Opportunities for innovation in the nexus between an ageing UK, tourism and wellbeing: the perspective of social organizations

Principal applicant: Prof Gareth Shaw

Co-applicant: Dr Isabelle Cloquet, EU COST Action ‘Tourism, Wellbeing and Ecosystem Service’

Approximate start date: End April 2016

Approximate finish date: End September 2016

Total amount requested: £ 3,150

Overview and benefits

Currently 17.5% of the UK population is over 65 and the demographic old-age dependency ratio indicates that the UK has now more people over State Pension age than children. Despite State Pension Age change the ratio is estimated to rise from the current 31% to 37% by 2060 (ONS, Oct. 2015). In addition to dependency, age related illness is expected to increase the public spend on long term health care by approximately 34% by 2060 (European Commission, 2012, p.155), presenting long-term challenges in terms of how to pay for future health and social care services. Therefore keeping older people in good health has been a vital aim of the UK, which launched in 2010 a policy promoting active and responsible ageing (Department for Work and Pensions, 16 April 2013). Some of the main factors affecting the health of seniors include decreased physical and mental activity, as well as problems of isolation.

The current state of scientific knowledge suggests that tourism and leisure can have a positive impact on wellbeing, offering various opportunities to engage or re-engage in activities that contribute to wellbeing and health (Kim, Woo & Uysal, 2015; Nimrod & Rotem, 2010). There is emerging evidence that engaging in new experiences, feeling a sense of being away, as well as connecting with various ecosystems and environments correlate with psychological, cognitive and relational benefits (Morgan, Pritchard & Sedgley, 2015; von Lindern, 2015). Research has increased on the topic over the past few years, but remains essentially focused on the perspective of the tourists. Indeed, there is currently little research on the organizations involved in the nexus between the elderly, leisure and tourism and wellbeing.

That is the approach adopted in this research project. In order to gain deep understanding of how such organisations relate to the aforementioned nexus, and increase the social impact of this case study research, the researcher will combine two approaches. One consists in a survey led with organizations targeted in the study, including Age UK, the Sensory Trust (based and working with the Eden Project), the National Benevolent Fund for the Aged, Tourism for all, Revitalise and Dementia Adventure... The other approach consists in an in-depth single-case study (i.e. Age UK) that will combine in-depth interviews, focus groups and documentary research. Concerning the latter, the researcher will work from an intersubjective and situated knowledge (Haraway, 1988) perspective, implying that the researcher will work closely together with the research participants in a participatory manner, integrating them in the production and shaping of meaning in data collection and analysis. Research participants include both representatives of the organisation and its beneficiaries (selected using a purposive sampling technique).

More specifically, the study will centre on the following questions, with the possibility for some to be modified and/or added following the researcher’s interactions with the participants:

  1. How do these organizations with health-promotion activities for the elderly perceive the role of leisure and tourism?
  2. What is their perception of the elderly as participants in leisure and tourism activities?
  3. How have they integrated leisure and tourism into their schemes?
  4. What constraints have they faced while pursuing this end?
  5. How do they perceive their role in facilitating active leisure and tourism behaviours among 65+?
  6. How do they perceive their actual and potential contribution to social innovation in that domain?

The aim of the project is thus not only to add to social theory on the topic under scrutiny; it is also to embed the research and its outcomes deeply in its social environment. Furthermore, the project builds on and connects with other research schemes in which Prof. Gareth Shaw and the researcher have been involved over the past three years, including the EU Cost Action IS1204 Tourism, Cultural Ecosystems services, and Wellbeing, a research project on holiday-making and the elderly from a life course perspective, as well as the BEST project led by the Université Libre de Bruxelles under the Belgian ‘Germaine Tillion’ programme on social innovation.

The outcomes of the study will benefit the cluster by publishing on management in social organisations, by producing situated knowledge and thereby increasing the social impact of the study, and by providing valuable insights into how they react to changes in their social environment (incl. changes in state pension schemes, increased attention to life satisfaction in later life, adaptation of the leisure and tourism product/services to the multifaceted behaviourial patterns of a new generation of older consumers (baby-boomers turning grey).