Grey pound key to a Brexit travel nation

By Max Clapham

Do today’s empty nesters (over 55, no dependent children) really have more time on their hands or do they simply prioritise life better? Either way, when Britain’s silver generation skewered their children in June’s referendum (57% of 55-64 yr. olds & 60% of 65+ yrs. voted Brexit, according to the usually reliable Lord Ashcroft polling data) they did so by taking the time out to turn up in significantly larger numbers than the young.

They have also been taking more time out to go on domestic holidays. Between 2010 and 2014, empty nesters were the only lifestage taking increased domestic overnight trips (up from 13.6 to 14.1 million per annum, according to GBTS).

So if Brexit has reinforced a view of empty nesters as property rich, small minded, grey Little Englanders (and it’s a view expressed locally in tourist destinations across Europe, if my Mum’s recent Spanish holiday experience is any indication) it is one worthy of greater scrutiny.

What is not in doubt is that in today’s more uncertain situation the Grey Pound represents a powerful economic entity, one the domestic travel industry is minded to cultivate to the full, as forces, including Brexit, combine to put many off overseas travel. Heightened safety fears across Europe have eroded outbound tourism to places like Turkey (bookings said to be down by at least one third this summer) and the weaker pound post Brexit makes overseas travel that little bit more expensive for all of us.

Many observers have talked up a short-term boost provided by Brexit to both domestic and inbound tourism this summer. However, the longer term picture requires more strategic thinking. This is where the Grey Pound of the empty nester becomes much more important currency. Clearly not all British empty nesters are property rich, small minded grey Little Englanders, and nearly half, including my Mum, voted Remain in the recent referendum. Travel motivations, attitudes and behaviours vary widely.

By 2024, over 55s will represent a third of the UK population (22.6 million - ONS). Many remain pressured, with university fees, boomeranging children and care for grandchildren all playing a part. Generally though, they have greater financial flexibility than generations before them could have wished for. Freedoms provided by the 2015 pension reforms mean that many empty nesters can enjoy a level of disposable income and wealth greater than younger lifestages. This week the ABI reported that in the first full year, 300,000 lump sum withdrawals were made by over 55s from their pension pots at an average of £14,500. One of the most common reasons for withdrawals….’to travel’!

This is a significant audience for many of BDRC’s Travel, Tourism and Leisure clients. One organisation keen to unpick the travel mind of empty nesters this year has been the National Coastal Tourism Academy (NCTA).

For the NCTA, developing coastal products, brands and marketing to cultivate the silver economy beyond peak summer periods is key for genuine long term benefits to come out of the current economic and political uncertainty.

The English coastline provides a varied and often stunning backdrop to a wide portfolio of off-peak holiday experiences. Matching the right experience and the right brand with the right empty nester at the right time increases visitor numbers and tourism spend. Recently concluded market segmentation research by BDRC for the NCTA will help destinations achieve this.

Amongst fourteen primary motivations for taking off-peak holidays, ‘to escape/relax’ (55%) was most cited by empty nesters, followed by ‘to visit somewhere new’ (46%) and ‘to revisit a place’ (45%). Interestingly, 4 in 10 cite at least four different primary motivations for taking off-peak holidays, ranging from ‘attending an event/festival’ (12%) to ‘learning / discovering the history / culture of an area’ (36%). So with multiple holidays taken each year by this demographic (whether in the UK or overseas), there are extensive opportunities for all destinations to trigger more empty nester trip making.

A first public release of this segmentation insight is about to be published by the NCTA and it is clear that by uncovering and mapping six distinct travel segments a much richer picture has emerged of this key demographic and their priorities in life. We might all be Brexit now, but in working out how best to attract - spoiler alert for NCTA release - Energetic Enjoyers, brand match the characters and interests of Contented Coasters or overcome the challenges with Aspirational Elusives, many in the travel industry will be much better placed to capitalise on the silver economy over the longer term.

BDRC plan regular updates in the coming months on the strategic opportunities emerging for companies and organisations to cultivate domestic and international empty nester audiences. Sign up for email alerts here. In the meantime, if you’d like to discover more about some of our work on the Grey Pound, or to find out how BDRC can help you better segment your travel audiences, get in touch with Max.

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Read more about this study on the National Coastal Tourism Academy's site.

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