Silver tourism is a key growth opportunity for the tourism sector

The silver tourism economy is a big deal for New Zealand – with silver tourists representing one in five travellers across the country. Silver tourists are travellers aged 65 years and older. As a cohort these older travellers are often overlooked, but silver tourists represent a key growth opportunity for tourism across our regions.

This article introduces New Zealand’s silver tourism economy, including how big it is, which regions benefit, and what the growth opportunity is for silver tourism over the coming decade.

A sample report showcasing silver tourism in the West Coast is available for download here.

The baseline size of the silver tourism economy

It is estimated that silver tourists, people aged 65 years or older, spent 7.7 million guest nights across New Zealand each year immediately before the pandemic. This accounted for 19% of all guest nights throughout the country in 2019.  Furthermore, silver tourists spent a total of $4.8 billion and this expenditure supported over 35,000 jobs across the tourism sector.

Nearly 50% of all silver tourism guest nights in New Zealand occurred within five regions. At the pre-Covid tourism peak in 2019, Auckland accounted for the biggest share of New Zealand’s silver tourist guest nights. The second biggest region contributing to silver tourism was Canterbury. This was followed by Wellington, Queenstown, and then Northland.

However, things look at little different when you flip things around and consider the regions where silver tourists account for the highest shares of total guest nights in each region. From this perspective it was the smaller regions that come to the fore, Whanganui had the highest proportion of silver guest nights as a proportion of its total guest nights. This was followed by Taranaki and Gisborne, and then Wairarapa and Timaru.

Where do silver tourists come from?

Internationals make up 40% of silver guest nights in the country, this is just below the 42% share internationals represent in total tourism. The majority of silver tourists come from Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

The remaining 60% of silver guest nights were by domestic visitors, with many of these tourists coming from Auckland, Canterbury, Bay of Plenty, and Waikato.

What differentiates a silver tourist from the average tourist?

The typical silver tourist travels differently to the average tourist. This can be seen in a range of fields including the type of accommodation the older traveller stays in, the purpose of their travel, and their daily spend. Silver tourist are slightly conservative in their daily spend, but this is made up for by the fact that silver tourists stay 15% longer in any particular region than the average visitor.

Regardless of their age, most tourists enjoy partaking in activities that display New Zealand’s natural environment. However, silver tourists are far more likely to participate in history or leisure-based activities and far less likely to participate in adventure activities than the average tourist.

Growth Opportunities

Over the next decade the silver population, people over the age of 65 years, is expected to grow at a much higher rate than the general population throughout the world.

It is predicted by Statistics New Zealand that the domestic silver population will increase by an average of 3.0%pa over the next ten years, in comparison the general population of New Zealand is predicted to increase by 0.8%pa. Furthermore, the OECD predicts that the silver population in developed economies will grow by 2.1%pa, whereas the general population in these international economies is only predicted to increase by 0.4%pa.

If silver tourism in New Zealand expands in line with these average silver population growth rates over the coming decade then total guest nights by silver tourists could rise to approximately 10 million guest nights per annum within 10 years, compared to 7.7 million guest nights now.

The potential for growth in the silver tourism economy represents a key opportunity for tourism in our regions. But to unlock this opportunity destinations need to be cognisant of the different needs and wants of older travellers. As mentioned above, silver tourists tend to travel differently than the average tourist and value different experiences, thereby requiring destinations to tailor their pitch and their supporting touristic infrastructure to match a different audience.

Please get in touch if you want to learn more about the current state and growth potential for silver tourism in your region. A sample report showcasing silver tourism in the West Coast is available for download here.