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Journal of Tourism, Heritage & Services Marketing, Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 36-42, 2016 36
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Extending tourism marketing:
Implications for targeting the
senior tourists’ segment
Athina Nella
Hellenic Open University, Greece
Evangelos Christou
Alexander Technological Institute of Thessaloniki, Greece
Abstract: The continuous monitoring of market trends is one of the most important roles that
marketing scientists and practitioners should fulfill. Tourism is significantly affected by
major demographic, cultural and economic trends. In the last few years there is considerable
debate on the radical demographic changes taking place around the globe and one of the
main issues arousing in many developed and developing countries is this of ageing
population.
Keywords: Market segmentation, senior tourism market, ageing population, market
targeting, destination marketing organisations.
JEL Classification: L83, M1, O1
Biographical note: Athina Nella is a tutor at the School of Social Sciences, Hellenic Open
University, Greece (a.nella@chios.aegean.gr). Evangelos Christou is professor of tourism
marketing, at the Department of Business Administration, Alexander Technological Institute
of Thessaloniki, Greece (e.christou@tour.teithe.gr).
1 INTRODUCTION
Almost 20 years ago, Lago and Poffley (1993) had predicted
that “…the time window present to 2010 is essentially the last
opportunity for the hospitality industry to prepare for the
onset of a truly aged society”. Later on, Caballero and Hart
(1996) had noted that the crisis that mass tourism resorts
faced could be partly attributed to “their manifest incapacity
to respond to the new demands placed on them by this
market-conscious, experienced, well-traveled tourist of the
twenty-first century, who demands value for money and more
than just mindless hedonism”.
Indisputably, the continuous monitoring of market trends is
one of the most important roles that marketing scientists and
practitioners should fulfill. As tourism is significantly
affected by major demographic, cultural and economic
trends, this responsibility becomes crucial for destination
marketers and other tourism marketers. In the last decades,
there is considerable debate on the radical demographic
changes taking place around the globe with ageing population
being one of the main issues arousing mostly in developed
and at a lesser but important extent in developing countries.
These changes have already created severe impact on the
nature of tourism demand and are expected to shape the
future of tourism offerings.
To show how important the lucrative over 50 years old
market is for tourism marketing organizations, tourism
experts estimate that, in terms of sheer numbers, the over 50’s
market exceeds the Chinese market (Source: Tourism
Intelligence International). Glover and Prideaux (2009) go a
step further and predict that the dominance of the baby
boomer generation will continue to be a factor in the design
and supply of tourism products and services for several
decades.
Nowadays, it is therefore not surprising that the tourism
industry has recognized the market potential of older people
and tourism research has tended to focus on developing
competitive business and marketing strategies to target these
consumers (Sedgley et al., 2011). Destination Management
Organizations (DMO’s) have started to realize the great
potential of the senior tourists’ market and tailor their tourism
products and marketing mix accordingly. In the same line,
tourism intermediaries, such as tour operators and travel
agencies, design and offer attractive and customized tourism
packages for the “experienced and well-traveled” senior
tourist.
EXTENDING TOURISM MARKETING: IMPLICATIONS FOR TARGETING THE SENIOR TOURISTS’ SEGMENT 37
This paper presents basic facts concerning the senior tourists’
market and provides a review of the relevant program named
“Europe Senior Tourism” of the Spanish government.
2 AGEING SOCIETY AND TOURISM: THE FACTS
Forecasts estimate that the number of people over 60 years
old will constitute 22% of the world’s population by 2050
(Magnus, 2009). In many countries, the increase in life
expectancy combined with the continuous fall in birth rates
constitute the segments of senior consumers and tourists
growing both as a percentage and absolute number.
According to the “United Nations - DESA” (2009a, pp. 16-
17) the median age is projected to increase by about 10 years
over the next half century while the ageing index (i.e. ratio of
people more than 60-year-old to children younger than 15) is
projected to triple over the same period (2000-2050).
Moreover, in the more developed regions, the population
aged 60 or over is growing at the fastest pace ever (at 2.0 per
cent annually) and is expected to increase by 58 per cent over
the next four decades, rising from 264 million in 2009 to 416
million in 2050; in the developing world the population aged
60 or over is projected to increase at rates far surpassing 3 per
cent per year over the next two decades and the number of
older persons is expected to rise from 473 million in 2009 to
1.6 billion in 2050 (Source: United Nations DESA, 2009b).
