The impact of life events on the tourism behaviour of senior citizens in Freising, Germany
The senior market is a driving force in the tourism industry and one of the fastest growing market segments. Demographic changes, and the evolving travel routines of those people reaching senior age, suggest enormous potential for the tourism industry. Tourism scholars recognise the opportunities and importance of the tourism behaviour of seniors and within the last decade scholars paid increasingly attention to this previously under-researched field. Many studies in the tourism domain use chronological-age criteria to investigate seniors’ travel behaviour, ignoring the diverse nature of this group. This thesis addresses this research gap by adopting a life events research approach to the study of senior tourism behaviour.
The underpinning rationale behind this thesis is that the life courses of seniors are shaped by meaningful transitions which not only encapsulate deteriorating physical health and abilities but also psychological effects and changes in family structure and social roles. The aim of the thesis is to identify relevant life events and to investigate how they impact on seniors’ tourism behaviour. The centrepiece of the thesis is a discussion of the factors that underlie this behaviour and the exploration of why life events appear to be so meaningful in explaining seniors’ tourism behaviour.
The theoretical framework on which the thesis is based draws on leisure constraints and facilitators, ecological systems theory and gerontological theories. The thesis is guided by a post-positivist, pragmatist research paradigm and employs qualitative in-depth biographic interviews with 23 seniors (older than 60) who are residents of Freising, Germany. The study design consists of two qualitative interview phases with those in the second phase being a subset of those interviewed in the first phase, thus advancing the validity and rigor of the research. The thesis adopts both an intra- and inter-individual data analysis method employing thematic analysis.
The thesis results in a senior tourism behaviour model which integrates Crawford, Jackson, and Godbey’s (1991) hierarchical leisure-constraints approach and the fundamentals of ecological systems theory. The thesis advances this model by translating the leisure-based concept into tourism specifics, introducing intrastructural constraints and facilitators, distinguishing between microstructural and macrostructural factors, and recognising travel practices at the destination level.
The thesis demonstrates that life events operate on different constraint and facilitator levels, reflecting the complexity of their impact on tourism behaviour. Younger seniors are largely free from microstructural constraints and tourism participation is relatively facilitated. Tourism can contribute to individual well-being and is used as a vehicle to remain physically and emotionally healthy. Those who enjoyed travelling in their younger years continue or even increase their participation until constraining factors come into play, operating on the individual’s biology and psychology and socio-ecological structures.
The thesis concludes that with increased age it becomes a challenging task to negotiate through constraints, resulting in reduced tourism participation and the adoption of alternative forms of travelling. Opportunities and challenges for the tourism industry lie in the development of new tourism products that help to overcome and mitigate the travel constraints that confront senior citizens.