Julie Freeman and Nancy Friedman
Julie Freeman (L) & Nancy Friedman

With the summer travel season in full swing, many Americans are heading off for their vacations. Despite favorable exchange rates in many parts of the globe, global instability and safety concerns may shift where Americans choose to travel and how much they’ll spend on their vacations this summer and into next year.

Vacation spending down

MMGY Global’s 2017–2018 Portrait of American Travelers survey revealed that for the first time since 2013, the approximately 60 million traveling households in the U.S. will spend less on leisure travel this year (between $1 billion and $5 billion less), a dip from its eight-year high in 2016.

O'Dwyer's July '17 Travel & Tourism PR MagazineThis article is featured in O'Dwyer's Jul. '17 Travel & Tourism PR Magazine

U.S. travelers spent an average of $4,833 on vacations during the previous 12 months. And, travelers reported an intention to spend less on travel than they did the year prior. The survey did find, however, that Millennial families are going to spend more and travel more than all other generational segments.

Shift to domestic vacations

In what MMGY Global is projecting to be a slowdown year for the travel industry, Americans are choosing to stay on U.S. soil and experience more of what our 50 states have to offer. The Portrait of American Travelers survey revealed that as political concerns rise, preference is shifting toward domestic rather than international destinations.

Domestic vacations now make up 85 percent of American vacations, up seven points from last year. In fact, 13.9 million more vacations were taken within the U.S. compared to outside the country in the past year.

Boomer travelers are leading the way in domestic vacationing, with 90 percent of travelers within this generation staying in the U.S. on their vacations, followed by 88 percent of Mature travelers, 85 percent of Xers and 79 percent of Millennials.

Don’t overlook young families

Despite the shift toward domestic travel, there is one segment that seems unfazed by shifts in global stability. Millennial families with kids lead all other segments in intent to travel abroad, with 26 percent of these travelers suggesting that they will travel internationally in the next 12 months.

This same group also intends to increase their spend and frequency in travel this year, making them a prime opportunity market for travel brands, both within the U.S. and beyond.

Road tripping reclaims travelers’ hearts

As Americans increasingly favor domestic over international vacations, road trips are back on trend, reclaiming their place as the great American pastime. In the last 12 months, 39 percent of vacations taken by American travelers were road trips, up significantly from 22 percent the year prior.

Almost half of American travelers took at least one road trip during the past 12 months, and MMGY Global predicts even more will do so next year. So, what’s the appeal of road trips? The majority chose this sort of vacation because of the stops they make along the way and the ability to pack everything needed for vacation in the car.

Attractions are top vacation experience

Attractions have become a very important element of the American vacation experience. More than half of all vacations (53 percent) include at least one visit to an attraction, including museums, aquariums, theme parks and other attractions. And, 68 percent of travelers chose the majority of attractions they would visit before the vacation even began.

With young families driving travel intent and spend, one might believe that theme parks and amusement parks lead the list of attractions sought out by travelers. However, the top-ranking attractions include art and history museums (65 percent), aquariums (59 percent) and science museums (56 percent), with theme parks falling fourth on the list (55 percent).

Implications for travel marketers

• The shift to more domestic travel helps insulate the domestic travel market from the flat growth predicted in the coming year. However, marketers must be innovative, as there’s more competition from a smaller list of options. It’s essential for DMOs to fight for traveler attention and interest as early in the planning cycle as possible.

• With the resurgence of road trips, travel marketers may want to consider additional marketing and promotional focus on their drive markets as a way to maximize revenues.

• With this shift, U.S. destinations, hotels and attractions have the opportunity to maximize their marketing and promotional efforts and be more targeted in reaching their core travelers or guests.

• U.S. destinations, hotels and attractions need to ensure they keep their websites relevant and as innovative as possible, as Google’s new tourism products are affecting how U.S. travelers are consuming content.

• Creative and timely content online and offline is crucial. As public relations professionals, we need to ensure we’re peeling back all the layers and discovering new and different features and offerings for our clients’ destinations, hotels and attractions that will pique the interest of both media and potential travelers.

Now in its 27th year, MMGY Global’s Portrait of American Travelers survey provides an in-depth examination of the impact of the current economic environment, prevailing social values and emerging travel habits, preferences and intentions of Americans. It’s widely regarded as a leading barometer of travel trends and an essential tool for both the development and evolution of brand and marketing strategy.

The Portrait of American Travelers survey polled nearly 3,000 U.S. adults who have taken at least one overnight trip of 75 miles or more away from home during the past 12 months. Respondents included those from more than 2,000 households with an annual income between $50,000 and $124,999; more than 700 households with an annual income between $125,000 and $249,999; and more than 160 households with an annual income of more than $250,000. Data was collected in February. For more information about these insights, or to subscribe to the 2017–2018 Portrait of American Travelers white papers, visit www.mmgyglobal.com. 

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Nancy Friedman is a Partner and Julie Freeman is Managing Director of NJF, an MMGY Global company.