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Leisure Travel After Retirement: Anticipation and Experience in the UK

Contributed by Harriet Mansfield on 11.05.2016

An Article about leisure travel after retirement: anticipation and experience in the UK. Written by Harriet Mansfield

Once you found yourself at the 10th floor of the Alliance Manchester Business School (instead of taking the wrong lift, convincing yourself that there is definitely only three floors in this building and not ten), you arrived at the intriguing talk with Russell Hitchings, a lecturer at UCL, filled with people of all ages awaiting to hear about the anticipation and experience of leisure travel of those in the UK.

The talk was intriguing because he covered an area associated with sustainability that is not often talked about. To begin with, it was emphasised how the research he was presenting in association with Demand (whose research focuses on end use energy demand), was an attempt to answer four questions:

Where do ideas about where and why older people should be travelling come from?

How do these ideas circulate in society?

How do older people respond to these ideas?

What does this all say about how change all comes about?

And so with these questions to be answered, the theme of the talk centred around how and why end use practices change over time, with the end goal to identify hotspots and potential changes. To do this, they looked at how the changes in norms, conventions, entitlements and expectations people may have in relation to leisure travel in retirement, feature in energy. He then lead on to discuss how that one hotspot for such change that is energy intensive is the combination of a number of things including an aging society and greater elder mobility. All of which will result in an increase in energy consumption.

Russell then briefly talked about the current bodies of work relating to leisure travel in retirement, of which, there is very little; and what there is of it encourages people to do more. These conclusions tend to either say that ageing should be active, or, that retirees are on the move, mobility is generally more marvellous over in activity or that there is money to be made in the leisure travel of the retired. These conclusions generally mean increased consumption and an increase in travel. The question then arises; does that conclusion align with a sustainable agenda?

Besides the apparent lack of consideration to a sustainable retirement (whatever that may entail), what also seems to be missing in previous work is a sense of how people respond to the ideas and expectations of leisure travel in retirement, what difference does distance have and seeing older tourism in other terms other than an opportunity for increased activity. What also seems to have not been addressed is the general public’s perception of what is right or wrong for leisure travel in retirement and how such ideas influence behaviours.

To address these gaps in research, a large quantitative analysis in the form of interview was taken to assess what those over 55 thought about travel, their expectation and influences, with questions to identify contradictions in their answers, to compare how travel talk and circulation of expectation compares with reality.

Even though previous research leans towards the expectation or encouragement of increased leisure travel in retirement, there is no evidence yet, of an increase in the amount of leisure travel for retirees. So is there indeed increased consumption as seems to be expected or is there a plateau of consumption?

The participant’s entitlement and expectations of leisure travel in retirement seemed to arise either because it was seen as a rewards for a life of hard work, that it was their right to travel when they were retired, that it was their responsibility to travel when they are retired or that society and themselves expected them to travel when they are retired.

When looking closely at how expectations feature in the participants travel talk, their ideas about reinforcing the ‘boom’, aligns with the increase in consumption and travel. This increase in travel however, is not seen in the data.

It was then concluded, that in reality there is a plateau in leisure travel retirement and not a boom is for a number of reasons. These reasons being; that people’s past experiences affect their current practices, so may not necessarily increase the amount of travel they do in retirement compared to when they were working. Another reason is that everyone does the amount of travel that feels right for them, not what is expected of them and that once the elusive retirement period does arrive, this does not mean that people with immediately change all of their behaviours, this includes the amount of travel they do.

With all of this considered, Russell concluded the talk by suggesting that in terms of energy consumption, it seems to be a win/win scenario as even though those approaching retirement are expected to increase their consumption of travel, this does not appear to be the case. And so, with leisure travel in retirement being less resource intensive than expected, perhaps there is an opportunity to influence social change to make leisure travel in retirement even less energy intensive.