The senior tourism market in China has significant growth potential that is driven by factors such as the improved health conditions of older adults, their increased purchasing power and their desire for exploration and leisure in retirement, officials and analysts said.
However, the demands and preferences of senior travelers differ from those who are younger, necessitating innovative approaches and differentiated offerings to cater to this growing demographic, they added.
With the nation seeing rapid socioeconomic growth in recent years, the perception of travel has shifted, and older adults are increasingly embracing the idea of wanderlust, said Liu Ming, director of the social development department of the National Development and Reform Commission, the country's top economic planning agency.
Senior citizens now account for a substantial portion of the overall travel market. This demographic shift has prompted travel operators and service providers to enhance and diversify their offerings, tailoring them to meet the unique needs and preferences of older travelers, Liu added.
In a survey published by Guoyuan Securities, driven by rising disposable incomes and evolving consumer attitudes, some 81 percent of older adults expressed a clear willingness to travel, with 64 percent of them saying they embark on two or more trips every year.
As the aging population continues to grow and the economy evolves, senior tourism is set to become the fastest-growing sector within the silver economy, according to a report released by the China Tourism Academy in July.
By the end of the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) period, China's domestic senior tourism revenue is projected to reach 1.14 trillion yuan ($160 billion), the report said, adding that seniors are seeking more than just leisure; they desire travel experiences that offer cultural enrichment, personal growth and opportunities for social engagement.
Traditionally, the senior tourism market has been characterized by a narrow range of products and experiences, and the limited selection has failed to capture the rich diversity of interests and desires within the senior demographic, said Guo Derong, chief analyst at Meadin Academy, a commercial consultancy institute.
The most sought-after senior tourism products can be classified into three main categories: health-focused tour packages, cultural experiences, and family and friendship-oriented travel, Guo said, adding that these popular options are a response to the unique needs and desires of older adults.
In addition, retirees with an abundance of leisure time are increasingly opting for flexible travel schedules, showing a clear preference for off-peak seasons, according to data from the China Silver Industry Association and Tongcheng Travel.
The findings reveal that senior travelers tend to avoid the cold winter and scorching summer months, with travel peaks occurring between March and May and from September to November.
In a bid to further explore the potential of the senior tourism market, the State Council has issued a guideline to develop the silver economy, with a particular focus on diversifying travel options and creating a more inclusive environment for older adults.
The guideline stresses that travel agencies should place less emphasis on age restrictions and focus more on the health conditions of their customers, and it calls for the improvement of complaint handling mechanisms and enhanced supervision at the companies. Moreover, efforts will be made to expand the coverage of travel insurance policies to include specific provisions that are tailored to the needs of older adults.
To capitalize on the vast potential of the senior tourism market, travel companies are now investing in research and development to create innovative products and services that cater to the unique requirements of older adults.
Trip.com, a Chinese online travel agency, has introduced quantifiable indicators for group tours, including a minimum of one hour for meals and an additional 20 percent increase in sightseeing time compared to regular tours to enhance travel experiences for older adults.
Additionally, travel portal Tuniu provides all-inclusive travel packages for senior tourists, minimizing additional expenses for self-funded activities and ensuring that the entire itinerary is suitable for older travelers, with a relaxed pace and ample time allocated for each activity.