The two challenges of senior travellers in Europe: Health & Money

In this post, I’ll be talking a bit about the rise of the ‘silver traveller’ (or senior traveller), who’s widely regarded as a massive opportunity for the tourism industry. Thanks to major improvements in healthcare and favorable economic circumstances, the ‘baby boom’ generation is retiring earlier, living longer and has plenty of disposable income to enjoy themselves. Read what this means in the article below. 

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The two challenges of senior travellers in Europe: Health & Money
(Photo credit: Siarhei Plaschynski)

Against that background, it is no surprise that the number of older people travelling abroad is on the rise, and nowhere more so than in Europe. By 2020, it is predicted that a quarter of overseas travellers in Europe will be aged 60 or over, a higher proportion than any other region of the world. The tourist industry across Europe has already enjoyed the benefits of this ‘trend’ – after the global financial crisis of 2008, the number of travellers within and to Europe dropped for every age group except the oldest, which experienced a 10% increase between 2006 and 2011.

However, travel is not entirely worry-free for older travellers, and there are still barriers stopping many people from enjoying the freedom to explore the world as they like. Chief amongst these concerns is health, which for older people is closely related to travel-related money worries.

EU figures show that the over 65s age group is the only one where health is a more common reason given for not travelling than money. In 2016, more two in five people aged 65 or over who had not been away in the previous 12 months said it was because of health issues, compared to around a third who said lack of finances. In every other age group, more than half the people who hadn’t been on any trips said it was because they couldn’t afford to.

However, a recent survey by Avanti, a specialist health travel insurance provider, reveals that there is a lot of difference from country to country across Europe in how much health concerns play a part in holding older people back from travelling. In France (33%), Spain (40%) and Germany (37%), health was by far the most common reason over-65s gave for not travelling. But in Italy, health (28%) was more or less equal with financial concerns (27%). And in the UK, the main focus of the study, just 12% of respondents said they didn’t travel because of health reasons, compared to 41% who said they couldn’t afford it.

The two challenges of senior travellers in Europe: Health & Money
(Photo credit: Ross Parmly)


The cost of health travel insurance

What the Avanti survey also suggests is that there may be a link between health and financial concerns which is unique to older travellers. Overwhelmingly, the biggest concern older travellers have about going on a trip abroad is the cost of travel insurance, cited by 83% of respondents aged 55 and over.

Health and age both combine to have an impact on the cost of travel insurance. Because medical cover – the promise to pay medical costs should someone need treatment or care while they are abroad – is the highest value part of any travel insurance policy, insurance companies are careful about the conditions they apply for providing cover. If anyone has a pre-existing medical condition, for example, they usually have to go through a specialist provider who will offer a bespoke policy for their personal medical needs, and pay a premium for it.

The other side to this is that insurance companies tend to assume that older travellers are more susceptible to health problems and are therefore more likely to make a claim on their travel insurance. They therefore add premiums to policies not just on the basis of diagnosed conditions, but purely on the grounds of age. Mainstream providers often start to apply price increases that simply go up incrementally by age, starting at 55 or 60, without any checks on the actual health and well-being of the individual.

So while a pensioner might be in perfectly good health and have the financial means to pay for flights and accommodation for trips abroad, sooner or later there comes a point where the cost of health travel insurance makes any holiday unaffordable. Certainly when people reach their late 70s and 80s, the price increases often accelerate rapidly, soon putting individuals in a position where they would have to pay considerably more than the price of their holiday just for medical cover.

As people live longer and healthier lives and the market for senior travellers continues to grow, it’s clear that this model of how health travel insurance is priced for older people will pose more and more of a barrier to growth in the tourism industry. Either mainstream providers will have to be lobbied to change their restrictive practices, or the tourist industry will have to put its weight behind specialist providers who can offer a fairer deal to older people.

Over to you: have you already got your health insurance in place? And will you travel just as much when you’re getting older?


This post was written for and in collaboration with Avanti

The two challenges of senior travellers in Europe: Health & Money

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