forms of transport. Various surveys find that customers regularly state they prefer other forms of transport to air travel, mainly because they do not enjoy the airport experience. This is clearly something that needs to be addressed as it is a common statement whenever travelers are asked for preferences.
Rail travel is ideal for those preferring a more sustainable travel option where the journey, not the destination, is the focus. It is the direct opposite of air travel, where the flight is generally viewed as a necessity. Identified as one of the big trends for the future, long-distance sleeper trains are particularly appealing to the mature traveler, not least because of the slower pace, high-end luxury facilities needed to ensure a comfortable journey, and therefore the higher price.
The biggest influencers of the decision to book a coach trip are word-of-mouth and online reviews such as those on Silver Travel Advisor or Trip Advisor websites, plus value for money. The choice of destination is important, of course, as is prime location of hotels, home pickups, a good tour guide, and onboard Wi-Fi. The main things stated as negative views about coach tours were related to spending too long on the coach each day, a packed itinerary that does not include the occasional relaxed day with no traveling, and a definite preference for no background music!
The “staycation”—staying in your home country rather than traveling overseas—is a growing UK market, as it is in other countries. For example, figures from the United States show that 66 percent of Americans were planning a domestic spring vacation in 2018–2019. The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) Holiday Habits 2019 (ABTA 2019) report notes that 56 percent were planning a domestic break, with UK customers taking two staycations per annum, 35 percent of these opting for seaside breaks.
Factors Related to Customer Profiles
Factors related to customer preferences, as defined in the earlier discussion of demographic profiles, add an extra dimension to choices made by those planning a trip. The Oddfellows Travel Club 2019 small-scale survey found 53 percent of members will generally travel as a couple, 42 percent as a solo traveler, the remaining 5 percent in other combinations such as part of a group (Oddfellows 2019). The main factors that are relevant to the final choice include multigeneration groups, solo travelers, and the need for accessible travel.
There are 14 million grandparents in the UK. In the Silver Travel Report, 29 percent of respondents said they had previously taken a multigeneration break, and three-quarters of those said they would do so again. In their recent survey of subscribers to website Gransnet (Crisp 2019), 64 percent of them said they would consider a multigeneration holiday, 25 percent of these also paying for the child/children accompanying them.
Beach holidays were still the most popular choice for these respondents, followed by villas that gave more space and freedom to each of the varied age groups present. They all said that the range of activities available, and separate spaces for quiet time, were the crucial factors in order to keep everyone happy.
Solo travel is growing in popularity across all age groups, but certainly among the mature sectors that are looking for more adventurous trips, often as escorted trips rather than organizing each element independently. The attraction is not just related to organizing the details but gives the solo traveler a chance to meet others traveling alone and not feel out of place.
This market is growing at around 10 percent year on year and makes up approximately 15 percent of the holiday market.
Booking.com analysis shows that 40 percent of those in the 55 to 64 age group who book through them took a trip alone in 2019. People searching via Google for “solo travel” has seen a 130 percent increase in the last year, and #solotravel on Instagram had 5 million posts in 2019. Security and safety appeared to be the biggest issue for solo travelers in 2019, but in 2020 this was overtaken by the chance to meet new people with shared interests.
In July 2018, the Package Travel Regulations in the UK required travel and cruise companies selling more than one component of a holiday to provide full information on accessibility of these products for different types of impairments.
Not all disabilities/impairments are visible, of course. Around 11 million people in the UK are deaf or hard of hearing and so have to watch information boards for flights at airports because they cannot hear announcements clearly. Given the aging population numbers, dementia is a growing concern with 850,000 sufferers in the UK, likely to rise to 2.1 million by 2025. The majority of travelers needing more accessible travel will also be accompanied by a carer or other family members.
How Potential Customers Carry Out Preliminary Research
Around a third of customers (34 percent) research travel review sites, and more than half of them (55 percent) refer to such sites before making the final choice of destination or package; 48 percent of respondents say they refer to friends and family when thinking about possible holiday choices, and 21 percent see them as part of their research activity.
Although many read reviews posted by others before they decide, there is also evidence that suggests older groups are less likely to be influenced by reviews and prefer to make their own decisions. Research by Oddfellows Travel Club showed that 52 percent of customers searched online, a significant 43 percent chose to go back to where they had stayed before, and 41 percent asked family and friends about their own experiences.
