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Canada’s Greying Air Travellers

| Jul 23, 2008

David Redekop
Principal Research Associate
Canadian Tourism Research Institute

The greying of Canada’s population is evident to anyone who walks up the aisle of an airplane about to take off for a foreign destination. The baby-boom consumers—those born between 1946 and 1966—who have driven key markets like education, automobiles and housing, are now the dominant group among travellers.

The prime travel age for Canadians is between 55 and 69. Many couples in this age group are empty-nesters and their children are becoming financially independent. Boomers also have the financial means to travel, as many are mortgage-free and have advanced in their careers. For the most part, boomers at this age are also healthy and interested in travelling.

Canada has a larger proportion of baby boomers than most other developed countries. Following the Second World War, returning soldiers and their spouses established and expanded their families more rapidly than their counterparts elsewhere. Fertility rates (births per female aged 15 to 49) peaked at 3.9 in 1959 and have been declining ever since; today, Canada relies on immigration for the majority of its population growth.

How significant is the baby-boom segment of the Canadian population? In 2002 alone, the number of Canadians between the ages of 55 and 59 grew by 7.2 per cent, compared with a 1.1 per cent average growth rate for the Canadian population. This kind of growth rate drives markets.

As more boomers move into the 55-plus age bracket, their presence will be strongly felt in the travel industry. Canadians between 55 and 69 years of age will continue to represent the largest share of the country’s population until the mid 2020s. According to the Conference Board’s analysis, demographics alone should help boost air travel by 3 per cent a year.

Projections indicate, however, that the number of Canadians in the prime age group for travel (55 to 69) will begin to decline in about four years; the Conference Board’s analysis points to diminishing travel demand beginning in 2012.

The propensity to travel outside the country begins to fall when people turn 70. Historical trends indicate that health issues emerge at that age, and the level of interest in travelling (at least in the same manner) diminishes.

In 2012, Canada’s multi-billion-dollar travel industry will begin to lose the demographic push that it has found so beneficial. Tourism operators will have to turn to other, less age-dependent travel markets to continue the industry’s impressive growth rate of the past decade.

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