New MMGY Global Survey Finds Return of Pre-Recession Travel Habits
By James Shillinglaw
August 28, 2012 10:36 PM
Leisure travelers are doing less of the things that characterized the economic hardship of recent years and are now adopting more behaviors that confirm the importance of travel in their emerging lifestyles, according to the new MMGY Global/Harrison Group 2012 Portrait of American Travelers, which surveys a nationally representative survey of 2,527 U.S. households.
The annual survey reveals that while the average number of overnight leisure trips taken during the past year has remained essentially unchanged versus the previous year, the motivations underlying these getaways are evolving. “Trading down,” “staycations” and other cost-conscious travel behaviors that emerged during the Great Recession have waned, and the new findings bode well for a boost in 2013 travel spending thanks to a renewed interest in quality experiences that Americans deem “worth it.”
According to the MMGY Global/Harrison Group 2012 Portrait of American Travelers today’s travelers place a high value on the emotional power of travel. More than nine in 10 travelers agree, "The memories I get from my vacations make the trip worth it.” This and other emotional connections echo throughout the study, suggesting this sentiment is the primary reason for renewed interest in travel by consumers who endured years of having less money and time to do so.
Vacationers’ top goals for the coming year speak to this connection – they want to see more of the world and spend more time with family and friends (37 and 29 percent, respectively). In addition, 75 percent of leisure travelers agree, "Taking a vacation is the event I most look forward to each year," and fully half would even take a vacation by themselves to “get away from it all,” if given the opportunity.
Today’s travelers also are more likely to trade up when then travel. More travelers prefer upscale hotels and resorts this year than last, with 26 percent of vacationers preferring luxury lodging versus just 15 percent in 2011, a statistically significant boost. Travelers also increasingly place a premium on the convenience associated with access to full hotel services: eight in 10 now prefer a full-service hotel or resort (with a restaurant), compared to 75 percent just two years ago.
Today’s travelers also emphasize the experience versus the cost. Travelers in all annual household income groups now value “quality” over “savings.” They are more willing to pay full price “as long as I am guaranteed the quality and service I deserve." In what the survey calls a surprising departure from the travel planning scenarios that prevailed during the recent recession, today’s travelers choose the destination (34 percent) and type of trip (33 percent) first, before setting a budget (18 percent) and searching for deals (eight percent).
The number of travelers engaged in general cost-cutting shopping behaviors has also declined. Significantly fewer vacationers now wait for items to go on sale, purchase generic or less expensive brands, or maintain a membership in a travel rewards program. But perceived “value for the price” remains the most influential factor for nine out of 10 travelers when choosing lodging. The influence of “value” on hotel and resort selection has increased coincidental with a decline in the influence of “room rates,” suggesting that travelers really do make a distinction between “price” and “value.”
Today’s travelers also focus more on family. “Togethering” vacations are on the rise in what remains an uncertain economy, with 43 percent of leisure travelers saying family getaways were the primary purpose of one or more leisure trips during the past year, compared to 40 percent just two years ago. This renewed familial focus has also given way to a significant boost in multigenerational travel – 23 percent of all active leisure travelers are now grandparents, and 37 percent of those took at least one vacation with their grandchildren during the past 12 months (compared to just 32 percent in 2011).
Travelers survey also changed the types of trips they took last year. More travelers enjoyed both trips focused on outdoor activities as well as city-based vacations last year, with each type of getaway reflecting a two percentage-point rise since 2011 (46 and 25 percent, respectively). While trips focused on outdoor activities rose in popularity, less-active general sightseeing vacations declined significantly, dropping from 29 percent in 2011 to just 26 percent today. Gambling vacations and trips to see sporting events also declined in popularity.
Travelers also showed a shift in destination interest. While the most popular U.S. states retained their appeal this year (California, Florida, Hawaii, New York and Alaska), the allure of several other domestic destinations has increased. States like Alaska, Hawaii, Arizona and Tennessee saw decreases in interest, while Louisiana, Michigan, Oregon and Washington, D.C., were the beneficiaries of increased interest.
Consistent with the preferences cited earlier, many destinations that feature outdoor recreation now enjoy a statistically significant rise in interest, such as mountain areas like Utah mountain resorts, Lake Tahoe (Calif. and Nev.), Gatlinburg (Tenn.), Pocono Mountains (Pa.), as well as coastal spots like the Mississippi and Florida Gulf Coasts, Atlantic City (N.J.), the Outer Banks (N.C.) and South Carolina shoreline. Other destinations with rising popularity are those that offer unique visitor experiences such as historic Colonial Williamsburg (Va.) and St. Augustine (Fla.), wine-focused Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley (Calif.) and glitzy hotspot Las Vegas. International destinations with rising interest in visitation include Africa, the Middle East and Oceania (Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands, etc.). But fewer U.S. travelers are interested in international trips overall, dropping to nine percent of all leisure travelers today (versus 11 percent last year).
Travelers today also use mobile media differently. The usage of tablets has exploded during the past two years. While less than one in 10 leisure travelers accessed the Internet through an iPad or tablet computer in 2011, this has increased nearly four-fold to 27 percent in 2012. When comparing the activities performed by leisure travelers on tablets versus smartphones, travelers now use tablets more frequently when comparing prices, making air travel, lodging reservations, or purchasing tickets to attractions and other activities. Smartphones are more likely to be used for activities on the go, such as finding nearby restaurants and shops, navigation, scanning QR codes, or using check-in features or apps such as Facebook Places and Foursquare.
Travelers today also exhibit a rise in optimism. U.S. travelers now embrace a more positive view of the world, no doubt another reason for their renewed interest in rediscovering the emotional benefits of travel. Specifically, many more leisure travelers now say they are extremely/very optimistic about “their own future,” “the future of their children,” “their jobs,” “their companies” and “the world in general” than just two years ago.
The MMGY Global/Harrison Group 2012 Portrait of American Travelers is a national survey of 2,527 U.S. households. The results provide a detailed examination of the impact of the current economic environment, social values and emerging media habits of Americans with an annual household income of $50,000 or more who have taken at least one overnight trip of 75 miles or more from home during the previous 12 months.