Chart 1 shows how customers use a laptop or phone to research destinations and make bookings, based on which device they think is the most useful for each activity. As you might expect, the laptop (or PC) is the preferred option when carrying out research on brands or destinations, with nearly three-quarters of potential customers using it to plan and book travel or accommodation. Once traveling, the phone is an easier option to check in, pick up a rental vehicle, or book the extra activities while away from home.
Just over half (51 percent) of research activity relates to accommodation or airline websites directly, 23 percent using comparison sites, with 60 percent saying they also look through these sites for inspiration. Although fewer than 18 percent carry out research by following up advertisements and travel articles, these are a critical element when looking for inspiration, especially at earlier stages of decision-making.
Example: Luxury Travel Blog (Johnson 2020) posts regular features on travel, destinations, top-end accommodation, and facilities and has a following from both potential customers and those in the travel industry. A recent summary of the profile of those who visit the site shows a clear delineation between younger and older groups for this particular platform (www.aluxurytravelblog.com), though not necessarily for what is on offer there. Although the majority of visitors to the site are in the younger age groups up to 54 years old, there is still a significant 20 percent of visitors in the mature sector who want to find out more about luxury travel.
42 percent aged 18 to 34
38 percent aged 35 to 54
20 percent aged 55 to 65+
Evidence from Data Marketing Association (DMA 2019) found that 40 to 44 percent of people state they trust customer reviews and testimonials and that “expert” opinion is still important during this research phase. The big “but” about these statements is the earlier research from Gransnet that suggests that less than 1 percent of their subscribers take any notice of celebrity endorsements (Crisp 2019) because they are being paid to promote a product or service. Not a good marketing investment, then!
Reviews are clearly a significant factor for all age groups, with evidence from the MMA suggesting that reference to online reviews is the norm for younger groups (up to 55 years old) regardless of the product or service (DMA 2019; MMA).
Example: on a recent trip to Nice with a group of friends around 50 years old, they all automatically “googled” places and products to see what others had said before making any decisions about buying. The question is really whether this is the same for those in the 60 to 70 age group.
The last few years have seen a significant rise in online review sites aimed at the travel industry. Trip Advisor has been particularly successful in expanding its reach, their logo easily recognized at hotels and restaurants globally and on company websites. However, their recent change toward becoming a booking agent rather than just a review site has changed perceptions of its impartiality and the weightings used to publish reviews. Given the volume of reviews posted internationally, some form of weighting must be in place. Recent publicity suggests there could be a significant number of reviews posted online that are not objective, written by either staff or family members. It is difficult to judge, but longer, more detailed reviews based on a clearly defined visit date are a preferred option.
Other review sites are also growing in popularity—Booking.com, Trivago, and Expedia, for instance. Despite this, the most popular site for mature travel reviews in the UK is Silver Travel Advisor, with over 112,000 regular readers. It received the Silver (2nd place) award as the Best Online Review Site in 2018 and Gold award (1st place) in 2019, overtaking Trip Advisor in the national public vote.
An important point to remember is that Silver Travel Advisor is specifically aimed at the mature traveler, so its popularity also reflects the growing cohort of people willing to make buying decisions based on someone else’s views.
Questions about the Impact of Reviews
How useful do potential customers find them?
Who posts them? (a recent comment from an Airbnb provider was that “the older ones always want to write an essay in their review rather than just a quick response!”)
Are they moderated in some way? This is not always clear from the site where they are posted.
And are they really genuine reviews? This has become an issue recently because reports have suggested there is some question about validity.
While many of the factors included in reviews are subjective and based on a particular moment or place, they generally present an overall evaluation. Most importantly, they often identify very poor service or facilities plus the inevitable disaster scenario—probably the biggest factor in choices made rather than whether they get a “good” or “very good” rating.
Shorter reviews, such as those on booking.com, ask a specific set of questions with limited space for personal comments, so there is some consistency in the scope of responses. Tour operators and service providers regularly ask customers for reviews, often just a quick 1-star to 5-star rating and limited comments. And, of course, we have incitement to comment printed on receipts on anything from restaurants and entertainment to holiday supplies.
The later section that considers buying habits in more detail adds to the picture, but it is also useful to discuss the extent to which reviews actually influence the final decision to buy.
Is the Purchasing Decision Influenced by What Others Say about a Place?
Reviews are seen as a powerful marketing tool by organizations, a low-cost way to increase potential sales through recommendation by previous customers. User-generated images (UGIs) are rapidly being seen as a significant marketing tool to increase viewer time on the website and exploration of what is on offer (Gurney 2020).