The phenomenon appears more intensely in certain countries:
Japan ranks first in terms of percentage of people over 60
years old (29.7%), followed by Italy (26.4%) and Germany
(25.7%); overall, in 44 countries the relative percentage is
above 17,8%, with USA and Russian federation being
included in this group (U.N., DESA, 2009a). The issue of
population aging is starting to emerge even in fast developing
economies, such as China and Taiwan, since the average life
expectancy has increased significantly (Jang and Wu, 2006).
According to a report of the Commission of European
Communities (2009), demographic ageing is a major issue
for the European Union and comes as result of two factors: a)
significant economic, social and medical progress and b) a
number of simultaneous demographic trends, such as the
decline in fertility and the increase in life expectancy. It is
interesting noting that between 1960 and 2006 there has been
a rise of 8 years in the life expectancy of European citizens
and between 2006 and 2050 it is expected to increase by a
further 5 years.
Although the consequences of the above-mentioned facts
have already started to become obvious, the impact is
expected to be more severe in the mid and long term future.
2.1 Senior tourism market characteristics and market
segmentation
Given that there is no consensus concerning which age group
should be considered as senior travelers, the need for a
common definition of the senior traveler seems apparent
(Littrell et al, 2004). Most commonly, the lower boundaries
to distinguish a senior person from a non-senior are 50 or 55
years of age (e.g. Shoemaker, 1989; 2000; Javalgi et al.,
2002; Moschis et al., 1997; Muller and O’ Cass, 2001; Kim
et al, 2003). Another option is proposed by Whitford (1998)
who used the phrase “maturing market” to include pre-
seniors, i.e. those 50 to 64 and seniors, i.e. 65 and older.
According to another view, chronological age, despite its
widespread use, has been shown to be a poor discriminator of
older consumers and travellers, since age per se is not a very
good criterion to use due to the great deal of variability in
aging (Moschis et al., 1997). Factors such as the health status
and the degree of social orientation seem to have a major
social impact for mature consumers (Moschis and Mathur,
1993). Patterson (2006) also recognizes that while two people
may share the same birth date, there are more important
parameters shaping the behaviour of each individual, such as
health, psychological well-being, socio-economic
circumstances, social and family situation, gender etc.
Consequently, the term “subjective age” may seem more
appropriate to depict and explain differences between
consumers of the same biological age. According to Muller
and O’ Cass (2001), subjective age is an aspect of the self-
concept that emphasizes how one feels, irrespective of one’s
chronological age”. Also, named as “self-perceived age” or
“cognitive age”, it seems to be a more robust segmentation
and positioning criterion: the development and promotion of
new tourism products for the older travellers require
knowledge of their subjective ages (Muller and O’ Cass,
2001). Findings from the retail industry also acknowledge the
growing importance of the older segment and confirm the
need to use “perceived age” rather than chronological age in
determining marketing strategies becomes more intense
(Myers and Lumbers, 2008). Subjective age can be a valuable
tool also for designing successful tourism services and
appropriate communication messages.
Tourism studies referring to the senior market are not a recent
phenomenon; the first studies had already been published
since the decades of 80’s and 90’s (e.g. Anderson and
Langmeyer, 1982; Shoemaker, 1989; Goeldner, 1992; Lieux
et al, 1994; Farana and Schmidt, 1999; Prayag, 2012).
Despite the existence of early evidence that the seniors’
market is not homogeneous (e.g. Shoemaker, 1989;
Horneman et al., 2002), tourism marketers tended to treat
senior consumers as a homogeneous segment. For example,
the American senior traveler has been described as a
sophisticated and experienced user of travel services, who
views travel as an opportunity to escape from daily routines,
to stimulate their senses, and as providing a chance for social
interaction (Harssel and Theobald, 1995; Alen et al., 2014).
