American travelers shift priorities

Travelers’ priorities are changing as consumers become more conscientious, the sharing economy becomes more mainstream and concerns about safety grow. The world is changing quickly and, as a result, so is how and why Americans travel, according to researchers at MMGY Travel Intelligence, MMGY Global’s research and insights company.

Now in its 29th edition, MMGY’s 2019 "Portrait of American Travelers" report found that while priorities are being reassessed, travelers intend to spend about the same on travel in 2019 ($5,025) as they report having spent in 2018 ($5,038). And although they plan to take slightly fewer vacations (3.2 in 2019 vs. 3.5 in 2018), travelers expect to spend 17 percent more than they did at this same point in 2018. Researchers note that this is in part a reflection of a shift in the age of those who are most likely to travel in the coming year.

“While there may be some economic clouds on the horizon that could slow down travel spend, we see signs of cautious optimism among travelers in the near term but not from the generations from whom we have seen historic growth in the past,” said Chris Davidson, EVP of MMGY Travel Intelligence.

He said that instead of a younger audience, Gen X and baby boomers are the travelers who are driving optimism regarding anticipated spending within the next 12 months.

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The Conscientious Impact

Because there are more choices and information now more than ever, people often have different motivations for how and why they choose to travel. Some of the recent factors affecting these decisions are concerns about tourism overcrowding, climate change and its impact on destinations and how travel service providers demonstrate responsibility in addressing these new challenges, according to the report.

Of those surveyed, 60 percent of American travelers believe tourism overcrowding will have a significant impact on destinations they choose to visit within the next five to 10 years. Meanwhile, 48 percent of travelers agreed that climate change will significantly affect their decisions about what destinations they want to visit over the same time frame.

Additionally, some travelers are looking for travel companies to do their part on these issues, with 13 percent of American travelers indicating that they have selected a travel service provider based on perceptions of sustainability and environmental considerations during the past 12 months. That figure is up from 8 percent in 2018. The research shows that millennial families are driving the increase here. Also, 60 percent of travelers said that corporate responsibility is a reason for loyalty.

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The Sharing Economy Impact

The sharing economy is here to stay, and on its way in it has certainly disrupted the traditional hotel industry. MMGY’s survey found that American travelers are giving the space more attention. The percentage of American travelers using sharing economy accommodations increased 45 percent in just the past year (from 20 percent to 29 percent). That figure is expected to grow again in the year ahead, with 34 percent of travelers saying they are likely to use these accommodations during a future vacation.

Respondents listed several reasons they choose sharing economy accommodations:

  • vacationing in a home away from home: 76 percent
  • arranging sharing economy accommodations was a good experience: 74 percent
  • desire to stay in an unusual place: 69 percent
  • cost factors: 67 percent

The Safety Impact

In addition to cost, safety plays a huge role—especially for international travel—into why and how travelers make their decisions. Researchers noted that these are considerably more important obstacles than concerns about language and communication, travel time to and from the destination, and access to quality healthcare while traveling.

In particular, millennials are driving this impact. Their desire for safety in a destination rose the most this year, up six points from 79 percent in 2018 to 85 percent in 2019.

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The Great American Road Trip

Road trips continue to grow in favor with Americans, according to the report. Since 2015, there has been a 64 percent increase in respondents reporting that they have taken a road trip. This year, 63 percent of travelers said they intend to take a road trip in the next 12 months.

While many think road trips are appealing due to cost savings, researchers noted that those who have taken such a trip intend to take more vacations and spend more money on vacations in 2019 than those who have not taken a road trip. The primary reasons for taking road trips were the ability to make stops along the way and the ability to pack everything in the car.

Researchers also identified a variation to the traditional road trip where travelers fly to a starting point and then take a road trip from there. Labeled as Wings & Wheels travelers, this group is being led by millennial families. Fifty-seven percent of millennial families took road trips that began in another city, compared to just 41 percent of singles and 28 percent of couples. Additionally, 71 percent of these Wings & Wheels travelers agree with the statement, “Giving my children the opportunity to see the world makes me feel like a better parent,” compared to just 57 percent of the road trippers who originate their travel from home.

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