Senior Travel Trends

January 2011 signaled the beginning of a dramatic shift in consumer trends as the first baby boomer turned 65. Over the next 20 years, we will see the number of seniors double. By 2031, one out of every four Canadians will be a senior.

Research indicates that travel is at the top of the list for seniors and the aging baby boomer generation. As a result, new travel options are emerging as this group of consumers looks for something a little different from the status quo.

As the baby boomers emerge as seniors, we can expect dramatic changes in the world around us, and travel will certainly be among the activities that these new seniors will make their own as they embrace their 60s, 70s and beyond. 


Genealogical Tourism Creates Ties to Family Roots

Genealogical Tourism is one of the fastest growing markets in vacation travel, marking an interest in travel that is personally enriching and fulfilling. The increase in popularity of genealogical tourism reflects a growing desire for authentic experiences.

Visiting the old church where one’s great grandparents used to worship in rural Ireland, or buying a loaf of bread from a tiny grocery store in the village where one’s grandmother spent her hard earned dollars in Greece creates a tangible link to one’s past, combining imagination with reality.

Tourism has been viewed largely as an escape from the work environment but as baby boomers retire, they will shaped travel trends with a pursuit of the exotic and nostalgic.

Exploring, re-defining and confirming our identities are life-long projects. Genealogical travel gives us a practical way to explore those feelings and move to a greater understand of our unique family roots.


Multi-generational Travel Breathes New Life into Travel Agencies

Tours designed for grandparents who want to spend time with their grandchildren are on the rise and it is proving to be a boon to travel agencies that have suffered in recent years from online competition.

About 40% of U.S. leisure travelers surveyed by Preferrred Hotels in 2011, said they had taken a multi-generational trip within the past year. With families living further away from each other, and with time, health and disposable income on their hands, mature travelers are taking the kids and grandkids along on their vacations.

Family travel is a great way to spend time together, create memories and educate kids about different ways of life. Traveling in a large family group can often offer considerable savings while at the same time strengthening family ties

Vacation rentals, all-inclusive resorts and cruises have seen a spike in business from multi-generational travelers.

Baby boomers, moving now into their senior years, see family time as a worthwhile expenditure. Less inclined than their predecessors to leave an inheritance, they would rather spend their hard earned money on their family while they can all enjoy it together, and multi-generational travel is the perfect scenario.

Of the multi-generational travelers surveyed, 40% had traveled outside the continental U.S. and a third had been to Europe. The typical multi-generational traveler takes about 4.4 trips per year. Nearly 80% planned a vacation around a life event such as a birthday (50%), anniversary (40%), family reunion (39%), and wedding (37%). 

More travel companies are expected to jump on this trend, offering special packages and programs such as group pricing, celebration event packages, multiple-room packages, family-style dinners, and reunion activities.

Almost 20% of multi-generational travelers use the services of a travel agent and 71% said they value travel agent recommendations on vacation and packages or tours. Because of the complexity in coordinating schedules, managing multiple departure points, booking additional or adjoining rooms, they find the services of a travel agent very helpful. This has provided a much needed surge in business for travel agencies that have seen revenues drop in recent years due to online booking.

In 2012, Preferred Hotels is launching a family website with a section for people planning multigenerational trips. Huffington Post and Hotwire teamed up to identify some top destinations for multigenerational travelers. The results included: Orlando, Las Vega, Cruises, Myrtle Beach, San Diego, Vancouver, Quebec City, Chicago, and the Caribbean. 

Seniors Enjoy A Surprise

Mystery tours are gaining in popularity…not the “whodunit” kind, although those are popular too…these mystery tours are trips that don’t reveal your destination until you reach your hotel or land at a particular airport. 

Trips planned by one travel agency have included Buenos Aires where participants had the opportunity to party and dance the tango on New Year’s Eve, and Germany where they shared a traditional meal with a local family in their home.

About 80% of those taking part in these tours are seniors.

Educational Travel Growing Fast

One of the fastest growing senior travel trends provides participants with learning experiences, not just fun and relaxation.

These experiential adventures usually focus on a particular subject of special interest to those on the tour. It might be about food and wine, birding, language or literary study, music appreciation, photography, painting, dancing…just about anything can be made into a travel adventure.

Road Scholar is a non-profit organization that offers over 5,000 educational tours in 50 states and 150 countries but there are travel opportunities available through organizations in just about every community. Check at your nearby college or university, recreation centres, senior centres and travel agencies.

Often you can find educational experiences right in your own backyard. Resorts and lodges close to home will often host themed weekends, or bring in a special speaker or hobbyist during their low season to boost revenue.

Train Tours Especially Enjoyed by Senior Men

Senior men appear to be big fans of trips by train, satisfying perhaps an interest from their youth when they saw the train passing through their towns or owned a train set. Tours through the Rocky Mountains in Canada, or the Napa Valley in California are very popular, but you can find destinations to fit every taste. From luxury escorted tours that traverse the country, to daytrips into the back country by steam engine, the options provide experiences that are fulfilling and memorable.

Bucket List Travel on the Upswing

Every day, travel agencies find seniors coming in, wanting to do something that is on their bucket list.

Made popular by the movie “The Bucket List”, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman in 2007, bucket list travel is emerging in a variety of forms.  

More seniors than ever appear to be traveling, and one of the criteria that determines the adventure is an unfulfilled desire to do something they’ve never done before. With seniors living longer, healthier lives, the eagerness to experience a lifelong desire is pushing this trend to new heights of popularity.

