Summer Travelers Seek Vacations With Substance

6 June 2012

Rising interest in experiential travel, traveling solo; A jump at the pump may cause a slump if consumers bump road trip plans

New York -  The latest American Express Spending & Saving Tracker finds that summer travel will remain strong, but the consumer mindset has shifted. Almost 140 million Americans (59%) are planning a summer vacation. They expect to spend an average of $1,180 per person, on par with 2011. But, 48% seek more meaningful experiences and say they will immerse themselves in the culture and heritage of their destination. The survey also indicated that this year's travelers are more likely to go abroad and take advantage of holiday weekend getaways.

"Consumers want deeper, richer experiences when they travel," said David Patron, Vice President of American Express Travel. "When a traveler visits a destination they want to understand the local traditions and feel like they are getting a true insider experience."

For the full data report, and past Spending & Saving Tracker results, click here.

Immersion Conversion 
More travelers (22% vs. 19% in 2011) are looking to incorporate their personal hobbies and interests into the travel experience, whether it's a culinary retreat, a hiking expedition, or a spa escape. This is especially true for those planning weekend getaways, where 36% (up from 22% in 2011) noted an interest in embedding cultural activities into their itineraries, including museum visits, historical sites, and national monuments. The most popular destinations for domestic travel this year include Florida(19%), California (15%, up from 8% last year), New York (10%) and North Carolina (9%).

While domestic travel will make up the majority of vacations this summer, a larger number of Americans plan to broaden their horizons and head overseas, with 16% opting to travel internationally. The Cayman Islands (7%), Italy (7%), and the UK (6%) ranked as the top international destinations for summer travelers, while Italy (10%) and the UK (11%) resonated most with the affluent market.

Long Weekend Trips Spike….Will the Price of Gas?
More Americans plan to travel over Holiday weekends this summer (43% up from 36%), particularly over the Fourth of July and Memorial Day weekends, with a quarter of travelers planning three or more weekend trips throughout the summer.

With most looking to get away for a short stint, weekend traffic jams may get worse. Forty-two percent are keeping costs down by driving to their destinations, with 69% planning to travel by car. But while driving may be more cost effective than flying, almost half (48%) acknowledged that rising gas prices will affect their driving plans. Among those who say they won't, most admit they'll come a point where they will have to put their foot (and gas nozzle) down. Americans sticking to their current driving plans say they'll tolerate an average of $5.00 per gallon before they'll be forced to reduce their driving.

Camp WannaGetAway
While family travel, 'mancations,' and girlfriend getaways remain popular this summer, the data suggests a trend towards tranquil travel, whether that means a vacation alone or without the kids. More will pack for one this year, with 16% of travelers planning to hit the road and skies alone, up from 12% in 2011.

Parents are also taking advantage of their children's time at camp to travel. Nineteen percent (vs 16% in 2010) plan to send their children to overnight camp for the summer, and 66% say they will take advantage of this time to travel without them.

Staying Connected and Getting Away
More than half of summer travelers (56%) are going online to book their travel, but 29% admit they feel overwhelmed by the vast amount of information the internet provides.

Once at their destination, 83% plan to stay connected and nearly two thirds (64%) of those expect to check their work email daily over their vacations. When it comes to the cost of staying connected, fewer consumers (65% vs 72% in 2011) are unwilling to pay for internet service. Nearly 40% use their Smartphone for navigation, local deals, and planning experiences during their trips, while 50% are referencing the internet to do the same.

Reward Points and Loyalty Programs 
For many, travel wouldn't be the same without their loyalty program, whether than means earning points and miles or using them to offset the cost of their vacation. Forty percent of consumers surveyed belong to a loyalty program with either reward points or frequent flier miles. To keep costs down, 19% percent of summer travelers (up from 15% in 2011) are using rewards points to book. Almost half (47% vs 43% in 2011) are charging their travel expenditures to a credit or charge card.