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Why the over 50s are putting younger travellers to shame

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Why the over 50s are putting younger travellers to shame

story by: Anna Sarjeant

Our planet isn't solely a playground for the young. With a growing appetite for year-round adventure, older globetrotters now account for over half the holiday market.

"Hey cutie, swing over here and join us for lunch,” says Steve, in his thick Ohio accent, egged on by his best mate, John. This is not a pick-up line. Steve, like John, is 72 years of age.

Our paths keep crossing as we traverse the perilous road to Everest Base Camp. I’m half their age, arguably half as fit and only 20% as zealous. As I learn of their 40 year friend­ship and mutual passion for hiking and travel, my eyes wide and mouth ajar, I’m in absolute awe.

Boisterous Americans aside, baby boomers, and those born between 1946 and 1964, comprise over 13% of New Zealand's population, estimated to increase to 23% by 2051.1 With people now living longer and staying healthy, the number of retirees taking trips is also on the rise. Are trav­ellers in their twilight years now rocking this travel thing more than their youthful counterparts? Oh you bet!

They don’t take no for an answer
They hoo-hah the preconception that you need to be fit, healthy and under 50 to travel. Health helps and fitness is a bonus, but youth is irrelevant. Gastro bugs don’t discrimi­nate - young, old or otherwise. According to The Ministry of Social Development, by 2051 “baby boomers will be health­ier, better educated and have more spending power than any other generation reaching 65 in New Zealand’s history.” Tummy bug, what tummy bug?

They’re fearless
When two 70-year old men can look at an itinerary for a 120km round-trip to the Himalayas and still jump at the opportunity, you have to admire their enthusiasm. In 1999 “roughly one-third of New Zealanders aged 65-69 years took a short trip overseas”2 with trends including “shorter itineraries, exotic locations with modern ameni­ties, multigenerational travel, emphasis on local colour, and customised travel options.”3

But also sensible
Granted, white water rafting and sky diving are (more or less) activities for the young. Even the young at heart but long in the tooth have to be cautious sometimes. Does that deter them from hiking mountains or riding camels? Hell no. River Valley, an NZ company specialising in Rangitikei District adventures, write in their blog that although retir­ees are late starters in the outdoor adventure segment, “by their sheer number and spending power, the Beach Boy Generation find that they too can share in the magic of follow­ing the paths less travelled.” 4

And wise too
They’re wise with things you’re deluded about when you’re young and carefree, such as money. Budgets aren’t something shrugged off quite so readily and they pre-empt unforeseen expenses instead. Our wise elders don’t need Lonely Planet to highlight the benefits of spending less and saving more, but they do tend to shell out on the things they consider important, including travel. Not something the industries have neglected to notice: “Products and services – such as travel, cars and financial services – are actively targeted at 50-plus consumers.”5

They’re flashpackers, not backpackers
John wasn’t too keen on the long drop toilet and he’d often emerge declaring he’d just discovered the fourth world, but he’d also ensure his bed had an electric blanket and he tripled his porters to carry more creature comforts than most trek­kers. This isn’t uncommon, in the USA “Americans aged 50+ account for 80% of all luxury travel spending.”6 In New Zealand also, baby boomers are by and large financially able to spend an extra dollar on tourism’s lesser-known luxuries.

And man, they’re clued up
‘Winging-it’ tends to be a concept favoured by the youth­ful, because older generations know it’s far from foolproof. John and Steve were pro-research, with the attitude that the more you know, the more you can prepare for every eventu­ality. In 2016, the generation that grew up with The Beatles on vinyl are increasingly technologically savvy. According to a survey commissioned by the website GrownUps New Zealand, “56% use the internet to research travel destina­tions and book overseas holidays.7 ” Baby boomer travellers are in the know and on the go.

REFERENCES
1 The Business of Ageing, Ministry of Social Development, 2011, Wellington.
2 Population Ageing in New Zealand, Statistics New Zealand, 2000, page 7.
3 Older Baby Bloomers Positive Finances, Frank Newport and Joy Wilke, Gallup, 2013.
4 www.rivervalley.co.nz/adventure-boomers5
5 www.listener.co.nz/current-affairs/baby-boomers-flush-but-forgotten
6 www.accesstourismnz.org.nz/tag/baby-boomers/page/2/
7 www.stats.govt.nz/browse_for_stats/people_and_ communities/older_people/pop-ageing-in-nz.aspx

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