Alternatively, reviews may be included as an information service on behalf of providers, giving potential customers ideas about options they would otherwise not consider. Feedback in reviews may also highlight areas of service or facilities that need improvement by the organization. However, it is not clear whether, or the extent to which, such negative comments are taken on board by the provider or influence future strategic decisions.
Who Posts Them?
Every visit to a restaurant, hotel, or theater results in a request for feedback that may be used for marketing purposes, so reviews can be written by individual customers. As a regular contributor to Silver Travel Advisor, the author’s emphasis throughout is how a particular experience could be enjoyed by the mature traveler, generally written from a couple’s perspective, or out with friends, rather than as a solo traveler. Although there is reference to potential issues for those with reduced mobility, this is not the primary focus.
Example: A visit to three hotels owned by the same group (such as those in Gozo Malta or in the Algarve Portugal) shows how different each is, the location, and what attractions there are nearby (Silver Travel Advisor 2020).
In some cases, description of what a trip involves is often based on copy that reflects what a venue/location says it has to offer rather than reporting back on a visit to confirm what the visitor will find. For instance, problems are regularly identified in reviews when building work is still going on at a venue, but the planned image of what it will look like when completed is on the website.
When researching a potential destination, the choice will be influenced by the more serious complaints identified by the mature traveler in their feedback after a trip. Table 8 suggests that perhaps previous feedback on the standard of accommodation, meals, and customer service have been taken on board by providers, given the significant decrease in the number of travelers listing these as the most important complaints about their vacation. However, the issue of hidden costs and the “single supplement” are becoming a real issue for the mature market (Silver Travel Advisor 2020). This is considered further in later discussion about concerns that need to be considered by providers.
Table 8 Common complaints found in reviews
|Complaint||2019 (%)||2020 (%)|
|Standard of accommodation||42||16|
|Poor customer service||32|
|Standard of meals||27||7|
Where to Find Inspiration to Decide Where to Go?
Friends and family are crucial at all stages of the planning process, and often the main source of inspiration at the very early stage of drawing up a list of potential places to visit. When asked in a survey, respondents state that Internet searches remain the top source of inspiration for travelers when they are at the early stages of deciding where to go. Printed brochures remain popular because they have a longer shelf life, and reviews by others (30 percent use reviews for “inspiration”) are a critical element of first-stage decision-making.
The Titan Travel survey shows very clearly how the mature sector uses IT when researching and booking vacations, echoed by Statista analysis in Table 9. At the early stages of making a booking decision, a popular source of inspiration remains the printed brochure, despite many tour operators considering ending their use (the Titan Travel report quotes TUI Group who originally planned to get rid of them by 2020 but have since reversed this decision).
Table 9 Sources of information to help customers decide what to book
|Medium used||2019 (%)||2020 (%)|
|Online review sites||15||45|
|Hard-copy brochures (posted)||10||16|
|Where been before/through travel agent they already know||10||10|
|Family and friends’ recommendation||9||37|
Titan Travel has seen a 43 percent increase in requests for brochures, so, clearly, this is still a positive and effective marketing tool. As noted previously, the brochure has a longer shelf life than advertisements in other media to tempt the consumer. Potential travelers use the physical nature of the information, illustrations, and copy about places to visit, in a more exploratory way to get new ideas. They keep returning to the printed word to check details, and, because a trip often includes someone else, it is also easier to share a brochure. It is clear from various data sources that personal recommendation from family and friends about possible destinations is key and that more than half of over 55-year-olds cite this as the main source of inspiration.
The Silver Travel Report also asked respondents what sort of images they preferred to see as an incentive to travel to a new destination. The majority were not interested in seeing photographs of people in a resort, or wintry scenes. Only 10 percent liked to see images of cruise ships, and then only if they were already interested in cruising; 36 percent preferred to see photographs of the resort itself; and 31 percent just scenic views (without people). The UGIs discussed earlier are growing in importance for both providers who incorporate them into their websites and marketing materials and individual Blog posts by potential “influencers” (Gurney 2020).
Factors that appear to influence the choice of destination include a range of options that give added value to the trip.
Food and wine tastings are growing in popularity, both in the growing UK wine and spirits production areas and in overseas wine regions.
Visits to new, unusual attractions as well as the better-known ones.
Activities made easy, such as longer distance walking with someone to transport your luggage between overnight accommodation each day.
