Ageing, Senior Citizens in “Medical” Tourism


In the coming decades, we wIll become wItnesses to never before seen phenomena.

Sabine Switalla

She is an economist and marketing professional working in the tourism industry since 2001. Sabine has a Master’s Degree in Economy and Marketing from the University of Paderborn, Germany and a Degree in Tourism Management from the University Autonoma de Guadalajara, Mexico. During her postgraduate study, she has obtained a Human Resources Manager Degree from the Manager School of Harzburg, Germany.

iversity of Cap Cana, Dominican Republic, as well as at the University of Poznan, Poland. The main fields she covered with her lectures were the topics of Destination Management and Destination Marketing – with the specialization being: Creating Destination Brands.

Sabine has received the Service Quality Award 5 times and the Innovation Award 4 times

Demographic Changes
The reduction in birth-rates following World War II, along with the progress in the health industry and the socio-economic situation, have all led to an inversion of the age pyramid (with so called: ageing at the top of the pyramid). In 2012, 20% of global citizens belonged to the category ‘seniors’, whilst it is predicted that in the year 2050, the rate will reach 30% of the population, taking into consideration industrial countries. This change in the age distribution of the population resultsin a shrinking workforce, as well as increasing pressure and demand for the healthcare industry and related services

As a result, the expansion of the elderly population with all its complexities and multidimensional structures will have a significant impact on the tourism industry which is one of the world’s biggest industry. The leisure sector will be strongly affected by this process which offers a range of future opportunities and possibilities. Also will be a huge challenge for the economy and finance sector in general.

International tourism has grown at a fast rate since the Second World War. Additionally,from 1938, it became a legal requirement that citizens must receive paid annual leave. This holiday entitlement motivated and continues to motivate people to travel and thus develop tourism worldwide. With this in mind, it is clear that today’s ageing population were the main participants and consumers that supported the rapid growth in the tourism industry which they have visited the touristic destinations during the past decades. Therefore, it is clear that travelling can be considered as a life activity and it contributes to people’s quality of life. As travel experience accumulates, the preferences and developing needs of tourists must be analysed and considered in order to develop a future strategy for the tourism industry.

Peer Groups

When considering the sector of ‘seniors’, it is necessary to look deeper into the age ranges of this population. The common practice is to divide the age-groups into four categories which include

• 55-64 years “early retired” – young seniors
• 65-74 years – retired
• 75-84 years – mature seniors
• and 85 plus – older seniors

These four groups have common characteristics that describe ‘seniors’ in general, such as:

• availability and flexibility of time,
• increased need of health services,
• fewer obligations in life
• an interest in culture and tradition

Within the above four defined groups of ‘seniors’, there is a different approach to the consumption of tourist services which are related to economic, socio-cultural and health-related factors. Previous years statistics have shown that these age groups are flexible in choosing their time to travel, accompanied by the financial possibility to do so. As such, it is noticeable that their average amount of money spent on leisure activities and within the tourist destinations far surpasses that of the younger traveller groups. Additionally, a stability and an increase in spending were witnessed during the years where a drop in tourism occurred, in these groups. It would, therefore, be prudent to take advantage and not to ignore the ‘senior’ age-group as being the main spending and travelling tourists in the coming years.

However, how much does the entertainment sector and the tourism industry understand these coming changes and what are they doing for prepare to serve them?

Understanding the needs

In general, tourist destinations need to clearly understand the needs of these clients and adapt themselves whilst developing the required infrastructure and services. Without a doubt, the markets in question are big and promise economic benefits, although development cannot only be seen from an economic perspective but as a part of social responsibility. The faster tourism providers are able to understand the needs of this group and respond to them, as a result, they will have a profitable and sustainable market achieved.

Taking into account the general overview of needs for the ‘senior’ market (as shown in the below diagram), it is clear from the ranking that safety, as well as medical infrastructure in the chosen destination, play an essential role.

Only a country with political stability and a low crime rate will be among the ‘senior’ group’s preferred destinations. Medical services play a key role in two of the above aspects and need to be looked at closely.

Medical infrastructure incorporated into conventional tourism infrastructure and services

One of the complexities for the tourism industry is the existence of hospitals, pharmacies, doctors and care services which may be required by ‘senior’ travellers during their holidays, giving them the desired security whilst travelling

Having these services already in place may increase the number of travellers to the destination. Through the use of these existing services, they can continue their passion for travelling and still receive their required health services (nursery care, diabetes care, cardiologic care, care for dementia patients or dialysis facilities available for holiday dialysis).

It should not be forgotten that people’s motivation for travelling is dominated by a health aspect and it plays a role in choosing a destination. Medical SPA treatments, thermal therapies and nutrition for well-being are a few examples of the incorporation of medicine into touristic products that influence these traveller’s decisions in choosing a holiday destination

Accessibility for the ageing population

When developing infrastructure, it is important to look into the future and understand what impact the ageing population will have on anything built today. This “travel of seniors” sector will dominate the tourism market for the next 30 years or more. It will be driven by travellers with differing abilities which will raise the demand for accessible tourism. With this in mind, the key to developing tourism products is to look at the aspiration of potential visitors to the destination. The holiday destination opportunities need to be analysed along with the available technology and not only physical facilities but to allow participation by people of all abilities and age groups. There needs to be a capitalization on the pre-existing skill set by clearly defining customer needs whilst creating tourism that offers soft infrastructure as well as a built environment. This needs to be the centre of attention when developing any destination. Universal design is not a design for the disabled. Instead, it is an allencompassing design philosophy which creates a culture of inclusion

Destinations’ To-Do list

Emerging trends need to be translated from tangible action plans to both regional, local and individual business plans. The multitude of different experiences provided to travellers within the tourism system brings a series of complexities. Components such as transportation, accommodation, attractions, sightseeing, booking systems, information systems and services are all integrated and provided by tour operators, facilitators and consolidators. This system evolves the changes over time and translates these changes into new and adapted products.

The innovations need to follow the visitor’s aspirations in order to understand the opportunity that exists within a destination and its already available technology.

A successful touristic product is reflected through the booking system by demonstrating the experiences of the visitor expectations in a destination!

Is Geriatric Tourism the new tourism trend?

Is it time to introduce the new definition of tourism? ‘Geriatric Tourism’ has been defined by Stella Ioannis Tsartsara as being a separate niche from medical or wellness tourism with the most relevant active, healthy ageing and well-being products touching upon more aspects than just wellness.

An innovative sales approach for geriatric tourism packages can be achieved by promoting a holistic approach to hospitality, long term cares for a person with multiple morbidities and possibly mild cognitive impairment while holidaying for leisure.

Despite the fact that importance has not been placed on these tourism segments in the past, their importance is now growing. It can be said that the tourism industry needs to adapt its offerings to these new trends and demographic behaviours, which are mainly characterised by the needs of these target groups. Until now, there has been no tourism development for the elderly despite the fact that these discussions have already reached the national levels of the countries receiving these tourists. Actually, Tourism entrepreneurs and service providers are currently unprepared for elderly tourists. Therefore, the services for this group of travellers should be “exclusively” developed and implemented. This future development offers a great possibility to the destinations to achieve competitive market advantages and to create an image of future sustainability within the incoming markets.