What’s on your bucket list? Chances are there’s a destination or two lurking in the back of your mind…a few places that you would consider the optimal dream vacation.

Often a destination is combined with an activity…like trekking to Machu Picchu in the Andes, viewing the sunrise from the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, living among the desert nomads in Morocco, mushing a dog team across the frozen Arctic, following in the footsteps of early explorers by canoeing down the Mackenzie River.,etc. 

Mystery Tours Intrigue Seniors

Joining a colorful cast of characters in a mysterious “whodunit” adventure has many seniors traveling to all kinds of destinations to experience the thrill of the hunt.  Backdrops include cruise ships where the mystery unfolds onboard, as well as at stops on land.

Cargo Ship Travel

Cargo Ship or Freighter Travel is an unusual way to see the world. As purveyors of goods to keep the world economy going, cargo ships travel the high seas, visiting working ports in countries around the globe.

Of about 29,000 ships in the world, only about 1% actually carry passengers.

This niche tourism caters to travelers who are able to set aside time ranging from a few weeks to several months. Passengers on freighters are often retired and early retired people who can afford the time, although you can encounter people of all ages.

Offering accommodation for 4 – 12 passengers, one can expect to be at sea for weeks on end, with one to several days in port as the containers are moved on and/or off the ship.

While stark in contrast to traditional cruise ships, cargo ships can offer unique camaraderie and an opportunity to experience life at a slower pace. Passengers often fill their time pursuing hobbies such as painting, reading, writing, or engaging one another in games or storytelling.

More spacious than cabins on a traditional cruise ship, amenities can include libraries, exercise rooms, swimming pools and European-style duvets.  Main activities are enjoying the sea, the weather, the birds and dolphins, landscapes as you near port and the hustle and bustle of loading containers.

English is the standard communication aboard freighters with officers usually being European and crewmembers Filipino. Some are fluent in English, others not so much, but most will answer questions as best they can.

While elevators exist on most ships, these are not always accessible to guests. One must be fully mobile to be accepted onboard and should expect to climb several flights of stairs between your cabin and other facilities, like the dining room – a built-in way to get your exercise.

The oldest age accepted is often 75 – 80, but if there’s a doctor aboard, this could be waived.

Unlike regular cruise ships, tours ashore upon entry to port are the responsibility of the passengers, who are expected to be self-reliant and arrange their own entertainment and leisure activities.

Recommended reading: “Around-the-World by Freighter” by Bob Harley – available at Amazon.

Volunteer Tourism

With a desire to include learning with travel, many seniors are seeking to find fulfillment as they travel the globe. They are doing this by committing a portion of their trip to supporting non-profit projects, like Habitat for Humanity which builds affordable homes for low income families in countries throughout the world.

In a world of great need, many seniors find that the skills they’ve accumulated throughout their life can prove extremely useful.  Ranging from trades to management, there’s usually something for everyone. After a lifetime of corporate grind, many find the experience of helping others less fortunate a liberating experience. In addition, many create lasting friendships with fellow volunteers and/or local indigenous people.

If you want to get out of your comfort zone, put yourself in the shoes of someone in another culture, this is definitely one way to do it.

Organizations often charge a weekly fee to cover sleeping arrangements (which usually are basic), meals, orientation and transportation. Some may arrange a day or so of sightseeing so you can meet the local people and experience the culture. Seniors look to this form of travel as a way to enhance their personal growth, while giving back to the world around them in a tangible, significant way.

River and Canal Cruising

    The waterways of the world are providing a form of travel that is becoming more and more popular. Whether making their way through the canals of Paris aboard a barge, or traversing the great rivers of the Danube or Amazon aboard a small cruise ship, travelers can view the action on shore from the safety of their floating boat.

    Roaming past vineyards and chateaus, through locks and channels, cruising down rivers and canals can bring a feeling of serenity while being immersed at the same time in the culture of the country.

    Travel can range from private boat with only your family aboard, to small cruise lines that can cater to several hundred. Depending on what you want your experience to be, you can find something to fit almost every time itinerary and interest.

    Future Seniors Expect to Have Money to Travel

    57% of baby boomers in Canada have or expect an inheritance in the next 20 years. An estimated 1 trillion dollars will be inherited, making it the largest ever inter-generational transfer of wealth. Travel is the # 1 item upon which those inheriting say they will spend their money.
         - One in five will receive an inheritance in excess of $100,000
         - One third will receive somewhere between $25,000 to $100,000


    Seniors Enjoy Luxury But Don’t Want to be Gouged

    As baby boomers move into their senior years, their eye is definitely on living the good life. They are willing to pay for luxury items, but they still want to know that they are getting good value. They are price savvy and will research whatever they are buying to make sure that they are getting what they’re paying for.

    Annoyed by waiting in line and being on someone else’s schedule many are opting for travel that may cost a bit more, but it offers a degree of independence and flexibility.

    While travel that is educational, exotic or experiential is high on the list, they still want some pampering on their trips. This is one reason why they tend to favor quieter, more luxury-oriented resorts and hotels. They want their vacation to be relaxing and memorable.

    Misc. Senior Travel Statistics

    - 60% of the senior citizens would rather stay in a condo than a motel.
    - 68% of grandparents would rather stay in a hotel than with their grandkids.
    - Grandparents opt for ambience like beautiful landscape views of water, mountains
    - Comfort is more important than money for the older generation.


    Senior Living's June feature is Travel in BC, CLICK HERE to download our promo. 


    Current Issue

    Search For Articles


    Subscribe To
    The Magazine