Many aspects of human well-being and economic activities rely on ecosystem functions and processes. The water and air quality defines the purity of the environment, the food chain is based on the maintenance of fertile soil and our mental and physical health depends on our interaction and accessibility to green spaces. It is commonly known that the proportion of older people in Europe, and indeed globally, is dramatically increasing and this change is having major implications on global markets. The demographic shift towards the older generation will mean a move towards a different type of consumer with an inevitable change in demand for products and services relating more to health and well-being. The important question is whether we can create a better understanding and thus satisfying the needs of people of old age in the context of longevity and QOL.
Over the last two decades, tourism became accessible for most people and as a consequence mass tourism came to the forefront and became one the biggest industries in the world. Unfortunately, many social groups, such as people with disabilities and seniors were generally undervalued and neglected by the tour industry as more focus was placed upon the mass tourismus market and established tour sites rather than off-the-beaten track sites.
The decrease in birth-rate in the developed world and the consequent growth in the number of elderly people, many with debilitating conditions, needs to be addressed. Senior citizens have become a broad and important group that can offer many benefits to the tourism industry. This means that the tourism market needs to adapt their strategies accordingly to address new niche markets other than catering for the masses. The importance of social tourism, aimed at people with debilitating health, is growing. Many senior citizens are no longer active in the workforce. They can travel throughout the year, which means that countries with high seasonality in tourism, e.g. Italy, Spain and Greece, would benefit from increased tourist activity in the mid and low seasons, solving the problem of having over capacitated peak season visitors. This is still a relatively new niche market that is poorly studied and mistakenly segmented. One of the main problems is generalisation and stereotypes, where older people are seen as being of debilitating health and socially isolated. This has meant a lack of provision of activities and eco-friendly tourist destinations. A study by Patterson highlighted that this group is heterogeneous and all individuals of older age have specific needs and expectations.
What is clear is that there is a need to study the senior citizen market more profoundly and to focus on recreational and health issues as an appropriate tourism product. After several topic-related joint projects and symposia between some of the partners, a new research group was established in 2011 to carry forward some new ideas and explore opportunities related to this demographic change in the light of health tourism and redefining conventional clinical paradigms into more practical categorisations of health.