The State of the American Traveler – What is Driving Travel?

Head of Research and Insights
Published 3/4/15
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The State of the American Traveler Winter Edition 2015 is out – and Chris Adams, Miles’ Director of Research and Online Marketing, identifies 11 critical follow-up items and takeaways for tourism marketers. In Part I of this blog Chris focuses on what The State of the American Traveler says about travel prospects for 2015 and the content that travelers use to make decisions on where to go.

Part 1 of 2

Click here for the Second Part of this Blog – “The Hyper Informed Traveler”

The State of the American Traveler is one of the largest studies of U.S. leisure travelers. Conducted by leading research company Destination Analysts, Miles has been the major sponsor of the study since its inception over nine years ago. The research is conducted every six months, has a sample size of more than 2,000 and focuses specifically on U.S. adults who have traveled at least 50 miles for leisure purposes in the past 12 months. More at Destination Analysts

Download your copy of the Winter 2015 State of the American Traveler

Download a PDF version of our March 5, 2015, webinar on The State of the American Traveler, presented with Destination Analysts and the Southeast Tourism Society

1. Travel Prospects Look Strong.

U.S. travel is now returning fully to robust levels of optimism – with positive travel intentions for 2015. Continuing the recovery over the last couple of years, travelers remain upbeat about their travel plans in 2015. In fact, 32% of U.S. leisure travelers plan to increase their travel spending in 2015, 57% indicate they plan to spend about the same and only 11% plan to decrease to travel in the year ahead.

Takeaway: A strong, positive travel marketplace creates new opportunities for every destination and tourism business. However, competition for the travel dollar (both domestically and from international destinations) has never been stronger. See my previous blog on this subject. Assertive marketing is a must.

Perceptions around the cost of gas and airfares impacting travel decisions is at their most positive level in at least seven years

2. Drop in Gas Prices Creates Strong Travel Environment.

The barriers to travel presented by the price of gas and airfares is at their lowest level since the State of the American Traveler was launched 9 years ago. With auto travel still making up 72% of all leisure travel trips (and 85% of U.S. travelers completing at least one leisure trip by car), the drop in gas prices is a major boon to travel.

Takeaways: Low gas prices will provide a major stimulant to both spontaneous drive trips (e.g. weekends away) as well as longer, summer drive vacations. Destinations and their industry partners should review the experiences they are marketing to leverage the opportunities from this growth. However, with attractive airfares, longer-haul destinations such as Hawaii, Europe and Asia-Pacific will have compelling offers in the market for summer travel. Make sure you profile the unique, different and “world class” experiences available in your destination or tourism business.

3. Don’t Forget the Significance of Locals and Day Trips.

The Winter 2015 State of the American Traveler reminds us that a significant number (44%) of all leisure trips (at least 50 miles) were day trips only. Plus more than half (53%) of U.S. leisure travelers did not fly for leisure travel during the year.

Takeaway: Even in a positive tourism market it is smart to encourage locals and nearby residents to travel within your destination or stay/shop/experience your business. This drives a base of regular, repeat visitors, plus builds visitors who can be an evangelist for your destination or business to their friends and family. With around 4/10 leisure trips in the U.S. having a visiting friends and family (VFR) component, this VFR market is important. Promote new experiences and activities to locals, highlight any opportunities around “repeat visitor” or even “locals only” pricing and highlight experiences ideally suited to small group or extended family (VFR) travel.

4. Be Practical and Inspirational in Your Storytelling.

The Winter 2015 State of the American Traveler highlights U.S. leisure travelers are seeking a wide variety of information to help make a decision on where to travel. This ranges from the practical such as hotel information (47%), safety tips (29%) and transportation (23%) but also rich information on things to do – especially dining/cuisine experiences (47%), heritage and history attractions (30%) and events (29%).

Takeaway: Many destinations and tourism businesses still lack the depth, breadth, variety and timeliness of content on their website, or in print publications, that travelers seek. Ensure you have a content plan that is adequately resourced and covers critical practical information such as accommodation options, transportation, unique experiences and even the sensitive issues of safety. Inspirational information from your destination needs to cover the huge range of interests from food and dining to events, nature experience, shopping and more. Thirteen different types of content had at least one in six U.S. leisure travelers indicating that topic as important in their destination decision.

5. Dining and Food Content is Critical.

Continuing a rash of recent research (including the July 2014 State of the American Traveler) highlighting the special impact of unique dining and local food and beverage offerings, this Winter 2015 report emphasize that almost half of U.S. travelers actively look for food and dining information as an important part of their destination decision.

Takeaway: Many destinations have under-invested in compelling food and dining information – especially a strong range of listings for restaurants and related content (e.g. video, photos, chef’s blogs) on cuisine. Many restaurants can be challenging to involve in paid advertising and sponsored content opportunities, so DMOs need to invest in this content themselves or explore feeds from third-party sites or partners (such as local media) on dining content. Target progressive entrepreneurs in your community who have a special cuisine experience and understand the importance of marketing and working closely with the DMO. These sorts of leaders can provide rich content and demonstrate the impact of the DMO to the wider sector. Andy Marshall and Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant in Tennessee provides an example of an exciting dining option with a close relationship with the DMO and their publications.

Click here to read Part 2 of this blog post