Hudson (2010) also notes that the fragmentation and
occasional contradictions of literature on marketing to
seniors and particularly to baby boomers could be partly
attributed to the heterogeneity of the market. Consequently,
further research is necessary in order to understand and
profile its different sub-segments. According to the view of
Sedgley et al. (2011), older people are a diverse group of
complex individuals just like any other demographic
category; though in their case the sizeable age range that
tourism researchers tend to use when classifying someone as
‘old’ compounds this heterogeneity. Cleaver et al. (2000)
suggest that tourism and hospitality marketers need to tailor
offerings to each sub-segment of the senior market because
different psychological needs, values, and concerns drive
their consumer behavior in the tourism marketplace. In any
case or definition width, the heterogeneity of the elderly
38 Athina Nella & Evangelos Christou
market offers numerous opportunities for the marketer to
profitably serve them (Visvabharathy and Rink, 1984).
The evolution and main trends followed in tourism
segmentation studies have been noted in the segmentation of
the mature tourism market as well. Following the traditional
research stream in segmentation studies, initial attempts to
segment the senior market were based on pure demographic
criteria, such as age and family status (e.g. Javalgi et al.,
1992; Callan and Bowman, 2006). Bone (1991) reviewed 33
segmentation methods for the mature market, a high
percentage of which used income, discretionary income,
and/or affluence level for distinguishing among segments.
According to the same study, other important segmentation
variables identified included health, activity levels,
discretionary time and response to others.
Psychographic criteria have also been used for segmenting
the senior tourist market (e.g. Lieux et al., 1994; Mathur et
al., 1998; Backman et al., 1999; AbuKhalifeh & AlBattat,
2015). One of the earliest market segmentation studies was
conducted by Shoemaker (1989), who used travel benefits to
segment elderly Pennsylvanians and identified three
submarkets. A subsequent study of the author (2000)
produced confirming results concerning these three clusters.
Other studies put emphasis on travel motivation, as it
represents a crucial parameter in explaining travel
preferences and behavior. Hagan and Uysal’s study (1991)
identified as influential motivators of the U.S. seniors the
opportunities for socialization, exposure to novel situations
and escape from stressful daily life. Boksberger and Laesser
(2009) segmented Swiss senior travelers on the same basis
and proposed the existence of three clusters, two of which
partially represent a life cycle concept. Cleaver et al. (1999)
tried to discover how underlying travel motives and values
could identify distinct senior tourism market segments and
resulted in seven travel-motive segments.
Studies covering the motives of senior tourists are in most
cases based in national scale samples. For instance, Hsu et al
(2007) proposed a model of tourism motivations for Chinese
seniors that consisted of two main components: a) external
conditions, e.g. societal progress, time, health and personal
finance and b) internal desires, e.g. improving well-being,
escaping routines, socializing and personal reward. Jang and
Wu (2006) recognized ‘knowledge-seeking’ and ‘cleanliness
and safety’ respectively as the most important push and pull
motivations of Taiwanese seniors while “novelty seeking”
proved to be a major travel motivation factor for them (Jang
et al, 2009). Sangpikul (2008) identified three push factors
(novelty and knowledge seeking, rest and relaxation and ego-
enhancement) and four pull factors (cultural and historical
attractions, travel arrangements and facilities, shopping and
leisure activities and safety and cleanliness) in the motives of
Japanese seniors. Fleischer and Pizam (2002) focused on the
tourism constraints of Israeli seniors, proposing that they
mainly derive from income and health restrictions.
The tourism activities have also been used as an important
criterion for segmenting the mature market (e.g. You and
O’Leary, 2000; Nimrod and Rotem, 2010). Sellick (2004;
Kim et al., 2015) used the concept of activities-age, a measure
of cognitive age related to the age a person identifies with
while enjoying travel activities, to discriminate between
travel-motive segments of the Australian senior market.
Moreover, tourism activities in relation to the shopping
behavior of U.S. senior travelers have been studied by Littrell
et al. (2004). Lehto et al. (2001) used travel preferences to
segment the market of French older tourists, resulting in three
sub-segments.
Some other segmentation criteria have been combined.
Horneman et al. (2002) profiled Australian senior travelers
according to a combination of demographic and
psychographic characteristics and proposed the existence of
six segments, differing in terms of holiday attractions, travel
motivations, and information sources used when planning
and choosing a holiday. Other authors have studied senior
tourism in relation to parameters such as the housing type and
distance (Reece, 2004) and quality of life (Dann, 2001). Such
studies provide useful information and insights for tourism
marketers.
