2016 State of the American Traveler: Destinations Edition

Head of Research and Insights
Published 3/8/16
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Download the summary report of The State of the American Traveler, Q1 2016 Edition 

Appeal & Action – Targeting Opportunities in 2016

The State of the American Traveler from our good friends at Destination Analysts is one of the industry’s leading research reports into the outlook, media use and interests of US leisure travelers. Miles is a longtime sponsor and, in 2016, is excited to be part of increasing the research to a quarterly reporting cycle. 

The first State of the American Traveler for 2016 presents a mixed but also exciting picture of the opportunities for travel marketers in 2016. From its new, expanded look at Destinations, plus its usual tracking of US leisure travelers’ intentions in the year ahead, media use in trip planning and travel behavior, we have highlighted three areas of particular interest and 10 specific takeaways: 

Markets of Opportunity. While US leisure travelers remain generally positive in their travel outlook, a closer look shows areas of real strength and relative weakness. As I noted in a blog last November, “Some Clouds in Tourism’s Sunny Outlook,” a “two-speed economy” has emerged in the US and around the world. The economies of states and international markets heavily reliant on commodities are dramatically slowing, with prices from oil to corn, iron ore to sugar all significantly down. Targeting markets of strength is critical – which The State of the American Traveler highlights as segments such as younger US leisure travelers, visitors who use the sharing economy (also often Millennials) and multi-generational travel. Amongst US regions, the Southeast and West Coast are the strongest areas in travel intentions. This mixed outlook indicates that such precise targeting,stronger calls to action and, in some cases a bigger emphasis on value, will be important in some markets in 2016. 

Above: The State of the American Traveler Q1 2016 highlights market segments of relative strength and weakness for the year ahead. Click the image above to download the full report and to see the above graph in detail. 

Hyper-Informed Travelers Are Using More Media. The research also highlights how US travelers are even more hyper informed in 2016. In almost every category of digital media, usage increased sharply year on year, even as their use of traditional media stayed extremely strong. For example , use of user-generated content, social media and online video grew to 59%, 50% and 18% of US leisure travelers – all up 20-33% from a year earlier. Yet 50% of US travelers still use print resources in their trip planning – close to the record (from Destination Analysts' tracking of print usage over the last 10 years) and a persistent level of engagement over the last few years. 

Aspiration to Action. One of the major challenges highlighted in the Destinations edition of The State of the American Traveler is the need to convert appeal into action. Every destination has this challenge – but in particular destinations which are remote, difficult to access, seen as expensive or otherwise have perceived barriers to travel (real or imagined) struggle to convert aspiration into action. The priority for these destination is to deliver campaigns and content that draw potential travelers through the trip planning process, from dreaming to planning to booking and, finally, to actually experience. This requires deep, relevant content that engages with the user at every stage in the trip planning process – using online video, images, editorial, listings, maps and more – to answer questions and concerns. 

As part of the array of both digital and traditional media that can help deliver this content, digital magazines have, in the last year or two, returned – reimagined with new relevance. Whether web- or app-based, desktop, tablet or mobile, they offer the ability to have personalized content that is rich, immersive and combines inspirational content with strong, relevant calls to action. 

Miles is investing in exploring digital magazines with our clients, plus airlines from KLM to Qantas and their new AWOL Digital Magazine have also been early pioneers in this space.  

 10 Key Takeaways: 

1. Be flexible and ready to adapt as markets may struggle or opportunities arise
2. Oil price creates a strong boost to summer drive travel – be ready with campaigns and content
3. Don’t take your eye off international opportunities – global markets are showing resilience
4. A greater focus on calls to action and, in some markets, value will be required. 
5. Expand reporting to government on the role of tourism in driving the economy and taxes
6. Engage with Millennials – does your campaign and website have the right reach and messaging?
7. Work with the industry to review/expand your “togethering” offerings and marketing
8. Do you have a plan to engage with, plan for and market the sharing economy? 
9. Invest in content and campaigns that integrate and deliver across all media types and channels
10. Turn appeal into action with inspirational, personalized content and specific calls to action 

More Information & Resources 

Download the State of the American Traveler, January 2016 Edition 

“Some Clouds in Tourism’s Sunny Outlook” blog post by Chris Adams

More on digital magazines from Qantas and their new title: AWOL, Skift, February 15, 2016

Destination Analysts for additional research, commentary and their new live Periscope educational sessions.  Click here. 

Watch the State of the American Traveler, January 2016 Edition Webinar – Recorded March 8, 2016