‘Silver Nomads’ Shaking Up Tourism Market


screen-shot-2016-12-20-at-11-27-43-amSome say your twenties are the best years of your life. But as far as the latest travel statistics are concerned, 50+ is the new twenty-one.

Forget backpacking on a shoestring, bunking in hostels and crunching numbers to figure out if you can afford that extra slice of pizza. Today, tourism businesses are coveting over 50s for their big spending power, and insatiable taste for wanderlust.

Big, beautiful and progressively popular with ‘silver nomads,’ New Zealand is at the vanguard of the movement. Between 2005 and 2015, the Land of the Long White Cloud welcomed not only hordes of sprightly young backpackers, but also a growing number of over 50s. In fact, between 2005 and 2015, the number of 50+ tourists grew by a huge 44%. Today, this age group makes up one third of all visitor arrivals, with ‘silver’ tourism dollars channelling a huge amount of cash into the local economy.

‘Silver nomads’ splash the cash

Magnetised by stunning natural scenery, cosmopolitan cities and a rich Maori culture, 50+ travellers are quite literally flocking to get a taste of our Pacific slice of paradise. And they’re not stingy when it comes to the experience factor. You can bet that they’ll be spending their hard-earned pensions on the kinds of activities that backpackers can only dream of. Think cruises through Doubtful Sound, helicopters flight over Mt Aspiring National Park and luxe B&Bs along the way. And yes, there will be views!

Basically, this calibre of traveller can afford to travel further, and stay for longer. And in the process, they spend more. From boutique accommodation and dining out at local restaurants to shopping for souvenirs and splashing out on unique experiences, over 50s are higher value visitors, and worlds away from the penny pinching, car camping, Maggi noodle guzzling backpackers that tend to define world travel.

Tourism companies take notice

Tourism heads have been quick to notice the ‘silver nomads’ trend, with some companies now catering exclusively to the over 50s market.

Kim Walker, CEO of specialist 50+ travel agency the Silver Group comments, “They are the largest, fastest growing and arguably the wealthiest population in the world and that should command the attention of every business owner on the planet.”

With the number of over 50s jet setting to the Asia Pacific region set to double by 2030, opportunities to cash in on the trend are bigger than a Lord of the Rings film set. Walker predicts that annual spends will soar to an incredible $384 billion, with both active seniors and leisure oriented travellers setting their sights on the Southern Hemisphere.

screen-shot-2016-12-20-at-11-27-35-amAppealing to a new breed of jet setter

The advent of these well-heeled wanders is candid, which leads to the next big question – how are tourism businesses going to cater to this new breed of traveller? According to Walker – a 60+ traveller himself – it’s going to take a lot more than hiring seniors to star in TV advertisements.

“Putting an older face into an advertisement is such a superficial step,” he stresses. “If you want my money you have to stop stereotyping me. I’m the guy who rode 100 km on my bike. I have a kayak and I paddle down the coast. I’m not the average visitor, but don’t stereotype older people.”

The lead up to New Zealand’s World Master Games 2017 is a fantastic opportunity for businesses to revamp their strategies, and embrace opportunities to ‘wow’ over 50s. Jason Hill, the tourism head of Auckland’s economic development agency ATEED is well aware of the enormous potential, maintaining that New Zealand’s intoxicating blend of nature and leisure is “a really inviting proposition for that age group.” From scaling mountains and kayaking straits to sampling local fare and touring boutique wineries, New Zealand is indeed the ‘God Zone’ when it comes to experiences that appeal to the over 50s.

Winning over well-heeled wanderers

Interestingly, one of the major complexities associated with 50+ travellers is how to define them. “They were called ‘active silvers,’ then ‘active boomers’ – that’s probably the least offensive; the baby boomers who are still active and out there,” explains Hill. In order to appeal to this demographic, businesses need to get it right. They need to develop an in-depth understanding of what makes older travellers tick, and how to win them over without pigeon-holing based on age, or coming across as dated, boring or condescending.

Another factor fuelling the rise of 50+ jet setters is intergenerational travel. Powered primarily by Asian and Chinese tourists, the trend sees younger family members whisk their parents away on all expenses paid family holidays. The cruise industry has shown particular flair when it comes to ‘designing’ for silver travellers, with lines like Royal Caribbean successfully appealing to both over 50s and millennials.

Are you an over 50 who loves to travel? We’d love to hear your thoughts on where you’re heading, and whether or not you fit the ‘big spender’ mould that has tourism businesses bending over backwards to capture your attention.