2.2 Implications and challenges for tourism marketing
Nowadays it is considered a fact that population ageing is
expected to have several marketing implications for all
industries. One of them is that the characteristics of older
generations are likely to become more predominant and
consequently consumption patterns are affected dramatically.
Many authors have predicted that a new era was going to
begin from 1996 and onwards, when the first baby boomers
would turn 50 years old (Moschis et al, 1997; Leventhal,
1997; Hudson, 2010; Chen and Shoemaker, 2014). This new
era was expected to constitute one of the greatest marketing
movements that would last over 30 years and that would have
major influences on business strategies. In this vein, Glover
and Prideaux (2009) note that “…as the baby boomers retire,
their demand patterns and preferences will grow in
significance and will strongly influence the future structure
of tourism product development”.
As older consumers may differ substantially from other
market segments, these differences are expected to be
transformed to well specified marketing implications: older
consumers may differ in their product needs, media habits
and even in the way they process information (Visvabharathy
and Rink, 1984). For instance, there is evidence that as baby
boomers grow older, they demand the same type of products
as before, but the product features need to be adapted to their
new position in the life cycle, new family situation and older
age (Glover and Prideaux, 2009).
The market segment of senior or older tourists can be easily
considered as an ideal target for tourism marketers, not only
because of its current size and purchasing power, but also
because of demographic and social forecasts that it will
continue to grow in numbers (e.g. Schröder and Widmann,
2007; Gabor, 2015). Additionally, the senior market is a
promising target due to the time flexibility of seniors after
retirement (Jang and Wu, 2006). The latter characteristic has
an important marketing implication: the mature travel market
can constitute a market able to attenuate seasonal imbalances
of tourist destinations (Neves, 2008).
Quite apart from the quantitative characteristics of senior
travelers, additional qualitative parameters should be
carefully considered. Today’s seniors diversify in nature
from previous generations of seniors. On average, they are
more affluent and better educated; they have richer life
EXTENDING TOURISM MARKETING: IMPLICATIONS FOR TARGETING THE SENIOR TOURISTS’ SEGMENT 39
experiences and perhaps less health problems (Zimmer et al,
1995). They are also likely to be more active and independent
and have more interests and travel experiences compared to
older people in the past. It has also been proposed that they
place tourism high in their priorities (e.g. Statts and
Pierfelice, 2003; Le Serre and Chevalier, 2012) and that they
have a relatively large share of discretionary money which
they are willing to spend on travel (Patterson, 2007).
All these factors should be considered for the design of
appealing tourism products and respective communications,
pricing and distribution strategies. Until recently and despite
the important academic interest in the older consumer
segments mainly in the U.S.A., older consumers had been
largely neglected or ignored by the marketing community,
which mostly concentrated on younger markets (Swayne and
Greco, 1987; Long, 1998; Carrigan and Szmigin, 1999;
Szmigin and Carrigan, 2001; Zafiropoulos et al., 2015). Most
of the ageing research is US-based; America is considered to
have responded quickly to ageing consumers while European
business and academics have followed at a slower pace
(Thompson and Thompson, 2009).
But this is beginning to change and more studies concerning
senior consumers and tourists come to light. Hudson (2010)
puts emphasis on the marketing perspective by exploring
consumer trends and appropriate marketing communication
tools for mature travelers; he finds that travelers of the baby
boomer generation are looking for authenticity, spiritual and
mental enlightenment, nostalgia, convenience and
spontaneity, all packaged in a safe, customized, healthy,
green wrapping and delivered with great customer service.
The author suggests that in order to connect with them,
marketers should emphasize youth, use nostalgia, show how
to improve boomers’ lives, provide detailed information,
promote the experience, and use a variety of media.
Moreover, if we accept that in the aging consumer
marketplace word of mouth appears to be the primary
advertising medium (Leventhal, 1997), it is easy to imagine
how valid this should be in the case of travel and tourism
services. Indeed, word-of-mouth communication seems to be
the key element in influencing elderly people’s decisions
about their preferred holiday destinations (Fall and Knutson,
2001; Patterson, 2007).
