After I got my Ph.D. from Texas A&M University in 2010, I went back to China to work as an assistant professor at Zhejiang University. In the doctoral study stage, my research was mainly based on the direction of my advisor, which focused on natural resource management issues at national parks and forests. I also published a few academic papers and industry publications on sustainable tourism. When I became an assistant professor, I began to look for new research directions. In China and many countries in the world, seniors comprise an important and steadily growing share of the travel market. As a result, although prior research presented a wide range of topics, marketing-oriented topics (e.g., market segmentation and consumer behavior) still dominate the literature. Given the burgeoning movement for successful and active aging, I feel that there is still room for more research employing rigorous aging theories and social psychology theories, in order to assess the role of tourism and hospitality in promoting well-being in later life. Therefore, I started to writing research grants on seniors’ travel and leisure needs, behaviors and consequences. I got several national and provincial grants on the topic and published a number of academic papers. I am going to sort out relevant research to write a book on tourism and ageing.
Travel decision-making of seniors
My first contribution to the knowledge on aging and tourism lies in the area of travel decision-making. In reviewing previous research on senior’s travel behavior, I noticed that most studies address the direct relationship between chronological age and potential travel-behaviour outcomes. The use of chronological age as a variable is inadequate to differentiate the travel behaviour of an increasingly diversified senior market. A research gap still exists in the study of potential psychological predictors. One such factor that has rarely been investigated is time perspective, which describes the degree of emphasis we place on our past, the present or the future (Zimbardo, & Boyd, 1999). My research first explored the links between time perspective, outbound-travel motivation and outbound-travel intention using survey data from a sample of Chinese seniors (Lu, Huang, Wang, Schuett, & Hu, 2016). The results showed that present-time perspective and future-time perspective were directly related to travel motivation, and that the associations between present and future perspectives and travel intention were fully mediated by travel motivation. These findings not only highlight the relevance of time-perspective styles to travel research, but also have specific implications for tourism-destination marketers with senior audiences. This research was awarded Second prize of excellent research achievements of National Tourism Administration of China.
Several researchers have determined that the travel constraints of the elderly are significantly influenced by their socio-economic conditions (Nimrod, 2008). By contrast, others have suggested that these socioeconomic variables are less effective determinants of the travel constraints of seniors, who may receive support and care from their children (Hsu & Kang, 2009). In the article I co-authored with Hung and Bai (Huang, Bai, & Lu, 2015), we provide empirical evidence on this issue by comparing the travel constraints of the elderly living in public housing and those living in private housing in Hong Kong. The majority of the elderly in Hong Kong experience financial problems because of the lack of retirement plans and protection. According to recent statistics of Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department, the total proportion of the elderly population (aged 60 years and over) in Hong Kong is nearly 20%. However, 38% of them live in public housing provided by the government because of financial constraints. The comparison between the elderly in public housing and those living in private housing revealed not only heterogeneity, but also similarities between the two groups. By applying the leisure constraint models in an Asian context, this study clarified the constraints on travel the elderly experience and the improvements needed in service providers to better meet the needs of the elderly.
Long-stay tourism is a diverse and lesser-known form of tourism that, despite its increasing scale and impact, has only recently become a focus of research. Long-stay destination attributes have typically been examined in the context of international retirement migration; however, little is known about long-stay tourist behavior in domestic rural destinations. Over the past decade, long-stay tourism has been increasingly considered a potential tool for rural communities seeking social and economic revitalization. Drawing upon residential mobility theory (Oishi, 2010), my study proposed and tested a model to understand the psychological needs of long-stay tourists and the relationships of these needs with visitors’ destination attributes and preferences (Lyu, Huang, & Mao, 2021). Using data collected from residents of three first-tier cities in China (Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou), results reveal five destination selection themes: familiarity, comfort, rurality, wellness, and publicity. The findings also unveil the salience of each dimension through conjoint analysis. This study enriches and extends the literature on long-stay tourism and tourists, especially within Chinese rural destinations.