Those who want to arrange their own walking route, such as the Wye Valley Way in Wales, rely on websites for accommodation to be easy to use and to book well in advance to match their itinerary (Jeynes 2017).
Emphasis on environmentally friendly offerings are particularly important as we go into the 2020s. Whatever format this takes, it is potentially a deciding factor (Condé Nast 2019; US Travel Association 2019).
Options for Booking a Journey or Event
There are a growing number of options available for customers to book a journey or event, some of which are more appealing to the mature traveler, although this depends on many factors and not just age group.
Face to face with a travel agent—31 percent of UK travelers (Travel Weekly) still prefer to complete the final booking with a travel agent. Among the reasons quoted are that it is quicker and easier to make sure the whole package is booked at the same time, which may suggest there are still some aspects of online booking that people struggle with. Security of payment is mentioned regularly as an issue of online booking (Keeley 2019).
Those who use hard-copy brochures often keep them for the full length of the brochure’s life rather than single use. They are expensive to produce and post, but they are seen as recognition of client loyalty and a reminder of options they may have been considering previously.
Mailing lists for regular distribution of brochures include existing customers, but brochures can be requested by visitors to the tour operator’s website and so are likely to be used for inspiration as well as information. Customers often use brochures from different operators to compare what is available before completing their booking online.
Search and book online—potential new customers carry out research on what is available online, before going on to make a booking. This can include:
Hotels and accommodation—the most popular sites in the UK include Booking.com, Trivago, Laterooms.com, and Expedia.com worldwide.
Hotel chains’ websites, especially those for loyal customers offering special membership deals.
Transport—Trainline.com includes travel across the UK and EU countries and is broadening the scope of what people can book through them.
Local bus and train companies are developing apps and their websites to make it easier for customers to “google” or use other search engines to find what they want.
Tour operators are still a popular source of bookings via their websites.
Online is still the leading booking route, with 58 percent of respondents (Silver Travel Advisor 2020) booking straightforward breaks themselves. For more complex trips, such as cruises or escorted tours, 36 percent in 2020 (31 percent 2019) use a travel agent, similar to previous years. Within these statistics, 64 percent book online direct with the travel company.
Although Chart 2 is based on 2016 figures, it gives a picture of the breakdown of bookings for hotels, package holidays, and vacation rentals, with hotels taking the number one spot for volume and value of online bookings.
Online Shopping Habits
Given the potential options available to customers identified earlier, and before we consider individual country profiles with data related to inbound or outbound travel trends, it is useful to consider online shopping habits in a bit more detail. This will help to place the role and scope of online shopping generally into the context of marketing for the tourism and travel industries, discussed later in Part 3: Strategies for reaching the mature traveler.
The general picture for online shopping, according to recent research from TRIBE—who offer “a team of marketing experts [to] connect some of the biggest brands on the planet with consumers the world over”—is that 87 percent of the population research products or services online (Targett 2019). Around 86 percent, a substantial majority, state they mainly research online when looking for entertainment events and restaurants, thus particularly for leisure activities. When looking specifically at the mature market, 83 percent of baby boomers (their definition as those over 50 years old) buy products or services online, and 68 percent over 55 years old buy something online every month, indicating that both groups now consider online shopping a viable option when researching a product or service.
The Mail Metro Media group, the biggest UK news brand, reaches over 35 million readers a month. Their 2019 research results make interesting reading in the context of travel planning (Mail Metro Media Travel Team 2019). Research across 11 million of their daily readers shows that press adverts and articles about travel have a vital input into the final choice. They found that 44 percent said such information effectively changes their perception of a brand and what it can offer, and more than half say that advertisements and articles add to their understanding of what a travel company offers. They do, therefore, have a potential impact on buying decisions.
Given that 18.2 million of their readers are planning a break in the next 12 months (2020), these factors must clearly form part of every tour operator’s strategic plans for the future. Although a breakdown of influences may be different for younger travelers (note later points about building brand loyalty), this reflects what is significant for the growing mature travel groups in their late 50s.
The 2019 survey on Buying Habits from ATTEST, an online consumer research organization (ATTEST 2019) adds a further dimension. It shows a direct inverse relationship between using an app or browser and age group. So, whereas 75.4 percent of millennials aged 25 to 39 (their definition) prefer to use an app to research and buy products or services, 52.8 percent of mature shoppers would much rather use an Internet browser on a phone or PC. Another clear distinction is drawn between age groups when asked whether they have bought something online when they were drunk. Only around 15 percent in the oldest age group, 65 to 80+, owned up to doing so, but 31 percent of young buyers aged 18 to 24 and a significant 42 percent of millennials said they had done this (no indication of whether the purchases had been appropriate or not in the survey).
