Arabia on our minds

Senior travelers – those above the age of 50 – are nowadays travelling more than ever before, they travel more than any other age group, but the seniors travel market is still largely undeveloped, especially in the Middle East which had 50 million tourist arrivals in 2014.

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Banana island

Senior tourism is the fastest growing segment of the global tourist industry, forecasted to be a major force in 21st century. Senior travellers – those above the age of 50 – are nowadays traveling more than ever before, they travel more than any other age group, but the seniors travel market is still largely undeveloped, especially in the Middle East which had 50 million tourist arrivals in 2014, despite the fact that all industry data says elderly travellers are not what they once used to be.

Not so long ago, they were seen as  bargain hunters who were willing to travel in large groups in cramped buses and sleep in crappy accommodation. But those days are gone. By 2020, the global population of adults age 65 and older will triple to 700 million, and this generation is fitter, healthier and wealthier than any other.

Those statements are supported by numbers: according to the report “State of the Ultra High Net Worth Market” from April, almost 75 percent of the UHNW Population (Ultra High Net worth Individuals are those with a net worth of at least USD 30 million) is over 50. The average age of more than 200 thousand UHNW’s around the world is, to be more precise, around 59, and their average net worth is estimated at USD 141 million.

It is forecasted that in the next five years the number of UHNW’s will rise by 24 percent, and their wealth will rise by 29 percent. Of course, the travel industry can’t count on just UHNW’s – there are millions of 50+ people around the world with enough means to travel wherever they want and this burgeoning demographic is the driving factor of the tourism industry. In general, elderly travellers are in search of authentic travel experiences, more peaceful environments; they want to relax, experience the highlights, have everything taken care of, and for them, comfort is more important than money.

Europe’s domination

For Qatar, as a fast-emerging Middle Eastern tourist destination, the seniors travel market is a huge opportunity. Qatar has witnessed a 10 percent increase in tourists, with more than 1.3 million people visiting the country in the first five months of 2015. According to the figures released by Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA), whose goal is to attract more than 7 million tourists to Qatar by 2030, the tourism sector contributed with USD 7.6 billion into country’s GDP last year, which is 8.3 percent of Qatar’s non-hydrocarbon economy in 2014.

Qatar, which was recently ranked by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as the second most competitive travel and tourism destination in MENA region in its 2015 Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report, has placed tourism as the most important economic sector, next to oil and gas production.

Regretfully any data about the age of around 2.8 million tourists that visited Qatar in 2014 does not exist, but it is known that about 40 percent of them came from other GCC countries, 15 percent from Europe and 28 percent from Asia and Oceania. In the first five months of this year, QTA recorded a 20 percent growth in visitor numbers from the GCC countries, 7 percent growth of tourist arrivals from Asian markets and 4 percent growth of tourists from Europe.

The old continent is the most popular destination among senior overseas (US and Canada) travellers, especially those in their late 60s and above. Equally, older Europeans tend to travel to other continents, preferring North America and Asia. Europe, as the most visited continent, with over half of the world’s international tourists, saw an increase of 22 million arrivals in 2014, reaching a total of 588 million. The contribution of elderly Europeans (around 25 percent of Europeans are older than 55) to the European tourist industry is also significant, and the European Union is through various programmes stimulating seniors citizen’s travel.

The “Senior Tourism Initiative” was launched in 2012 as a pilot initiative to define the framework conditions to enhance senior citizens’ travel in Europe. The other significant project with the objective of promoting and facilitating senior tourism in Europe is ESCAPE, financed by the European Commission through the programme “Facilitating transnational low season tourism exchanges in Europe encouraging Senior Citizens to travel”.

According to the survey conducted within ESCAPE, European older tourists prefer to travel with a partner, with relatives or family members, as well as in groups with people they know. On average, they have a budget up to USD 110 a day, and prefer to take 4 to 7 nights breaks, and also to extend the length up to 13 nights. They prefer to travel in summer and spring; they tend to be quite autonomous in planning and managing their travels, opting less frequently for all-inclusive packages, preferring to organize their holidays individually. Their preferred themes are nature and culture.

european travelersBucket list

Similar results are revealed by the American Association of Retired People (AARP): according to them, the 50+ population made up 45 percent of the US population in 2014. There are around 76.4 million Baby Boomers (born from 1946 to1964) in the US says AARP, and they will take an average of four to five trips in 2015.

The 50+ travellers are looking to mainly relax and rejuvenate during their travel, and more than half of those surveyed said that they will save more of their money specifically for travel. Also, 97 percent of them will take at least one domestic trip in 2015; 45 percent plan to take at least one international trip, while 23 percent of US baby boomers are planning more international trips in 2015 than 2014.

Like Europeans, they tend to travel with their families, and 54 percent will take a summer vacation either domestically or abroad with 35 percent of them headed to the beach. Americans over 50 years of age spend USD 120 billion every year on leisure travel, primarily motivated by so called “bucket list” or a number of experiences or achievements that a person hopes to have or accomplish during their lifetime. AARP predicts that 32 percent of people 50+ that will travel internationally in 2015 will do so to check off a destination on their bucket list.

Senior travellers seek to spend their time in more meaningful ways – they look for more active and adventurous vacations, so for a vast majority of them who are in very good shape, an active trip with kayaking, cycling, hiking, scuba diving, or skiing is the perfect one. Nearly 54 percent of US-based elderly travellers are planning an adventure activity on their next trip.

Cultural experience is very important, and senior travellers tend to combine all – exploration of cultural sites and active vacation with time for relaxation. They have more time and more disposable income than younger travellers, and their flexible schedules allow them to take longer trips – an average of 13 to 16 days – than  their younger counterparts.

