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Beyond Domestic: Study Finds U.S. International Travel Will Increase In 2018

Posted March 26, 2018


How much do U.S. travelers expect to travel internationally this year? That’s one of the questions Mastercard and WEX sought to answer in their 2018 Travel Trends survey.  This is the first in a series of posts taking a look at the findings.

More than 1,500 respondents shared their travel habits and preferences. While 93% of respondents say they’ll travel within the U.S. in 2018, 62% plan to travel internationally this year—a 12% increase over 2017. Thirty-six percent of those surveyed expect to take more trips in 2018 than last year, while 39% will travel the same amount, 19% plan to take fewer trips and 6% are unsure.

International travel is seen as an “opportunity to learn about other people and cultures” by 84% of respondents, and 64% said they’re “comfortable traveling in foreign countries.”

Where will they go?

Outside of North America, Europe is the most popular spot at 29%, which is a 7% increase over 2017. Next, Central American/Caribbean was cited by 23% of the respondents (up from 17% last year). Australia/New Zealand came in at 6%, up from 2%.

Asia, South America and Africa saw slight increases.

While not specific to U.S. travelers, the U.N. World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) 2018 expectations are consistent with the findings from Mastercard and WEX findings. The UNWTO noted in a January press release that “based on current trends, economic prospects and the outlook by the UNWTO Panel of Experts, UNWTO projects international tourist arrivals worldwide to grow at a rate of 4%-5% in 2018…Europe and the Americas are both expected to grow by 3.5%-4.5%, Asia and the Pacific by 5%-6%, Africa by 5%-7% and the Middle East by 4%-6%.”

How will they decide?

When asked what factors respondents consider when making decisions about where to travel, “safe place to visit” was number one at 63%. Travelers are also looking for a location that “will be relaxing” (58%), “will be exciting” (56%), has “great food” (54%) and “cultural attractions” (53%). Forty-eight percent noted that friends and family impacted their choice.

New international destinations are calling

Travelers have help when deciding where to travel this year. In addition to recommendations from friends and family, there are countless lists of top 10, top 25 or even top 50 locations for 2018. From the best luxury destinations to the top bargain spots, the safest places or the up-and-coming locales, there is a list. Some spots are included on many lists (think Finland, Morocco, Grenada and South Korea). But, each list also includes a surprise or two.

Travel + Leisure’s “The 50 Best Places to Travel in 2018 beautifully showcases locations from Argentina to Zambia. Kate Spring describes Šolta, Croatia, (“the jewel of the Adriatic Sea”) as “home to more than 1,200 islands” and adds that there’s a new, more convenient way to travel between the islands this year with “UberBOAT, from the popular ride-sharing app.”

Looking for luxury travel in “far-flung and lesser known” locations? Travel Weekly recommends accommodations like the restored Raffles Europejski in Warsaw (“which was once one of the most luxurious hotels in the Russian Empire”); Silversands, Grenada’s first luxury resort; the Rosewood Luang Prabang in Laos; Six Senses Bhutan, and two One&Only Resorts opening in Rwanda (one is a working tea plantation).

For the budget-minded,’s created The 27 Best Budget Travel Destinations for 2018. Their panel of experts suggests diverse options, such as Xian, China and it’s Terracotta Warriors. Other destinations included on the list are Montenegro, Senegal, Namibia, Herzegovina, Morocco and Cambodia.

As the Mastercard-WEX survey found, U.S. travelers are focused on safety. And created a list for those visitors --“the safest places on earth” to travel. Their suggestions: Iceland, Chile, Australia, Oman, Norway, Greenland, Canada and Malaysia.

The Lonely Planet offers lists of the top 10 cities, the top 10 countries, the top 10 regions and the top 10 best value destinations. The top 10 countries list includes several locations already mentioned as well as Djibouti, Georgia and Mauritius.

And this is just a handful of the travel lists out there for 2018. What’s in style changes from year-to-year. A location that once was top of everyone’s list can fall out of favor and then see a resurgence a few years later. So many factors impact where travelers will head each year—a global event, a national celebration, a change in government or policies, an attractive exchange rate or something as simple as a viral video.

In a New York Times article on bargain destinations for 2018, writer Justin Sablich quotes Hipmunk’s chief executive, Adam Goldstein. “It’s all about supply and demand. In this case, demand is in response to things like currency fluctuations, perception of which destinations are hot and supply is determined by factors such as airlines launching new routes or changing what size planes they’re using.”

Keeping up with travelers changing tastes

Serving these travelers and their changing interests in destinations requires partnerships that help travel companies respond, wherever they need to do business. Handling payments is a critical part of the dynamic travel market, and virtual payments can make it easier to operate in new locations. VCNs allow suppliers to be paid quickly in more than 150 currencies, which typically saves 3% per transaction by avoiding FX rate mark ups and cross-currency fees. Also, billing in up to 21 currencies globally can avoid FX rate fluctuation risk.

International travel continues to increase and travelers continue to explore new places, looking for new experiences. The ability to adapt within this fluid industry is critical for success.

Download the full 2018 Travel Trends Report


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