Last year, Americans took 1.9 billion trips for leisure and business purposes, generating more than $758 billion in direct expenditures. This number was expected to increase this year as more families ditched the "staycation" and took to the roads (and skies).
The average family was projected to spend $1,704 this year on their summer vacation, up 9% from $1,567 last year, according to a survey by global travel company Mondial Assistance USA. Whether it was across the border to visit grandma or across the ocean for an enriching cultural experience, travelers were willing to spend their money if they could come close to planning the best trip possible.
In one-on-one interviews with travelers in Washington D.C., Memphis and Los Angeles, a research team of USA Today employees and our Design and Innovation Group in summer 2010 found vast similarities between diverse demographics. From a woman taking her first trip abroad with her husband to a family driving through America in an RV, our research confirmed that they all wanted pretty much the same things -- comfort, fun and unexpected memories.
Here are some of the key findings:
- Everyone is their own travel agent with social media. With online user reviews influencing 75% of Americans' travel choices today, people are relying heavily on the opinions of friends, family and even strangers. Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and blogs allow travelers to connect instantly with others who have experienced the culture, environment or language of their desired destination.
- The smartphone is the Swiss Army knife of travel. The smartphone provides travelers a go-to tool for figuring out what to do, where to go and how to get there. It also allows travelers to bring a few of their rituals and routines with them along on the road. The smartphone becomes their atlas, GPS, notepad, alarm clock, music player and phone with just the touch of a button.
- Safety in paper. Technology has the tendency to malfunction right when we need it. And the uncertainty of not being able to access flight reservation codes or hotel information makes the anxiety-stricken traveler even more nervous. That's why even in today's digital world, most people create and take paper documents with all the necessary information with them.
- Tack on a "bizcation" for balance. The travel industry has traditionally classified people's travel purposes as business or pleasure. But today's travelers are increasingly adopting the term "bizcation" and combining them as personal cost-cutting measures. Nearly 72% of those surveyed recently by Orbitz say they've extended a business trip with a leisure component in the last year with 35% intentionally coordinating a business trip to a location they want to vacation in. Almost half, 43% had a significant other or friend accompany them on a business trip simply to spend time as their schedule allowed.
- Unexpected moments help star ratings. The trip memories that stand out in people's minds the most are those unexpected, unplanned moments that won't be found on an itinerary. It's waking up early and realizing you get to see the sunrise over the mountains or making a wrong turn and finding the most delicious hole-in-the-wall pizza joint. These moments are key in creating the best post-trip memories and often influence how a trip's overall success is rated.
Understanding these segments is key to marketers and advertisers creating and enhancing their products and services to meet the needs of today's travelers.