With its rich cultural heritage combined with 563 kilometre-long sandy coastline, upscale accommodation, safe environment with very low crime rate and traditional hospitality, Qatar has all that a senior traveller is looking for. There are so many things to see: Souq Waqif offers an authentic taste of lively street life, traditional Arab commerce and local architecture; the Doha Corniche is an ideal spot to see spectacular vistas of Doha; the Museum of Islamic Art carries a magnificent collection covering 14 centuries of the finest Islamic art and artifacts from across the Middle East, Europe, Asia and Africa; Katara Cultural Village is a modern interpretation of the rich architectural heritage of Arabia; the Pearl-Qatar is a man-made island with marina esplanades, luxury towers and villas, and there are also numerous malls that provide a unique shopping experience.

Beyond Doha’s sights, there is the natural wonder of Qatar and UNESCO natural reserve – Khor Al Adaid (Inland Sea) – which is one of the few places in the world where the sea encroaches deep into the heart of the desert; there is also Al Zubarah, UNESCO World Heritage Site, which comprises the immaculately restored Al Zubarah Fort and surrounding archaeological site covering the remains of a historic walled coastal town built in the mid-18th century. Numerous festivals, like Qatar International Food Festival and Qatar Summer Festival, a wide range of high-quality sporting events, traditional competitions and events like desert caravans, hunting and camel racing are attracting tourists.

Banana island resort
Photograph: Mohamad Shams

Most demanding travellers

Sea tourism is also booming: tourists are interested in diving, cruising and exploring the coastline. Popular destinations are Aliyah island, home to desert hares and a variety of birds; Shrao island; Haloul island is ideal for scuba divers with its coral reefs; and Ishat island; while Banana Island is transformed into a five-star island resort. Doha is on the map of major world cruise companies, who traditionally have a significant portion of senior travellers.

For example, companies like Holland America, Royal Caribbean and Princess Lines offer such amenities as Braille elevator buttons, sign-language interpreters and wheelchair-accessible tender transfer. The number of large cruisers stopping in Doha will be even bigger once the New Port at Mesaieed becomes operational, and the old port is converted to a cruise ship terminal with increased draught to 12 metres.

Customer service is crucial to senior travelers – they do not tolerate poor service. They are the most demanding of travellers, but Doha with its luxury accommodation can meet their needs. Luxury travel continues to be a robust segment of the tourist industry in the world. Majority of hotel rooms in Qatar – more than 7,500 of them – are luxury ones, says STR Global, and the remaining more than 3,100 comprise lower branded segments, as well as unaffiliated hotels. China is the most talked about when it comes to luxury travel, thanks to the sheer number of Chinese tourists traveling aboard.

According to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, in terms of outbound tourism, the world’s top spender China continued its exceptional pace of growth with a 28 percent increase in expenditure in 2014, reaching a total of USD 165 billion. The number of Chinese residents aged 60 or above reached 202 million in 2013, and by 2050, the number will nearly double to around 400 million. Also, one survey showed 93 percent of middle-aged and elderly Chinese are planning to travel both domestically and aboard, while the report ‘Shaping the Future of Travel in Asia Pacific’ by Frost & Sullivan and Amadeus predicts that 12.6 million Chinese citizens above 65 years of age will travel abroad by 2030.

Closer to home, the Indian elderly travel market is also booming: the 50+ residents of India account for an increasingly significant portion of leisure travelers – according to the Frost & Sullivan and Amadeus report – the number of elderly Indian residents travelling outside their home country will reach 7.3 million by 2030. Official statistics say that from a current crop of 100 million people 60 years and above, India, which is perceived as a ‘young’ nation with half its population of 1.25 billion people under 25 years of age, will see more than a three-fold rise in the numbers of the elderly to 324 million by 2050, constituting 20 percent of the population.

TravelTravelling in style

Senior travellers around the globe tend to prefer multi-generational or family trips that are usually booked around milestone events like birthdays or anniversaries. They like to travel comfortably especially when it comes to flying, where they tend to choose airlines that provide more comfort. Comfort, staff and improved fleet were in mind for nearly 19 million passengers, who recently named Qatar Airways the Best Airline in the World for 2015. The poll is traditionally conducted by leading aviation consumer website Skytrax. Qatar Airways also claimed top position as the Best Airline in the Middle East and the prize for the Best Business Class seat.

Medical tourism is extremely popular among senior tourists – the global wellness/medical tourism industry accounts for 14 percent of global tourism and is growing at nearly twice the rate of total worldwide tourism. Qatar, as a recognized cosmetics surgery destination, has been the fastest growing healthcare market in the GCC from 2006-2011, with a growth of 23 percent during that period, says Alpen Capital’s 2014 GCC Healthcare Report, and it is predicted that the country will have a 14.4 percent growth rate in terms of rising costs and demand for healthcare services from 2013 to 2018.

US-ChinaQatar is not focusing on adventure tourism, but on more authentic experience type of projects, that is constantly changing, with lots of the infrastructure that has been completed over the last ten years, and with more to be done in order to prepare the country for the FIFA World Cup in 2022, which will attract from 200,000 to 300,000 football fans. More than USD 2.5 billion worth of contracts were awarded in Qatar’s tourism sector during last year and some USD 17 billion has been earmarked for tourism-related infrastructure over the next few years.

The total number of projects planned include five museums and libraries; 57 hotels and resorts; 22 shopping venues; 21 sports facilities; 11 theme parks, six convention centres; and a state-of-the-art theatre. Currently, there are USD 8.48 billion projects underway – the major ones are Doha Festival City, Doha Convention Centre, Rayyan Mall (Mall of Qatar), Doha Zoo, Lusail Museum, and Katara Towers (Lusail Marina).

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