HB ON THE SCENE: Sustainability, Safety & A New Type of Road Trip Among American Traveler Trends

NEW YORK—At a presentation this week here, MMGY Travel Intelligence, MMGY Global’s research and insights company, revealed the findings of its 2019 “Portrait of American Travelers” survey. One current theme? The priorities of American travelers are shifting.

“There are some really interesting things about how the priorities of travelers are changing in the world and what that means for us as travel industry professionals,” said Chris Davidson, EVP, MMGY Travel Intelligence.

Davidson noted that one of the current debates in the industry is the horizon line for travel. “In many ways, we’re predicting there will be an overall recession that will affect the travel industry, but the question really isn’t if there will be one since we know there will be one—it’s a cyclical thing—but when,” he said, noting that traveler sentiment expectations are currently a little tempered, but “overall, the travel economy is still really strong… There’s a lot of optimism.”

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 while they plan to take slightly fewer vacations (3.2 in 2019 vs. 3.5 in 2018), travelers anticipate spending 17% more than they did at this same point in 2018. This is in part a reflection of a shift in the age of those who are most likely to travel in the coming year, according to the report.

While many of the top destinations people want to visit have remained the same—Hawaii, for example—the study found there has been an increase in desire to travel to places like Denver; Vail, CO; Seattle; Austin, TX; and Portland, OR. “These are destinations that are really growing substantially in appeal,” Davidson said. “Seattle, for example, you might think it’s millennials driving this, but it’s actually more driven by boomer scores. It spans generations and is not isolated to a younger audience.

“One of the things we believe is going on is as people’s priorities change about travel, people see something of themselves in the places they visit,” he continued. “Some 41% tell us the places they visit say something about who they are as people, and that would indicate a lot of these destinations really have to work hard on building their brand appeal. Denver, Vail, Seattle, Austin and Portland have all done a very good job of building a destination brand and identity that connects with people.”

The following are highlights from this year’s “Portrait of American Travelers” study.

Conscientious Consumerism

Not surprisingly, given the trend toward authentic experiences, today’s traveler is concerned about the impact travel has on the world.

Sixty 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.

Some 48% of travelers agree that climate change will have a significant influence on what destinations they want to visit in the next five to 10 years.

Thirteen percent of American travelers indicate they have selected a travel service provider based on perceptions of sustainability and environmental considerations during the past 12 months, up from 8% in 2018. Millennial families are driving this increase.

Corporate responsibility creates brand loyalty; 62% of travelers indicate corporate responsibility as a reason for loyalty to airlines, with 60% believing the same for hotels.

Sharing Economy

The sharing economy continues to disrupt the travel industry. The percentage of American travelers using sharing economy accommodations increased 45% in just the last year from 20% to 29%. It is expected to increase again in the year ahead, with 34% of respondents saying they are likely to use sharing accommodations during a future vacation. Factors such as cost and the allure of staying somewhere unique are motivating travelers.

Wings & Wheels: The New Road Trip 

Following a trend released in last year’s survey, the Great American Road Trip continues its surge in popularity. Since 2015, there has been a 64% increase in respondents reporting they have taken a road trip. This year, 63% of travelers said they intend to take a road trip in the next 12 months.

However, the motivation behind road trips isn’t the potential to save money. Those who have taken a road 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 respondents mentioned for taking a road trip are the ability to make stops along the way and the ability to pack everything in the car. Significantly more Road Trippers than non-Road Trippers are motivated to travel by the prospect of exploration, the likelihood to enhance existing relationships, and the potential for self-discovery along the way. Seventy-seven percent indicate going on vacation brings their family closer together.

The survey also identified a popular variation on the traditional road trip: one in which travelers fly to a starting point and then begin the road trip. Termed Wings & Wheels travelers, the study found this type of travel is being propelled by millennial families who believe road trips evoke a sense of nostalgia and are a means of family bonding that stimulates the creation of valuable vacation memories. Fifty-seven percent of Millennial families took road trips that began from another city, compared to just 41% of singles and 28% of couples. And, 71% 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% of the Road Trippers who originate their travel from home.

Safety Concerns

Safety is becoming more important to travelers when choosing destinations to visit, as well as deciding whether or not to travel internationally. In fact, cost and safety are the two most significant barriers to international travel (both short-haul and long-haul international travel) for Americans. These are significantly more important obstacles than concerns about language and communication, travel time to and from the destination, and access to quality health care while traveling. In particular, millennials’ desire for safety in a destination rose the most this year, up six points from 79% in 2018 to 85% in 2019.