Tourism trends and ageing
Data extracted in November 2016
Planned article update: March 2020
Tourists aged 65 or over accounted for more than 1 in 5 tourism nights for private purposes by EU residents in 2014, while people aged 55+ accounted for 39 %.
More than half of European residents aged 65+ (52 %) did not participate in tourism in 2014, compared with 37 % of people aged 15-64.
Senior tourists make longer trips, preferably in their country of residence and staying at non-rented accommodation
This article looks at the relationship between age and tourism behaviour, focusing on senior citizens. It compares the participation in tourism of EU residents aged 65 or over with younger age groups and analyses tourism preferences in terms of destination, period of travel, length of stay, type of accommodation used and expenditure habits during trips. This article is based on earlier analyses performed for the workshop of the Directorate General Growth of the European Commission ‘Towards an age-friendly tourism: Opportunities for low and medium season’ which took place in Brussels in September 2016. The data refers to the year 2014, unless footnoted differently.
Senior travellers make more trips relating to health treatment
European statistics on trips made by residents cover both those for personal and professional reasons. Since this article focuses on comparing senior citizens with the rest of the population, only trips for personal purposes are considered for this publication. Figure 1 justifies this limitation of the scope in terms of purpose of the trip. It shows that only 3 % of trips made by EU residents aged 65 or over were for professional purposes, while in the other age groups business trips accounted for 13 % of all tourism trips made.
Within the trips for personal purposes, no significant differences were observed between the younger and older tourists regarding trips for leisure, holidays and recreation or trips to visit relatives and friends. The category that included "other private/personal purposes" was higher for senior travellers — this category included trips relating to health treatment.
Does retirement boost travel?
Tourists aged 65 or over accounted for more than 1 in 5 tourism nights for private purposes by EU residents aged 15 or over (see Figure 2). This figure was equal to this age group’s share of the population aged 15+ (22 %). However, when looking at the broader group of tourists aged 55 or over, the gap increased by 2 % as people aged 55+ accounted for 39 % of tourism nights for private purposes while their share of the population aged 15+ was 37 %.
Figure 3 compares the share of tourism nights and the share of the population for each age category. Until the age of 60, differences between the share of tourism and of the population were relatively small. In other words tourism behaviour was not affected significantly by age. However, people between the ages of 60 and 72 travelled more intensively — probably because of the available time following retirement. Looking at the population group of 65+ in greater detail, we see that people aged 65-74 generated 14.6 % of tourism nights for private purposes but represented only 11.5 % of the population aged 15+. On the other hand people aged 75+ generated 7.0 % of tourism nights for private purposes although this group represented 10.5 % of the population aged 15+. People over 75 tended to travel less (in relation to their share of the population) — possibly due to a decreasing motivation to travel or to health issues.
As regards participation in tourism in each Member State, Table 1 shows that there were major differences between countries. The most striking difference was that in Sweden, 26 % of the tourist population aged 15+ was over 65 (people aged 65+ made up 24 % of Sweden’s 15+ population). On the other hand, in Bulgaria, Lithuania, and Slovakia this age group amounted to less than 10 % of that country’s tourist population, while people aged 65+ made up 23 %, 22% and 16 % respectively of the total 15+ population.
Furthermore, Croatia had the largest share of travellers aged 15 to 24, which amounted to 24 % of the total Croatian tourist population compared with 14 % of the total 15+ population, followed by Cyprus with 21 % of the 15+ tourist population. However, it is important to note that people aged 15-24 made up 17 % of the total Cypriot 15+ population so it is unsurprising that the share of the tourist population is 21 %.
Older people participate less in tourism
More than half of European residents aged 65+ (52 %) did not participate in tourism (see Figure 4), which means that they did not make any trip for personal purposes with at least one night away from home in 2014. Furthermore, Figure 4 shows that this was by far the highest proportion of people not participating in tourism in any age group. Among the rest of the population (people aged 15-64), only 37 % on average did not make any trips.
Table 2 shows that the share of older people not participating in tourism was higher than the share of the general population aged 15+ not participating in tourism in every Member State except Sweden where the highest rate of non-participation was among people aged 15-24.
There were still major discrepancies between countries. Finland had by far the lowest general non-participation rate (only 9.2 % of the population aged 15+ did not engage in tourism), while Romania had the highest general non-participation rate (75.2 % of the population aged 15+).
The EU-28 aggregate stood at 40 % with over half (51.6 %) of people aged 65+ not undertaking any trips.
Tourists aged 65+ had very different reasons not to travel compared with other age groups. 48 % gave health as one of the main reasons, and this was the most frequently cited reason (see Figure 5). However, among the rest of the population (tourists aged 15 to 64), only 9 % cited health.
Furthermore, 27 % of tourists aged 65+ showed no interest in travelling, almost double the proportion in other age groups (in the 15-64 age group, this figure was 15 %).
Financial reasons were one of the most commonly stated reasons for not travelling by people aged 15-64 (59 %), while only 37 % of people in the 65+ age group cited financial considerations as a reason for not travelling.
This disparity was mirrored at national level. In Table 3, the main reason for not travelling is highlighted for each country and for each age group (15-64 and 65+). Looking at the 15-64 age group, Denmark was the only Member State where health reasons were most frequently reported as one of the main barriers to participating in tourism. In 20 of the 25 Member States where data were available, financial reasons were mentioned most frequently. Among people aged 65+, health reasons were the most commonly stated reason in 17 out of 25 Member States.