3 RESPONDING TO SENIOR TOURISM MARKETS
3.1 Destination marketing organisations’ practices and
approaches
In our days, leading FMCG companies, such as Procter &
Gamble, L’Oreal and Unilever, plan and implement proactive
strategies based on market trends by launching products and
campaigns that address to the mature and -on average- more
affluent segments of the market. In parallel, several
advertising companies are currently beginning to use older
models in their tourism and travel advertisements (Patterson,
2007). Certain DMO’s and tourism intermediaries also seem
to realize the challenge and seize the opportunity to attract
senior tourists, by offering special tourism packages. An
integrated marketing mix is implemented in this attempt, with
customized services to meet the needs of ageing consumers,
special positioning, promotional and advertising strategies,
appropriate pricing and distribution strategies.
Hongsranagon (2006) studied the potential of Thailand to
target Japanese mature tourists, concluding that Japanese
seniors constitute a valuable niche target market. Neves
(2008) studied the attractiveness of Portugal as a tourist
destination by mature travelers and proposed that the study
of the attractiveness of a destination should be backed up by
models that include, among other aspects, customization
criteria for a better understanding of the consumption habits
of the modern mature traveler. Shopping destinations have
also been suggested to be extremely attractive for the mature
market (Littrel et al., 2004; Bai et al., 2001).
There are many tourism intermediaries taking an active role
to meet the needs of this segment. For example, ElderTreks
(www.eldertreks.com) is a travel company established in
1987 and designed exclusively for tourists over 50 years old
who seek adventure travel experiences. Another example of
an active travel agency targeting the senior market is
“Kavaliero Viajes” (www.kavaliero-viajes.com) which
offers tailored made tourism packages for travelers over 55
years old to many attractive European destinations, such as
Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Portugal and the U.K.
It seems that destination marketing organizations insist on
primarily focusing on broad geographic targets or specific
tourism products (e.g. wine tourism, ecotourism, medical
tourism, golf tourism, wellness tourism) rather than
designing and implementing marketing strategies tailored to
the needs of senior tourists. An examination of recent
destination marketing plans available at the web confirms the
above view. There are few DMO’s that clearly state their
intention to target seniors as a distinct segment and prepare a
well-planned marketing mix to achieve this goal. Spain is one
of the destinations blazing trails in the field. Though, in this
case the benefits of DMO’s and tourism destinations extend
beyond the obvious revenue increase: the opportunity to
prolong the tourism period, tackle seasonality issues, increase
employment and better handle yield management are major
motives to pay attention to the senior market.
The year 2009 was an important milestone for tourism in
Europe: the “Calypso” Preparatory Action Plan was
approved by the European Parliament with an objective to
promote the development of social tourism initiatives
amongst the member states of the EU. This initiative of the
European Commission is named “Calypso” after the Greek
sea nymph who for seven years played host to the war-weary
Odysseus on her island. “Calypso” aims at promoting tourism
in the low season, combating seasonality whilst having a
social benefit and simultaneously enhancing the European
citizenship by providing tangible opportunities to improve
mobility, self-fulfillment, socializing and active learning for
seniors.
The Calypso preparatory action seeks to support specifically
4 target groups, one of which with high potential are the
citizens over 65 years of age or pensioners. Until 2010, 21
EU and candidate countries have signed up and six
workshops have been held across Europe to study good
practices and build a common strategy. Moreover, an expert
group composed of public and private sector stakeholders has
40 Athina Nella & Evangelos Christou
been set up to assist the European Commission with
Calypso’s implementation.
One of the “Calypso” projects that was awarded by the
European Commission is the “SOWELL project (Social
tourism Opportunities in WELlness and Leisure activities),
which was coordinated by Région Midi-Pyrénées, France. As
mentioned in the project proposal, the SOWELL project aims
at fostering the development of sustainable social tourism
during low season periods in the sector of wellness and
leisure-spa activities for seniors and young people. As spa
tourism mostly addresses a national audience who is already
used to taking part to this activity, the SOWELL project seeks
to extend wellness practices to a European public as well as
to categories of the population who do not generally have
access to this type of tourism either because of lack of
information, suitable offers or financial resources.