Although the Buying Habits survey covers all age groups, there are some useful findings. As we noted earlier on the role of reviews, it appears that receiving a bad review from existing or previous customers does impact on whether they are keen to continue buying a brand. For instance, over a third of “mature” customers and those in the 65+ age group said they stopped buying a brand after bad reviews were published. It would seem that a much greater proportion of the 18- to 39-year-old group are more sensitive to online reviews, because 38 percent of these younger groups and 34 percent of millennials stop buying following a bad review.
Brand loyalty is a further issue to consider in relation to buying habits (also see later section on strategies), as the ATTEST survey shows: brand loyalty is still very important to customers, and many choose not to switch unless there is a very pressing reason to do so (Table 10).
Table 10 Brand loyalty based on age group
|Brand loyalty—age group||% loyal to brand|
|25–49 including millennials||57|
The importance of customer support was also a significant factor in whether customers stay loyal to a brand, with similar ratings for all age groups, at around 55 to 65 percent, saying it was important to them.
E-mails continue to be the best way for potential customers to receive information and marketing from brands, with 60 percent saying this was a preferred means. This may differ from several other research sources, with results changing rapidly over recent years, which suggests e-mails are less popular with younger age groups. Note, however, that personalized advertising e-mails were acceptable for 79 percent of millennials, but around 44 percent of baby boomers said they found them “creepy”! Again, this statement depends on the reference sources used, because others suggest a higher proportion of baby boomers dislike personalized advertising—Gransnet surveys, for instance.
The ATTEST survey considers the question of which channels are the best to reach the target group with advertising and information about brands, and does provide some useful insights, as Table 11 shows. Whereas TV is fairly similar in popularity across all age groups, the use of social media and even magazines may need closer analysis. For instance, the impact of advertising in magazines or social media platforms decreases significantly as age increases, although there is no indication of which magazines are the most/least popular with each age group.
Table 11 Best channels to reach the target group
|TV (%)||Social media (%)||Magazines (%)||None (%)|
|25–45, including millennials||34||40||27||2|
The preferred social media channel is more significant than these broad statistics, given the wide difference in what each platform offers the user. In any event, social media is a crucial platform for those marketing existing brands or for anyone trying to break in with a new brand.
However, this survey covers a range of products and services. The research from Titan Travel, based specifically on the mature traveler, highlights how effective some TV coverage has been in relation to trips booked. For example, there have been several travel features recently on UK TV, with well-known celebrities taking part in trips to less familiar destinations such as Borneo and Uzbekistan. Both of these TV broadcasts were instantly followed by a surge in bookings for Uzbekistan, already identified as a potential new destination by various sources and tour operators, and for Titan Travel a 350 percent increase in bookings to Borneo.
Note that by the end of 2019, there has been a significant rise in the mature sectors registering for an Instagram account, around 20 percent but growing, suggesting that this may be related to increased demand for multigeneration holidays (Crisp 2019; Silver Travel Advisor 2020). Table 12 shows that Facebook continues to be the main route to reach customers irrespective of age group, although there are some differences with other forms of social media, and this is an ever-changing picture (Chart 3).
Table 12 Use of social media by age group
|Facebook (%)||Twitter (%)||WhatsApp (%)||LinkedIn (%)|
|25–45, including millennials||66||34||37||20|
|65–80+ baby boomers||38||11||18||8|
As with other surveys of this target group, a closer look at the use of social media gives some interesting insights. Facebook remains the main platform for those over 55 years old, 2018 seeing this as the largest sector joining Facebook, where more than 6.4 million users are aged over 50. In 2019, the Silver Travel Report noted that 67 percent of their mature travelers used Facebook, with a significant rise in numbers to 85 percent of respondents by the 2020 Report. Generally, around half that number have a Twitter account, around 31 percent in 2019, but also a growing trend by 2020.
Silver Travel Advisor has seen a real increase in the use of social media platforms even over a 12-month period. More significantly, in the 55–64 age group, the number of respondents not using the Internet dropped from 17 percent in 2019 to just 6 percent in 2020.
Now, in 2020, 64 percent use social media at least twice a day, 18 percent daily, and 40 percent post at least every other day when away—though note the implications for house insurance cover if it is found you advertised on Facebook that you were away from home for two weeks and were then burgled.