In order to observe how the seasonal patterns of travel habits change with age, the distribution of nights spent by the two age groups 15-64 and 65+ over the year have been compared.
Figure 6 shows that younger people tend to travel during school holidays and were therefore over represented in the summer season, while older people travelled more in the ‘shoulder season’, i.e. the travel period between peak and off-peak seasons, with a less pronounced summer peak. The difference between 65+ and the younger age groups was most pronounced just before summer (May, June) or early autumn (September), meaning older tourists are extending the peak tourism season.
The peak season, the shoulder season and the winter season for the two age groups are now analysed using pie charts. As shown before, for people aged 65+, the shoulder season was much more pronounced (more than half of all nights were spent during this time) than the typical peak season (just over 1 in 4 nights were spent in July or August). Furthermore Figure 7 shows that for people aged 15-64, over half (54 %) of the nights were spent in the summer or winter season.
Travel preferences and expenditure of tourists aged 65 years or over
Tourists aged 65+ were more likely to make longer tourism trips, trips within their country of residence (domestic trips) and trips spent at non-rented accommodation, for instance at holiday homes they owned (see Figure 8).
These findings were mirrored at national level as can be seen in Table 4. The overall conclusions at EU level are the same for Member States in nearly all cases.
In 21 out of 28 Member States, the share of domestic nights was higher for people aged 65+ than for people aged 15-64. Furthermore, the older age group spent more nights in non-rented accommodation when compared to the younger age groups except for in Germany, Luxembourg, Austria and the United Kingdom.
This is significant when you consider the expenditure per night of people aged 65+, since older tourists spent less on transport and on accommodation as domestic holidays and non-rented accommodation are generally cheaper.
On average, i.e. regardless of the type of the trip, tourists aged 65+ spent less. Figures 9 and 10 show that people aged 65+ accounted for more than 1 in every 5 nights spent (22 %), but their share of tourism expenditure was less than €1 of every €5 spent (19 %). This can partially be explained by the travel habits of older tourists outlined in the previous paragraph.
Figures 11a to 11d look at groups of trips that are similar in nature in order to reduce the structural effects of the trip's characteristics. In other words: do senior tourists show different expenditure when considering comparable types of trips?
Figure 11a shows the overall difference regardless of the type of trip: on average older residents spent less all year round (-16%). However, when taking into account the observations on the travel preferences highlighted above (see Figure 8) and looking at the differences in spending between age groups for similar types of trips, the effect is far less pronounced.
Figures 11b to 11d show the difference in expenditure for the three most popular types of trips that accounted for more than two thirds of all nights spent made by EU residents. During long domestic trips (Figure 11b) and long trips abroad (Figure 11c) spent in rented accommodation, the average daily expenditure of persons aged 65+ was slightly higher than or equal to the daily expenditure of people aged 15-64 for comparable trips (differences of +0,7% and -0,4% respectively).
However, when looking at long domestic trips spent in non-rented accommodation, Figure 11d shows that the average daily expenditure of people aged 65+ was 18 % lower than that of people aged 15-64.
Source data for tables and graphs
Collection of annual data on trips of EU residents
The collection consists of harmonised data collected by the Member States in the frame of the Regulation 692/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning European statistics on tourism.
The data come from household surveys carried out by the national statistics authorities in the Member States. Data are collected partly using questionnaires to gather information on trips made, the purpose of the trip, the destination, the main means of transport, the type of accommodation and expenditure. Information is also collected on the month of departure and the age of the traveller.
Around 500 000 individual trips made by EU residents are recorded for each reference year.
The EU is a major tourist destination, with five Member States among the world’s top ten destinations for holidaymakers, according to UNWTO data. Tourism is an important activity in the EU which has the potential to contribute towards employment and economic growth, as well as to development in rural, peripheral or less-developed areas. These characteristics drive the demand for reliable and harmonised statistics within this field, as well as within the wider context of regional policy and sustainable development policy areas.
- Tourism (t_tour), see:
- Annual data on trips of EU residents (t_tour_dem)
- Tourism (tour), see:
- Annual data on trips of EU residents (tour_dem)
- Annual data on trips of EU residents (ESMS metadata file — tour_dem_esms)
- With 2012 as reference year:
- Regulation (EU) No 692/2011 of 6 July 2011 concerning European statistics on tourism and repealing Council Directive 95/57/EC.
- Regulation (EU) No 1051/2011 of 20 October 2011 implementing Regulation (EU) No 692/2011 concerning European statistics on tourism, as regards the structure of the quality reports and the transmission of the data.
- Previous legal acts (concerning reference periods before 2012):
- Directive 95/57/EC of 23 November 1995 on the collection of statistical information in the field of tourism
- Commission Decision 1999/35/CE of 9 December 1998 on the procedures for implementing Council Directive 95/57/EC on the collection of statistical information in the field of tourism.
- Commission Decision 2004/883/CE of 10 December 2004 adjusting the Annex to Council Directive 95/57/EC on the collection of statistical information in the field of tourism as regards country lists.
- Directive 2006/110/EC of 20 November 2006 adapting Directives 95/57/EC and 2001/109/EC in the field of statistics, by reason of the accession of Bulgaria and Romania