Older generation travel abroad more than other Europeans
In 2016, over-70s made spent 3.4 million nights overseas, according to CSO data
In general, the more mature tourist prefers to avoid the spiralling temperatures of July and August.
Older Irish people are travelling abroad in ever-increasing numbers – and whether motivated by spare cash, emigrated children or cheap airfares, they are outstripping their European counterparts.
Data on foreign travel by age has only been recorded by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) since 2000 and the level of detail has decreased since 2006.
However, what figures there are indicate a sharp increase in travel patterns for older people.
In 2000, there were some 330,000 outbound trips from Ireland (including Northern Ireland) by those aged between 60 and 69, accounting for more than 3.2 million nights abroad. By 2006, the number of outbound trips for that age category had risen to 815,000 with the number of nights more than doubling to 6.8 million.
Those aged 70 and over made 145,000 foreign trips in 2000, clocking up 1.6 million nights abroad. Six years later, the figure had risen to 342,000 trips with 3.4 million nights.
For those aged 50 years and over, there were 1.9 million trips abroad in 2005, peaking at 3.5 million in 2008 just before the recession, and falling to a low of 1.9 million in 2012 before rising gradually again to almost 2.4 million last year.
Buck the trend
In Europe-wide terms, Irish tourists aged 65 and over buck the trend, preferring overwhelmingly to holiday abroad rather than at home.
Information released by Eurostat, the EU statistical agency, last year (measuring activity in 2014) showed that 73 per cent of “older” Irish travellers opted for outbound nights away from home, a stark reversal of the EU average in which two thirds (66 per cent) of those aged 65 and older favoured domestic trips.
Higher rates were recorded by just three countries – Belgium (91 per cent), Luxembourg (99 per cent) and Switzerland (74 per cent) – all smaller in size.
The numbers paint an active picture of elder tourist activity compared to our continental neighbours.
For example, older Irish tourists accounted for almost a quarter of all “tourism nights” spent by Irish people in 2014, at 23 per cent.
Of the 28 EU members states, that proportion was bested by only five countries, and even then only marginally (Cyprus and France measured 25 per cent).
Pat Dawson, chief executive of the Irish Travel Agents Association, is not surprised by the statistics and sees numerous changes in the lives of older Irish people that have facilitated the rising tide of foreign travel.
“It’s disposable income and many, many people in Ireland have very sustainable pensions,” he says.
A veteran of the travel industry for four decades, Mr Dawson says older travellers opt for cultural experiences, and more secluded breaks than the cities and beaches favoured by younger travellers and families.
“The vast majority would be children-free and mortgage-free. Particularly in off-season you find big numbers are going ,” he says, adding that in general, the more mature tourist prefers to avoid the spiralling temperatures of July and August.
The rise in older travel rates has also been aided by “the way that the holiday business has changed. It was a big charter business; in 2003 there were 1.3 million charter seats.
“That was a bit of a handicap because you could only go for one or two weeks but that has been replaced by low-cost carriers and past 10 years, also plays its part.
Justin Moran, head of advocacy at Age Action, puts this alongside increasing levels of disposable income and a reduction in travel cost.
There has been, he said, an increasing number of children and grandchildren making their lives in overseas as the diaspora has spread over post-recession years.
“The family network is much wider than it used to be,” he said. “There is that desire to travel abroad and to visit a child so that you can see your grandchildren and see a place that you haven’t been to before.”