Leisure Travel Summit forecasts strong summer travel season

Senior travel executives at the ninth annual Leisure Travel Summit in New York last week stated that American travelers will hit the road, skies and seas in larger numbers this summer than last year. The four Summit panelists from Best Western International, U.S. Travel Association, AAA, and Digital DNA Infusion all observed that despite the leisure travel market continuing to heat up, consumers remain keen to get the most for their travel dollar.

“I think the most important thing is that what leisure travelers still want, and have probably always wanted, is value,” said David Atkins, principal at the digital management consultancy firm Digital DNA Infusion. “Whether that’s a deal or an add-on (such as free breakfast), there are all of these ways you can communicate value to the customer. So to me, value doesn’t necessarily mean price reduction.”

“Americans are ready to travel this summer.  AAA travel agents are reporting strong summer sales particularly in cruising,” said Bill Sutherland, AAA VP of travel services. “A rise in ‘home port’ cruises departing from ports nearer to a traveler’s home also leads to more drive trips and overnight hotel stays for a number of travelers."

Sutherland stated that value continues to be top of mind for Americans who want to get the most out of their vacation investment, whether they are taking a family road trip, romantic getaway or a family reunion cruise. A recent AAA survey showed that the most important reasons people use a travel agent are they are a knowledgeable resource and they know how to get the best deals and save money.

Another factor driving demand for summer travel comes from the recent harsh winter that impacted the majority of the U.S., according to Dorothy Dowling, SVP of marketing and sales at Best Western International. Best Western's advanced booking numbers across its 2,200 North American properties are up 11 percent in room nights compared to last summer, and the company's recent “I Dream of Summer” content campaign drew more than 30,000 entrants building their ideal summer getaway on Facebook and generated the highest levels of repeat engagement the brand has seen on social media. 

“We do believe this summer is going to be extraordinarily strong,” Dowling said. “We know that memories are created on summer vacations and we think Americans will be investing in the opportunities to build memories with their families.”

The positive impact time off has on families is at the center of U.S. Travel Association’s (U.S. Travel) new Travel Effect campaign, which was the kick-off topic during the Summit. Gary Oster, U.S. Travel’s EVP of member services, said that though the numbers show the health and business benefits of time off, Americans continue to leave unused days on the table. Not taking this time off has a negative impact on everyone’s bottom line.

“We need to start a national conversation around the importance of taking earned time off,” Oster said, referring to Travel Effect. “This is a country that is 24/7, always on, go-go-go, and it’s taking a toll on our economy, business, and our personal well-being. If we all took just one more day, Americans would be happier and healthier; businesses would benefit from refreshed, focused employees; and the American economy would see increased spending and tax revenue.”

AAA survey data also shows that 36 percent of Americans plan to travel with multiple generations of family members, a 4 percent jump over last year. Panelists predicted that the multigenerational travel trend will remain on the uptick and needs to be catered to by everyone in the industry.
“It is becoming something quite significant,” urged Sutherland. “Multigenerational travel is growing and will continue to grow as a segment in travel.”
One of the factors spurring the trend towards multigenerational travel is social media. Atkins pointed specifically to the high number of baby boomers on Facebook, where they are now the largest growth category. This digital connection helps families share ideas and inspiration during the travel planning process.