To date, little research has investigated information technology (IT) use by senior tourists and its effect on their travel behavior. The reason for this gap might be that elderly people are often considered “out of fashion”, and thus to be rather irrelevant to studies on IT adoption. Such an assumption may have been realistic in the past, but the new generation of older adults not only has easy access to IT equipment and the Internet, but can also clearly recognize the lifestyle advantages that IT offers. As the cost of IT use declines and its benefit increases, there is a clear trend for seniors to better their daily lives and their holidays by using IT. Thus, IT use among seniors is one research gap needing further exploration. As an initial and exploratory attempt to understand the relation between IT usage and tourism behavior (travel motivation, travel intention, and socio-demographics), My colleagues and I conducted a survey research with Chinese senior outbound travelers (Wang, Wu, Luo & Lu, 2016). The results reveal four segments of IT usage, each with significantly different traveler profiles in terms of socio-demographics, travel motivation, and travel intention.
The effects of tourism on senior’s well-being
Another contribution of my research is identifying the positive effects of tourism and leisure on senior’s well-being. Both direct effect and moderating effect of leisure and tourism were explored in various settings. One research I worked with my Ph.D. student Huang Huan and my colleagues Hu Liang and Yang Lin, represents the first research effort to explore the impact of residential mobility on depressive symptoms among middle-aged and older adults in China (Lyu, Huang, Hu, & Yang, 2020). We also examined whether such potential association was moderated by social leisure activity participation. In addition to the novelty of the study findings, an important strength is that the analyses were conducted in a population-based cohort study with 3 time points in a 5-year span, offering adequate statistical power for the analysis of the targeted relationship. No evidence to date has examined the moving-depression relationship based on data of such size and study length. Second, the study measured a large number of demographic characteristics (age, gender, education, marital status, hukou, residential region, employment status, income) and physical conditions (difficulty in activities of daily living) that are potential confounders. This study not only revealed the negative impact of residential mobility on depression but also highlighted the protective role of social leisure activity in the moving-depression relationship.
The urban elderly who move with their children to different places and take care of their grandchildren have formed a representative picture of today’s aging China. At present, little is known about the life pressure and adjustment methods faced by this group in leisure tourism research. Draw upon the hierarchical leisure coping theory, my student and I conducted a qualitative research explore the leisure coping process of the migrant elderly in China (currently under review). We found that the accompanying elderly faced multiple stresses, including environmental stress, obligation stress and role stress. Under the guidance of two leisure coping beliefs of self leisure empowerment and leisure mutual assistance spirit, they adopted three types of leisure coping strategies, namely, support seeking, focus transferring and self-regulation to deal with the pressure. These three coping strategies were embodied into the participation of five types leisure activities: aerobic exercise, urban entertainment, social gathering, talent skills and sightseeing tourism, which acted on the coping results. This study puts forward countermeasures and suggestions from the aspects of improving the understanding of the problems faced by the migrant elderly, formulating targeted leisure intervention measures and promoting healthy aging.
Older adults are considered a vulnerable group at high risk of social isolation. Social capital has been shown to be a protective factor against social isolation and a contributing factor to well-being. My colleagues and I employed a mixed-methods approach to examine the effect of leisure education on social capital in the case of university programs for older adults in China (Lyu, Huang, & Hu, 2019). Through its prospective design, I found that leisure education enhanced the development of social capital. Shared interests, perceived social connectedness, information exchanges, norms of mutual care, and skill development were found to play important roles in enhancing seniors’ social capital.
Menopausal transition is often associated with impaired satisfaction with life. Exercise is promising in both managing menopausal symptoms and improving subjective well-being of women after menopause. I worked with experts in sports science to examine the effects of a 4-month randomized controlled walking trial on menopausal symptoms and satisfaction with life in 80 community-dwelling postmenopausal Chinese women, and identified predictors of changes in satisfaction with life across the intervention (Hu, Zhu, Lyu, Zhu, Xu, & Yang, 2017). Walking was effective in reducing menopausal symptoms and depression as well as enhancing physical self-esteem and satisfaction with life. In addition, changes in physical activity, menopausal symptoms, BMI, physical self-esteem, and depression were predictors of change in satisfaction with life across the intervention. Therefore, walking could be recommended for post-menopausal women to manage menopausal symptoms and promote psychological well-being. Life satisfaction may be enhanced through the improvement of mental and physical parameters.
