SHERMAN, Connecticut—It’s not often one hears the U.S. traveler compared to a butterfly, but the analogy aptly summed the overriding theme of PhoCusWright’s “Key U.S. Consumer Travel Trends” webinar.
The “butterflies” are one of two types of consumers at present, according to presenter Carroll Rheem, senior director of research for the company. They have the confidence to take flight and travel, though the slightest breeze or macroeconomic uncertainty is enough to force them to change course.
In the other bucket are those who refuse to leave the ground. “They’re too cautious to splurge on recreational travel,” she said.
Fortunately, Rheem said, the butterflies outnumber their peers. Thus, the U.S. hotel industry should expect continued growth ahead—albeit at slightly less velocity.
Carroll Rheem, senior director of research for PhoCusWright
“Overall the message is, it’s positive, it’s growing, there’s definitely forward momentum,” she said. “It’s just slowing down a little bit.”
Those who intend to travel during the year ahead, for example, is down slightly from 32% in 2010 to 30% in 2011; the percentage of travelers who said they will take fewer trips in the year ahead is up slightly. Likewise, slightly fewer travelers said they will spend more during 2012, while slightly more travelers said they intend to spend less.
The majority of growth is coming from more active travelers on the high end, Rheem said. During 2011, 10% of U.S. travelers said they took six or more leisure trips, which is up slightly from previous years.
“A lot of the growth happened in the upscale hotel and resort market,” she said. “We can see the shift away from the lower spend categories. … We love to see that trend. That means that average expenditure is increasing.”
The most volatile age demographics are 18 to 24 year olds and 45 to 54 year olds, she said. The former relies solely on salary, and thus even the slightest jitters and disturbances in pay can disrupt confidence and, by extension, discretionary spending.
“Young travelers have to be more preoccupied with earning potential. They need jobs more than anything else. It’s not about their investments like it is for older travelers,” Rheem said.
The baby boomers, on the other hand, are at an age when they must begin to look long term at investments and retirement savings, which can weigh in on decision-making, she said.
Media booking trends
“Social media really isn’t having much of an impact (on booking decisions),” Rheem said.
Only 2% of respondents said they reference social media when planning all trips, whereas 71% said they didn’t reference social media at all.
Which information resources did prove most useful? “Search (cited by 57% of respondents) continues to dominate, followed by online-travel agencies (cited by 42%),” Rheem said.
When it comes time to actually booking a hotel stay, however, those roles reverse. “When it comes to shopping, OTAs reign supreme,” she said.
Destination marketing organization websites have seen a drop off, decreasing from 22% to 19% in 2011.
“They are struggling to keep up with the pace of growth that other categories are seeing,” Rheem said, adding DMO sites are losing out to aggregators and metasearch engines.
Brand.com’s role as an information resource has remained static during the past few years; 22% of respondents said they visited a supplier website to research travel during the past two years.
But hoteliers should avoid thinking of traffic on their proprietary websites as the sole factor of success, Rheem said.
“You’re not going to get everyone to your website, and you shouldn’t have to (to influence booking behaviors),” she said. Marketers have to use ad dollars to hit the right channels at the right time.
“The destination decision happens over a very long period of time,” she added. “It’s about planting a seed, nurturing it and watering it.”