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Posted December 31, 2018

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As the year draws to a close, we’ve taken a look at the key travel trends that have shaped 2018 and look set to develop further into 2019 for the U.S. travel market.

For the second year running, WEX has engaged Mastercard Advisors to conduct primary consumer research to gather insights into how U.S. travelers view the travel landscape and how these attitudes and preferences will impact travel trends, as well as online and offline travel behaviors in 2019. The self-administered web-based travel trends survey, conducted in October 2018, gathered answers from over 1,500 U.S. consumers across key demographic segments who had taken 3+ personal overnight trips in the past 12 months.

This article previews the survey findings to give you a taste of what is ahead in travel for 2019.

Trips And Spending To Remain Level, International Travel To Increase
Overall, we expect travelers to take a similar number of overnight trips in 2019 to the number taken in 2018. American travelers took slightly fewer overnight trips in 2018 compared to 2017, 7.4 trips on average in 2018 compared to 8.5 in 2017. However, the average number of nights away from home increased slightly, from 17.1 over the past 12 months in 2017, to 17.3 in 2018.

When it comes to spending on leisure travel, almost one third of travelers (32%) spent between $5,000 and $10,000 over the past 12 months in 2018. Spend on travel in 2018 remained largely the same as 2017. Given that the number of trips are set to remain largely the same into 2019 we may expect spending on travel to remain at a similar level as well.

While the number of trips taken and spending on leisure travel look set to remain steady in 2019, American travelers intend to take more international trips in 2019. 100% of travelers surveyed traveled within North and Central America in 2018, this looks set to drop in 2019 with 78% stating they expect to travel for leisure within the region. Meanwhile, Europe and Asia Pacific can expect to see an increase in visitors from the U.S. in 2019.

Travel Trends: Travel Destinations In 2018/2019

20% of those surveyed visited Europe in 2018, 35% plan to do so in 2019 – it is a popular destination across all age groups. Asia Pacific was visited by 12% of American travelers in 2018, 18% expect to take a trip to this region in 2019. Younger travelers are particularly drawn to this region with 29% of Gen Z and 21% of Millennials planning to take a 2018 trip, compared to 15% of Gen X and 16% of Boomers.

When choosing a destination safety is paramount – 64% consider this when deciding where to travel – this decision is also driven by how exciting a destination is (59%), cultural attractions (58%), good food (54%) and the opportunity to relax (51%).

Family And Friends Sway Travel Plans

Visiting family and/or friends is by far the most popular reason for travel amongst Americans – 64% cited this as a type of trip that they will take in 2019. Boomers are more likely to be planning this type of trip than other demographics – 71% will take this type of trip.

Beyond this the attraction of exploring a new city (56% will visit a new city in the U.S.) or of hitting the beach at a resort or hotel (43%) are the top types of trips chosen by travelers. While visiting a new U.S. city is a priority for travelers of all ages, taking a beach vacation is less popular with Gen Z in particular.

Travel Trends: Top 3 Types Of Trips Planned For 2019

Gen Z may be less likely to hit the beach than other age groups, but they are more likely to choose a trip with a purpose. Whereas on average just 4% of those surveyed are planning a volunteering trip, 12% of Gen Z travelers are, and while 7% of travelers are planning to take a class or learn a new skill when travelling, 14% of Gen Z are. Culinary and camping trips are also popular.

Travel Trends: Younger Travelers ARe More Likely To Combine Leisure Travel With A Purpose Than Older Counterparts

Best Price Wins

Our travel trends survey found that, in line with 2017, the top 3 booking channels remained the same in 2018:

  1. Direct with airlines (60% 2017 vs 62% 2018)
  2. Direct with hotels (57% 2017 vs 60% 2018)
  3. Online travel agents (44% 2017 vs 45% 2018)

When asked what most influences choice of booking channel, travelers are won over by finding the best price (60%) – this is true across all demographics. Trust or reliability of a website/agency/app is important to 12% and for 9% a flexible cancellation/change policy is attractive.

Travel Trends: Top 4 Booking Channels In 2018

Younger Travelers More Likely To Skip Vacation Time

Americans are often said to take little time off work, our travel trends survey explored whether this is true. Just over half (54%) of those surveyed said they completely or somewhat agreed that their employer gives sufficient time away from work – this is true across all age groups with Boomers especially agreeing (58%). Over one fifth (22%), however, had not taken all of their allotted vacation days in the past year.

Travel Trends: Work Related Vacation Attitudes

Younger travelers are less likely to have taken all their vacation days – 35% of Gen Z and 29% of Millennials. This only looks set to get worse for these groups as 31% of Gen Z and 26% of Millennials are taking fewer vacation days and working more (compared to 17% overall). What’s more, younger travelers are also finding it harder to disconnect from work when on vacation (26% of Gen Z and 27% of Millennials).

2019 U.S. Travel Trends Report

For detailed insight into the major travel trends impacting the U.S. travel market into 2019 and look out for our 2019 U.S. Travel Trends Report. Based on exclusive research conducted by Mastercard Advisors, the report will cover key topics including:

  • Impact of technology on consumer habits and preferences
  • How to ensure your travel company attracts younger travelers
  • The types of accommodation and trips that are proving popular
  • Business travel booking and payment trends

Follow WEX Travel on LinkedIn and Twitter to be the first to know when the full travel trends report is released.

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Bill Cooper (Coop)

Bill Cooper (Coop)

Since joining WEX in 1997, Bill Cooper (Coop) has helped WEX create an industry leading go-to-market engine in our Fleet and Heavy Truck lines of business. Coop joined our Corporate Payments line of business in 2018, bringing a wealth of experience and knowledge and a unique skillset having led the successful integration of one of our largest acquisition. Coop leads our Enterprise Account Sales team for North America, this team of consultative professionals work with travel, insurance, media and healthcare businesses to simplify processes in complex payment environments.


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