Firms looking to cash in on travel bug of senior citizens
Middle-aged and elderly travelers set to be mainstay of China's tourism sector
Seniors are getting the travel bug again as COVID-19 comes under increasing control in China, and the growing demographic has indicated some interesting new preferences.
More aged travelers have started to book flights and hotels by themselves online, and an increasing number are willing to independently customize their trips. Unlike in the past, when many seniors were interested only in joining large-scale travel groups, more are now opting to take tailored trips, join up with small private groups and participate in themed tours, said Trip.com Group, China's largest online travel agency.
So far this year, among those booking private small group tours on Trip.com, elderly travelers make up 25 percent, which is 15 percentage points higher than that of last year.
Taking flights operated by five-star airlines－carriers that deliver the highest level of service and the best in-flight experience－and choosing catering options with special requirements have become increasingly common practice for many elderly travelers, said the agency.
"Middle-aged and elderly travelers are expected to become important consumer groups in the tourism market in the next few years. It is not only due to the aging population in China, but more importantly this demographic has been one of the first to take trips again after the contagion, and they have more stable disposable incomes," said Zhao Lingbo, a senior analyst at research firm Mintel.
"When companies market their travel products to middle-aged and senior groups, they are increasingly putting aside former stereotypes of such travelers as feeble and dependent on others. Instead, they should portray them as young and dynamic groups, and taking trips is a way to alleviate pressure and pursue more healthy lifestyles for them," Zhao said.
China is an increasingly graying society. By the end of last year, those aged 60 and above reached 254 million, accounting for 18.1 percent of the total population. The number of seniors aged 65 and over was 176 million, which made up for 12.6 percent of the total. By 2022, those 65 and above are expected to account for more than 14 percent, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
From 2019 to 2022, the average annual growth rate of the number of people aged 70 to 79 is expected to reach 22.5 percent, said a report by research firm Mintel and the National Bureau of Statistics.
Life expectancy has been steadily rising in China. In 1957, a 40-year-old man would have been considered elderly in China because the average life expectancy at that time was just 57 years. In 2019, that number was 77.3 years, said the National Health Commission.
"Traditionally, most people have regarded middle-aged and elderly groups as spending most of their leisure time taking care of families. Yet, this is not true for many urban elderly consumers anymore," Zhao added.
"More senior consumers, especially those who live in major cities, are seeking to balance their personal interests and family duties. Many would like to do something they like as a priority during leisure time,"Zhao said.
Compared with buying personal goods such as clothes and cosmetics, urban middle-aged and elderly consumers in China are more willing to spend money on experiential consumption such as trying different delicacies and taking leisure trips. They hope to keep healthy and upbeat through travel, a Mintel report said.
Last year, 836 million middle-aged and elderly travelers took trips in China and abroad, according to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
From 2015 to 2019, the number of middle-aged and elderly consumers who took trips grew at a compound annual growth rate of 26.2 percent, which was higher than the 10.8 percent growth recorded by all groups of travelers, Mintel said.
Due to the negative impact of COVID-19, the number of elderly in China who took trips this year is expected to drop compared with last year, but the fall is foreseen to be smaller than the total travel market.
The elderly tourism market is expected to become the segment that recovers fastest after the contagion increasingly comes under better control in China. This is due to the demographic's relatively more stable income and desire to pursue a higher-quality leisure life. Compared with those between 18 and 49, more elderly consumers have already spent money on trips, Mintel said.
Meanwhile, middle-aged and elderly consumers are paying more attention to their health conditions due to COVID-19. In the near term, this may encourage them to take more self-driving trips and independent journeys. In the long term, group tours will become important products for the group, Mintel found.
The public's perception of age is also affecting policymaking. China is currently considering raising the retirement age. In October, the Ministry of Public Security announced the removal of the upper age limit for driver's license applications.
Fliggy, the travel arm of Alibaba Group, introduced a Shanghai Disneyland seasonal card for seniors for the first time in late October. Those aged 65 and above can purchase the seasonal card, which costs 498 yuan ($75) per person and allows them to visit the park multiple times on certain dates between Oct 26, 2020 and Jan 22 of 2021, according to Shanghai Disneyland.
Last year, Fliggy said money spent by those born in the 1960s through the online travel platform was three times higher than the amount of money spent by those who were born after 2000.
In the two-week period after last month's Golden Week, the volume of domestic senior travelers exceeded 80 percent over the level recorded in the year-earlier period, according to Qunar, a Beijing-based online travel agency.
Flights between Kunming and Xishuangbanna Dai autonomous prefecture in Yunnan province were one of the most popular tourism routes for seniors. Flights between Guangzhou, Guangdong province, and Chengdu, Sichuan province, were among the hottest routes for the elderly to visit their children or other family members, Qunar said.
"Since late August, when the domestic COVID-19 condition was largely under control and the new school term opened for most students, many senior travelers started to take trips. This year, more elderly travelers are choosing to avoid cold weather and visit some warmer destinations in South China at an earlier time," said Gou Zhipeng, president of Qunar.