Travel Industry: Ignore Women Over 50 ‘at Your Peril’, Longevity Expert Says at IWTTF 2024

by | Jul 3, 2024

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Last updated on July 8th, 2024

Featured image: It’s time to focus on women over 50 in travel  | Photo by YuriArcursPeopleimages via Envato

It’s time to shift the focus to older women in travel

by Carolyn Ray

At the 2024 International Women in Travel and Tourism Forum in London (IWTTF) on June 28, 2024, there was no shortage of inspiring women trailblazers and diversity advocates. Now in its sixth year, IWTFF is organized by Women in Travel CIC, a non-profit focused on improving diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the tourism industry, led by Alessandra Alonso, who won the 2021 JourneyWoman Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Alonso hopes that this event, which is supported by founding sponsor Intrepid and other companies in the travel industry, will inspire action and allyship. “Our wish is for everyone to take these learnings and apply them into their day-to-day work in the sector, building a legacy of allyship that ensures an inclusive future for all stakeholders, be it workforce, customers or communities,” she says. “Ultimately this means a healthier and wealthier industry in which everyone can thrive.”

The rise of the 50+ female traveller: A wake-up call for the travel industry

There were many inspiring speakers, including disability advocate and accessible travel influencer Nadia Clarke, and Hellen Nkuraiya, Founder of Tepesua Community-Based Organization in Kenya. The biggest revelation at this year’s conference was the expanded focus on older women in travel as a core element of diversity and inclusion.

The opening keynote by longevity expert Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO, 20-first, was a wake-up call for many in the room.  In the last century, she says, science has gifted us with longer, mostly healthy lives. These demographics, combined with declining birth rates around the world, mean that half the population is under 50 and half is over 50 for the first time in history. The average person can expect to live 30 years longer, a startling idea for those who may not have anticipated living to 100. In fact, recent research by Harvard scientist David Sinclair suggests that aging is reversible, and the first person to live to 150 years may have already been born.  (Take this test to find out how long you might live).

In her keynote presentation, Wittenberg-Cox set the stage for why women over 50 are such a critical market for the travel industry. / Photo from Avivah Wittenberg-Cox

What does this mean for travel?

It’s a well known fact that women over 50 represent trillions in purchasing power, according to a recent study conducted in the US by the Coca-Cola Group and Mass Mutual. 

However, when it comes to travel spending, Wittenberg-Cox says only five per cent of travel spending in the UK is aimed at the over 50 traveller. (Source Michael Clinton of ROAR FORWARD). In the US, the numbers are similar, with less than five percent of advertising dollars targeted to adults 35-64. In fact, Nielsen’s report states that most marketers write off consumers at age 49. (Source: Nielsen, 2016)

So is travel ageist? This isn’t a new topic in travel for those of us who have already experienced it. But in a room where two-thirds of the audience were under 50, eyebrows shot up as attendees snapped photos of Whittington-Cox’s presentation.

speaker's tile showing five women at IWTTF
The demographics of countries are shifting, from “Thriving To 100” by Avivah Wittenberg-Cox/ Photo courtesy of Avivah Wittenberg-Cox

“All our societies are super ageist, and the phenomenon of aging societies is new and unprecedented,” Wittenberg-Cox says. “Until now, companies have been convinced that their futures depend on attracting and accompanying young people. It’s also because marketing and advertising teams are overwhelmingly staffed by young employees that aren’t interested in, or attracted by, the 3rd Quarter (50-75) segment.”

“Older women have been ignored by every sector, despite their representing a massive share of purchasing power and often a majority of the consumer base. The older consumer, especially Q3 women (age 50-75), are the future of many travel companies. Ignore them at your peril.” — Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO, 20-first

The new 50+ consumer: active and future-focused

As a result of people living longer and healthier lives, the traditional life journey of ‘learn, work and retire’, is being disrupted. The more accurate model, Wittenberg-Cox believes, is a spiral where we have multiple jobs, relationships and careers, not to mention side hustles and education throughout our lives.  

Wittenberg-Cox describes a new four-quarter roadmap, with different phases and goals: Q1 – Grow (age 0-25); Q2 – Achieve (age 25-50); Q3 – Become (age 50-75) and Q4 —Harvest (age 75-100).  

The new Q3 consumer is future-focused, active, sees no limits and is hitting reset. Gen X and Baby Boomer women have the time, flexibility and financial means to travel, and they’re not waiting any longer to fulfill their travel dreams.

“The 50+ consumer is already at least half of most travel companies’ customers, and probably much more of their profits”, Wittingberg-Cox says. “The 50+ employees will soon be half the workforce. Getting the best talent will require it being generationally balanced, that in turn will equip companies to respond to 50+ consumers more relevantly. That’s good for everyone.”

‘We need a new roadmap’ from “Thriving To 100” by Avivah Wittenberg-Cox/ Photo courtesy of Avivah Wittenberg-Cox

News about the steady rise of 50+ women setting off on adventures across the globe won’t come as a surprise to any JourneyWoman reader. JourneyWoman has been at forefront of women’s travel for decades, providing a supportive space for women to pursue more purposeful, intentional and sustainable travel. 