Growing evidence suggests that travel may serve as an effective intervention of subjective well‐being (SWB). One of my recent work develops and empirically tests a psychological model that describes the links of cruise experience and SWB (Lyu, Mao, & Hu, 2018). This study also compared the short- and long‐term effects of the cruise experience on SWB. Our results identified 3 dimensions of cruise experience, namely, emotional experience, relational experience, and thinking experience. In the short term, happiness from cruise travel is created mainly through emotional and relational experiences. The long‐term effect of cruising travel is largely derived from thinking experience. This article was ranked top downloaded and cited article of the year for International Journal of Tourism Research. The results were also reported by media in China, USA, and India.
Overall, I believe that the demand changes brought about by the aging population and the supply changes brought about by the technological advancement will have a far-reaching impact on future tourism research. At present, the research on the elderly population is relatively scattered, which needs to be carried out more systematically. The increase in the aging population and the scale of their complexity and diversity demand the testing of more sophisticated research hypotheses and, consequently, the use of more advanced statistical analysis methods. However, we need to be cautious that “the statistical analysis tools at the higher aggregation level are not substitutes for those at the lower level of aggregation. The lower level of aggregation may be more meaningful for the less developed countries where aging research is still immature. In the less studied countries, the use of the qualitative approach is especially fruitful. Longitudinal studies are also needed to study age-relation changes in travel behavior. Given that considerable data offer a new exciting frontier for consumer research, tourism scholars must know how to collect and use digital data on the elderly group. Opportunities also exist for deriving new theories in the less researched regions, where the aging phenomenon may not be explained fully with the existing aging theories. Meanwhile, understanding aging in the tourism and hospitality contexts can be achieved in two directions: the elderly as a traveler and the elderly as a member of the tourism community. Past studies mainly explored topics related to the first direction. While continuing this line of enquiry is important and can further contribute to our understanding of elderly travelers, pursuing the second research direction can also be beneficial. The possible contributions of the elderly to tourism development and how they perceive tourism development in their community remain unknown. Some discussions have been initiated to involve retirees in the workforce of tourism and hotels.
Written by Jiaying Lyu, Zhejiang University, Department of Tourism and Hotel Management, China
Hsu, C.H., & Kang, S.K. (2009). Chinese urban mature travelers’ motivation and constraints by decision autonomy. Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing, 26(7), 703–721.
Hu, L., Zhu, L., Lyu, J., Zhu, W., Xu, Y., & Yang, L. (2017). Benefits of walking on menopausal symptoms and mental health outcomes among Chinese postmenopausal women. International Journal of Gerontology, 11( 3), 166-170.
Hung, K. Bai X. & Lu J. (2015) Understanding travel constraints among the elderly in Hong Kong: A comparative study of the elderly living in private and in public housing, Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing, 33(7), 1051-1070.
Lu, J., Hung, K. , Wang, L. , Schuett, M. A. , & Hu, L. (2016). Do perceptions of time affect outbound-travel motivations and intention? an investigation among Chinese seniors. Tourism Management, 53, 1-12.
Lyu, J., Mao, Z., & Hu, L. (2018). Cruise experience and its contribution to subjective well-being: A case of Chinese tourists. International Journal of Tourism Research, 20(2), 225-235.
Nimrod, G. (2008). Retirement and tourism themes in retirees’ narratives. Annals of Tourism Research, 35 (4), 859–878.
Lyu, J., Huang, H., & Mao, Z. (2021). Middle-aged and older adults’ preferences for long-stay tourism in rural China. Journal of Destination Marketing and Management, 19, 100552.
Oishi, S. (2010). The psychology of residential mobility: implications for the self, social relationships, and well-being. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 5(1), 5-21.
Lyu, J., Huang, H., & Hu, L. (2019). Leisure education and social capital: the case of university programmes for older adults in China. The Journal of Hospitality Leisure Sport and Tourism, 25, 100207.
Wang, W., Wu, W., Luo, J., & Lu, J. (2016). Information technology usage, motivation, and intention: a case of chinese urban senior outbound travelers in the yangtze river delta region. Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research, 1-17.
Zimbardo, G., & Boyd, N. (1999). Putting time in perspective: a valid, reliable individual-differences metric. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology. 77(6),1271-1288.