Tour Coach Operations in the Australian Seniors Market
Prideaux, Bruce, Wei, Sherrie, Ruys, Hein, Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management
Growing interest in travel by seniors has generated numerous opportunities for the tourism industry to develop new products and services to meet the specific demands of this group of travellers. In the future seniors will become even more able to afford travel as the "baby boomer" generation start to retire. One group of tourism operators that has benefited from the growth of the seniors market has been tour coach operators. This article examines the perceptions of seniors towards tour coach attributes and then compares these perceptions against the perceptions that tour coach operators have of the needs of seniors using an identical group of attributes. The article finds that tour coach users are generally satisfied with current levels of services. However, the research identified that tour coach operators appear to have overestimated their market share of seniors travel and are unaware of the needs of seniors who presently do not use tour coaches. The need to identify the needs of seniors not currently participating in tour coach travel will grow in importance as increasing numbers of baby boomers start retiring in the next two decades.
In recent years the seniors travel market has expanded in size as a result of increasing life expectancy and the increasing popularity of early retirement funded by superannuation benefits. One sector of the travel industry that has benefited from the expansion of the seniors travel market has been the tour coach industry. Although the operation of the tour coach industry in Australia has not been previously investigated in detail it is apparent that considerable opportunities exist for this sector to expand the scale of its operations, at least in the seniors market. This article reports on the findings of research into seniors' perceptions of tour coach operators at holiday destinations. To place this research in an Australian context the paper examines aspects of the nation's tour coach industry and the seniors travel market.
Identifying the Seniors Travel Sector in Australia
Some confusion exists over the definition of seniors both as a travel sector and as a market segment. Many studies of seniors, including this study, use age as a classification method. For example, in a study of tourism and older residents of the Gold Coast, Australia, Tomljenovic and Faulkner (2000) defined older residents as those aged 60 years and older, although the authors recognised that the definition was crude and arbitrary. Yet age is only one of a number of possible means of classification. Moschis (1988) noted that there were few studies where factors such as cognitive age and lifestyles were used as a primary means of segmentation rather than use of age. Schewe (1990) also argued that segmenting older people by age is an ineffective method of classification. This is supported by the European Travel Commission (Wheatcroft & Seekings, 1992) that concluded that actual age is not a meaningful criterion and may be irrelevant. Even the name applied to this group of travellers is not consistent with a variety of terms being used, including "the older market", the "mature market", the "senior market" (Javalgi, Thomas, & Rao, 1992), "silvers", "snowbirds" and the "grey market". Perhaps a more effective way would be to group older travellers into those who are working and those who are no longer part of the workforce. However, even this method has problems because many seniors work in voluntary positions.
A uniform definition of the term seniors has yet to be adopted in Australia. The National Seniors Association, one of Australia's largest organisations of older persons refers to its 200,000 plus members as seniors, even though membership is open to persons aged 50 years or more. At the other end of the age spectrum the Australian Federal government recognises retirement as a de facto definition of senior, by determining that males 65 years of age and females 61 years and 6 months of age are eligible for meanstested aged pensions. …