The old journey…. and the new one

As a result of people living longer and healthier lives, the traditional life journey of ‘learn, work and retire’, is being disrupted. / From “Thriving To 100” by Avivah Wittenberg-Cox

The more accurate model, Wittenberg-Cox believes, is a spiral where we have multiple jobs, relationships and careers, not to mention side hustles and education throughout our lives. /  From “Thriving To 100” by Avivah Wittenberg-Cox

Is the travel industry listening to older women?

The “AGEnts of Change: Celebrating Midlife through Work and Leisure” panel at IWTTF focused on outdated stereotypes in the travel industry, drawing on the perspectives of four older women travellers and travel writers. Debbie Marshall, Managing Director, Silver Marketing Association, facilitated a vibrant discussion through the lens of women over 50 about leisure travel and in the workplace.

According to Marshall, women 50+ make most travel decisions and control 60% of the UK’s travel spend.  JourneyWoman’s 2022 study, “The Influence and Affluence of Solo Women 50+ in Travel”, corroborates this, with 96% of women saying they make travel decisions in their household. However, JourneyWoman’s research shows that 70% of women over 50 feel undervalued or ignored, with only 6% of women saying they felt understood by the travel industry. Women expressed concern about the lack of age-appropriate and diverse photography, a desire to see more appropriate terminology to describe older women and more emphasis on mobility and accessibility requirements. 

All of the panelists discussed the need for changes in marketing imagery, language and products that show older women they are being seen, and encourage them to feel confident and step out of their comfort zone. Meera Dattani, Freelance Travel Journalist & Senior Editor, Adventure.com, says the travel industry needs to evolve how it markets to older women. “I’d like anyone working in travel marketing or communications to rethink over-50s as a demographic, with more consideration for imagery and more differentiation in product development.”

Both Dattani and BBC Presenter Alice Morrison voiced a need for creating new experiences based on a better understanding of different life stages and needs.

“50+ women ARE the market and we would like our buying power to be respected,” says Morrison. “But we are not one homogenous mass. Our interests are different, our lifestyles are different and our levels of health and fitness are different – especially as we get to the older end of that spectrum. We are also discerning and adventurous. I would like to see more travel companies putting us at the centre of the offer. We love new experiences, getting to know local people, travelling lightly and sustainably, and adventure.”

Change in the workplace

Change needs to happen inside companies too. “Attracting, retaining and innovating for Q3 women, both as consumers and as talent, will likely delight and impact all consumers,” Wittenberg-Cox says.

Hotelplan’s Group HR Director Nicky Lyle stressed the importance of adapting recruitment and learning and development strategies.  “I hope our panel demonstrated that mindsets are not age-driven,” she says. “There is a lot to learn together and we can take simple steps now like removing the ‘essential experience’ section from job adverts and pivoting to skills and mindsets.”    

“It’s imperative that older women are not judged by their physical appearance, but by their capability, wisdom and experience,” Marshall says. “In the workplace, women over 50 should not feel obliged to doctor their CV to get an interview or feel they have to maintain youthful looks to keep their job.”

AGEnts of Change panelists including Meera Dattani, Alice Morrison, Nicky Lyle, Carolyn Ray and Debbie Marshall / Photo by Carolyn Ray

“50+ women ARE the market and we would like our buying power to be respected. I would like to see more travel companies putting as at the centre of the offer. We love new experiences, getting to know local people, travelling lightly and sustainably and adventure.” — Alice Morrison, Explorer and BBC Presenter

How women over 50 can advocate for change

“Older women should – like women at every age and stage – organize and say (loudly) what they want,” Wittenberg-Cox says. “Group together in networks of influence and raise their voices to express their wants – and their dissatisfactions with sectors that aren’t responding to them. Reward companies that do with loyalty and visibility. Women’s networks should be ranking travel companies on which are the best employers of older women and which are the best travel companies for older women. It works.”

Wittenberg-Cox notes that women are increasingly senior and powerful across many sectors that are helpful in raising the volume of our voices.

“In everything from the judiciary to the press, to insurance companies, and hospitality/travel groups… when we connect across these sectors, we can start organizing the kind of services and society we want – and making noise about what we don’t,” she says.

Since our inception 30 years ago, JourneyWoman has been a place for women’s voices to be heard, both in our editorial and in our advocacy for women. In addition to hosting the world’s first women-friendly Women’s Travel Directory, we’ve created new programs for women over 50 in the travel industry, including our Women’s Speaker’s Bureau, the JourneyWoman Awards for Women over 50, and a new book to be launched this year. 

What are your thoughts on this topic? Please share your comments below.

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As the CEO and Editor of JourneyWoman, Carolyn is a passionate advocate for women's travel and living the life of your dreams. She leads JourneyWoman's team of writers and chairs the JourneyWoman Women's Advisory Council and Women's Speaker's Bureau. She has been featured in the New York Times, Toronto Star and Zoomer as a solo travel expert, and speaks at women's travel conferences around the world. In March 2023, she was named one of the most influential women in travel by TravelPulse and was the recipient of a SATW travel writing award in September 2023. She is the chair of the Canadian chapter of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), a member Women's Travel Leaders and a Herald for the Transformational Travel Council (TTC). Sometimes she sleeps. A bit.

1 Comment

  1. Rena

    Love this concept

    Reply

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