3.2 A best-practice case: The Spanish “Senior Travel
55+” initiative
The Europe Senior Tourism (EST) program is an all-
inclusive program offering European citizens over the age of
55 the chance to spend their holidays in Spain during the off-
peak tourist season, i.e. autumn, winter and spring. The
Spanish government and the governments of the regions of
Andalusia, the Balearic Islands, and the Region of
Valencia subsidized part of the cost and thus, the program is
offered at discounted prices. The proposed destinations
include Ibiza, Majorca, Costa del Sol and Costa de la Luz.
With the use of press ads, promotion through authorized
tourism agencies in each of the target countries and the aid of
social networks and with the promise of “active holidays”,
these Spanish destinations have already attracted an
important number of senior tourists, mainly from Greece,
Italy and Poland. The EST program constitutes a useful and
effective tool to handle seasonality, reinvigorate economic
activity and prolong the tourism period, critical issues for
most Mediterranean destinations.
Segittur (Spain’s State-run Company for the Management of
Innovation and Tourism Technologies) has chosen to use
social networks as the most personal and innovative way to
bring the EST project to the attention of potential customers.
The campaign was therefore focused on Facebook and
Twitter, and its primary aim was to attract European tourists
over the age of 55 to Spain during the winter season. Another
of the goals pursued by the program is to tackle one of the
serious problems experienced by the tourism industry: its
seasonal nature.
In terms of outcomes, the EST pilot program increased the
number of tourists from markets which were new for Spain
in winter. The second edition of the EST program took place
afterwards offering the chance to European senior citizens to
commonly share experiences with other seniors in an
environment designed for “active aging”. The only
requirements are to be over 55 years old and be a resident in
the following European countries: Slovakia, Holland,
Belgium, Poland, Italy, Austria, Greece, Portugal, Denmark,
France, Czech Republic, Rumania, Bulgaria and Ireland.
Younger travelers may also access this special package, as
long as they are escorted by at least one senior who meets the
two above mentioned requirements. Future editions of the
EST program will seek the integration and participation of
the remaining countries that make up the European Union
(www.visiteurope.com).
4 CONCLUSIONS
Changes in the characteristics of tourism demand can create
clear market advantages for the destinations that are willing
to adapt their offerings to the tourism needs of each
generation group. The potential of the seniors’ market for
stable or even increasing growth is a very promising element
(Horneman et al., 2002) and as Green (2005) estimates,
tourism businesses targeting ageing population with an
effective marketing strategy are going to be monetarily
rewarded.
First of all, to cater to the diversity of needs of the seniors’
market, a more comprehensive understanding of travel
behavior is necessary in order for tourism products and
services to be tailored to match preferences for travel and
gain market advantages (Horneman et al., 2002; State and
Nedelea, 2008). Market research and continuous monitoring
of the trends in the seniors’ market can provide a solid basis
for market success. Secondly, the senior market should be
regarded as a distinct target group for tourism marketers, who
should prepare and execute customized marketing plans for
seniors. According to our view, more emphasis should be put
by DMO’s to this segment. Strategic marketing planning can
be a valuable tool for tourism stakeholders to prioritize this
truly promising market.
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http://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.376326
SUBMITTED: FEB 2016
REVISION SUBMITTED: APR 2016
ACCEPTED: MAY 2016
REFEREED ANONYMOUSLY
PUBLISHED ONLINE: 10 JUNE 2016
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The current tendency to undertake more trips, but of shorter duration, throughout the year, has meant that the tourist industry has started to show greater interest in attracting those market segments that opt for more prolonged stays, as they are especially profitable. One of these segments is that of seniors. Given the aging demographic of the population worldwide, which is particularly noticeable in Spain, the object of this study is to identify the variables that determine the length of stay of Spanish seniors at their destination. The Negative Binomial model was adapted to the context of length of stay by Spanish seniors and the determinant factors identified were: age, travel purpose, climate, type of accommodation, group size, trip type and the activities carried out at the destination. This study is a contribution to this field from an empirical point of view, given the scarcity of studies of this type and their eminently descriptive character; as well as from a practical level, with interesting implications for the sector.
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