Americans’ itch to travel as strong as ever
Americans’ itch to travel as strong as ever
16 SEPTEMBER 2015 6:32 AM
New and existing research reinforces the idea that Americans place travel—everything from weekend getaways to 10-day trips to Europe—above most other leisure pursuits.
It’s a silly name—seekenders—but it sheds light on something that is more than a trend, the American sense of wanderlust, the itch to travel that can never be scratched sufficiently.
Peter Yesawich, vice chairman of MMGY Global, a travel marketing agency, has for several decades preached the idea that Americans feel travel is their birthright. Some households put vacationing at the top of their lists of leisure priorities and even substitute it for other more-practical ways to spend their money. The discussion is often thus: Do we paint the house this summer or go to the beach? According to travel trend guru Yesawich, the beach wins more times than not.
And despite a lot of press about millennials as poster children for those with the travel bug, it’s not a new phenomenon. After all, Kemmons Wilson, the father of the modern hotel industry, founded Holiday Inns as a way to accommodate his family’s yearning for travel. While on a cross-country vacation in the early 1950s, Wilson couldn’t find hotels of consistent quality across the country. When he returned home, he conceived the idea for Holiday Inns as a way for families and business travelers to find standardized accommodations wherever they went.
The seekenders term is the result of a study commissioned by brand Hampton by Hilton. The findings build on earlier work by Yesawich and others to show the place travel holds in the list of priorities for many Americans. Some of the results seem to defy logic: 68% of respondents said they would rather embark on a bucket-list trip than get a big promotion. Other results make a lot of sense: 82% of those questioned would travel for a year without pay if money weren’t a concern.
According to the Hampton study, these seekenders like to take advantage of weekends to satisfy their travel urges. And this travel, which spans multiple generations and not just millennials, is often based around one or more pursuits: food, sports, music or outdoor activities.
Short-term economic trends also help to fuel high levels of leisure travel in the United States and elsewhere. The strong U.S. dollar versus other currencies spurred a lot of Americans to go overseas, especially to Europe, this spring and summer. And despite the strain on the Chinese economy, there remain millions of deep-pocketed consumers in that country for whom travel is still a novelty, but one they want to pursue.
More good news comes from the airline business, where fares have fallen and are forecast to continue to fall or stabilize. In the 12-month period ending in July, fares in the United States dropped 5.6%. And according to one forecast, the average round-trip domestic airfare will dip 2.8% through November. 
And while some hoteliers curse online travel agencies for the big commissions they take for room bookings, the OTAs provide an invaluable service to the hotel industry. That’s the massive amount of advertising they employ to promote their brands but, more importantly, to rev up consumers’ desires to take leisure trips.
According to one source, last year 18 online travel brands spent a combined $625 million on national television advertising in the U.S. Leading spenders were Trivago at $109 million and Expedia at $106 million. It isn’t your imagination if you think there’s an OTA or metasearch site ad on TV every 30 minutes or so.
Of course, this data and insight is only valuable to hotel operators and marketers if they act on it. While the prime summer travel season is over, there’s a weekend happening 52 times a year, and that represents a lot of opportunity to build high-rated business.
The key to the Hampton study was its focus on the four prime pursuits favored by weekend travelers. These areas should give marketers keys to partnerships with local and regional businesses to create packages and cooperative marketing programs to attract the seekender market.
It’s an undisputable fact that Americans love to travel and many times will do so at the drop of a hat. There’s no excuse for you not to capitalize on this trend and scratch the American itch to travel.
Email Ed Watkins or find him on Twitter.
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