MMGY Global has released its 2015 Portrait of American Travelers® (POAT) revealing emerging shifts in the travel habits and intentions of Americans that call into question several prevailing beliefs maintained by industry marketers. The results also have significant implications for the manner in which the industry markets its products, and the way in which consumers are likely to respond.
The 25th annual survey of 2,832 U.S. adults, the longest continuous survey of its kind in America, reveals impactful implications for the industry including an uncertain outlook for the future growth of online travel agencies (OTAs), an impressive comeback for the cruise industry, provocative insights into the preferences of Millennial travelers, the sources of information affluents trust, and who is helping fuel the growing sharing economy.
“We were surprised to find such significant shifts in travel preferences in just one year. In addition, the survey revealed several unexpected trends across generational groups,” said Steve Cohen, vice-president of Insights for MMGY Global. “Clearly the industry is in a state of flux, as the way people view and make decisions regarding travel is evolving at a much faster pace than in previous years.”
MMGY Global’s Portrait of American Travelers® provides an in-depth examination of the impact of the current economic environment on prevailing social values, and the emerging travel habits, preferences, and intentions of Americans. It is widely regarded as a leading barometer of travel trends and an essential tool for both the development and evolution of brand and marketing strategy.
Following is a brief summary of several key shifts revealed in the 2015 POAT study:
Brand.com Now Trumps OTAs When Consumers Make Reservations
Despite healthy earnings and reports of growth amid ongoing mergers and acquisitions, the new findings suggest looming challenges for OTAs. Travelers are increasingly migrating from OTAs when making bookings and heading directly to travel brand sites to both research and book travel at a substantially higher rate than in previous years:
- Only 58 percent of travelers obtained travel information from an OTA during the past year, down significantly from the 84 percent who did so in 2014.
- From a booking perspective, the insights revealed by the survey are even more provocative: among travelers who regularly seek information from an OTA site when planning a vacation, only 13 percent typically book their reservations on these sites, down from 36 percent just one year ago.
- Respondents cited the main reasons for booking direct are a belief they will get the best prices by doing so (64%), and that they generally find it more convenient than booking with an OTA (67%).
Despite the adverse press coverage the cruise industry has received during the last couple of years, this year’s POAT reveals that interest in cruising is actually up, and its appeal extends across all generational groups:
- Almost half (48%) of all travelers are now interested in taking a cruise vacation during the next two years, up eight percent from the level who expressed interest in 2014.
- Surprisingly, Millennials along with Matures, now show the highest growth of interest in cruising. Fifty-one percent of travelers from each of these generational groups are interested in taking a cruise during the next two years. This is just one example of how Millennials are fueling overall growth for the industry in an unexpected way: younger Millennials appear to find cruising an affordable and convenient vacation option to explore.
Considered by many to be an “adventure driven” generation, it has been suggested that Millennials are apt to seek travel experiences in far off and more exotic locales, yet more and more are opting to enjoy and explore adventures in their own backyard:
- Millennials, more than any other age cohort, are increasingly interested in “staycationing,” with over half (55%) taking a vacation close to home as an alternative to traveling a greater distance during the past year. This figure is up 14 percent from 2014, and a remarkable 23 percent from 2013.
- Millennials took staycations an average of 3.1 times during the past year, nearly as often as they took traditional vacations – for an average of 3.4 times during the past year.
- Thirty-four percent of Millennials intend to take more staycations during the next 12 months.
- When asked why, the reasons cited most frequently included a desire to stay in one place and relax (37%), to spend more time with friends and family (34%), and save money for another vacation (30%).
- Millennial families intend to take more vacations over the next year than Millennial couples, 43 percent compared to 27 percent.
- Millennial families also intend to spend an average of more than $6,000 on vacations during the next 12 months, 19 percent higher than they spent on vacations during the previous year.
Affluent travelers (those with an annual household income over $150,000) are increasingly turning to travel review sites for advice and recommendations about travel, with more admitting they trust the opinions of these strangers over those expressed by their circle of family and friends:
- When searching for inspirational travel ideas, fewer affluent travelers are looking to friends and family. Only 37 percent consider their advice influential, down 11 percent from last year.
- Forty-one percent of affluent travelers say they visited a travel review site for information about a travel destination or supplier during the past year, up seven percent from 2014.
- Ascribing even greater weight to reviews and ratings by fellow consumers, 53 percent of affluent travelers now trust review sites more than institutional/organizational ratings such as those published by AAA and Forbes.
- Overwhelmingly, the top resource cited for advice on both destinations and travel suppliers was TripAdvisor (87%).
Shared travel services are gaining popularity with all generational groups. While Millennials are leading the way when it comes to using non-traditional lodging, booking alternative accommodations on sites like Airbnb and HomeAway, and patronizing ride-sharing services like Uber, they are surprisingly not alone:
- Seventy-four percent of Boomers and 72 percent of GenXers now use shared services and would be interested in doing so again, just slightly less than the 80 percent of Millennials.
- Ride-sharing is not just about sharing a ride. Travelers are using this service for different reasons, depending on their age, with some citing safety and cashless payment options as primary reasons for using services like Uber. Among travelers who have used ride-sharing on vacation, 79 percent like not having to pay their driver directly and feel safer since the app identifies the driver and handles payment.
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