The 2019 Silver Travel Industry Report showed that in the 50- to 60-year-old group, 73 percent use their iPhone daily, 92 percent shop online, and 70 percent watch videos online. By the 2020 Industry Report, 85 percent use Facebook, and 82 percent of those use it daily, 55 percent use WhatsApp (free to send images), 24 percent use Twitter, and Instagram use has grown from 20 to 30 percent.
For this age group, the use of smartphones and iPads to browse websites is expanding so rapidly that by late 2020 Titan Travel, for example, expects their use to overtake the use of desktop computers. A more interesting factor is how many of their customers choose to speak to a travel advisor in person by phone, even when they have booked online or if they feel their booking is a bit more complicated than the standard format.
Wider research from Mintel (Titan Travel 2019–2020) suggests booking online is now the biggest route for the over-75 age group, just ahead of booking through an agent by phone. In the 65 to 74 years age group, 59 percent book online, as do 72 percent of those aged 55 to 64. Clearly, these channels are significant as part of any future strategy for reaching a specific mature traveler market.
There are other platforms that are growing in popularity, many aimed at the younger market (such as TikTok), and for the baby boomer category 36 percent said none of the social media channels were a preference. Feedback to the Attest survey suggests that the majority of customers prefer brands to contact them once a week or once a month rather than with a mix of different messages.
Based on the research evidence, we can summarize the various means available for getting the marketing message across to potential mature customers.
• E-mail is still the most popular route for receiving marketing messages.
• Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube are growing rapidly.
• Competitions are mentioned by several survey respondents as a way to find out about brands and what they offer.
• Professional sites such as LinkedIn, aimed at those working in, or interested in, travel and tourism industry sectors.
• Various travel media and publications, magazines, e-zines, and the press (especially travel features or pull-out travel reports).
• TV shows featuring celebrities—but note that a large majority of the mature travel sector state they are not impressed by celebrity endorsement!
• The growing provision of special offer sites such as Travelzoo or Red Spotted Hanky and use of online comparison sites, stated by 23 percent of respondents.
There are still many in the older age brackets that prefer to book/arrange holidays in a face-to-face situation with a travel agent (just over a quarter of respondents to the Oddfellow survey) or online with a travel agent (31 percent of Travel Weekly survey respondents). However, Oddfellows also found that 21 percent of their members over 65 years old book online directly with a tour operator, and 22 percent book online for flights and accommodation separately (Oddfellows 2019).
There is a strong growing market for customers to book individual parts of their trip online rather than choose a package deal. The country profiles in the section “Where Do They Go?” show just how this varies according to nationality. Expedia is one of the major players in this area of decision-making and helping potential travelers choose the content of their trip, with an impressive score of 79 percent customer satisfaction in the U.S. market. Their global revenue is also an impressive $11.22 billion, $6.2 billion generated in the United States alone (ASTA 2020).
There are more players entering this field of booking separate elements for a vacation/trip, so competition to find and tempt customers to book is growing. Sites such as Trivago and Booking.com are rapidly expanding to offer a more comprehensive range of content to make it easier for travelers to choose in one place. At the time of writing, these three main channels to book are equally popular with UK travelers (Attest 2019).
Note that for the UK market 2019–2020, uncertainty about the impact of Brexit has been seen as a potential risk factor, with a shift to packages recognized by the ABTA, rather than booking separate elements, to ensure ATOL protection is there if needed. This is an element mentioned as a significant factor when choosing a holiday, alongside tour company collapse, global stability, and political unrest—54 percent cited this element of protection when asked to rank what they were looking for when choosing a trip.
In the United States, the mature traveler represented 64 percent of total travel packages booked through a travel agent, 4.5 million packages in 2017 increasing to 4.8 million packages in 2018 (USTA).
The role of travel agents has been shown to be as important now as in previous years, despite the assumption that everyone makes vacation and travel arrangements online. In the United States, for instance, travel agents have consistently increased revenue generated over the last decade, from $12.2 billion in 2010 to $15 billion in 2015 and estimated to be around $17.3 billion by the end of 2020 (US Travel Association 2019). Sales have been increasing year on year despite there being fewer travel agents, only 8 percent reporting a decrease in sales, and in the U.S. market 74 percent of travel agents state that they use mainly e-mail to attract new clients.
As we have seen in the discussions about options to book a trip, there is still an important role played by travel agents who are dealing with the mature traveler, particularly where more complex trips are planned.