Agent Issues Reports highlight travel habits of minorities By Johanna Jainchill / February 01, 2012 Share 1 -- Two in-depth examinations of the travel preferences of the largest American minority groups, African-American and Hispanic travelers, were presented by Mandala Research. The studies, noting a need for the U.S. travel industry to identify profitable niche markets, detail the groups’ traveler preferences, motivations, attitudes, spending patterns and behaviors during leisure trips in the U.S. The Hispanic-traveler research was the focus of an ASTA webinar conducted last week called “Understanding the U.S. Hispanic Traveler.” Nearly 80 agents took part in the webinar, which was designed to provide agents with the skills to break into this market. Laura Mandala, managing director of Mandala Research, said during the webinar that there was a need in the travel industry to identify profitable niche markets and for travel agents to appropriately focus marketing efforts on them. During the webinar, Mandala said that while agents might think they need to speak Spanish to enter the Hispanic market, that isn’t the case. “It is their expertise that is most important,” she said, adding that affluent Hispanics are most likely to use travel agents and are generally bilingual. The U.S. Hispanic travel population holds considerable potential; Mandala pointed out it’s the nation’s fastest-growing travel segment. Its current economic impact is already estimated at more than $42 billion annually and, the report found, that niche is lucrative and growing. The report, based on surveys of 8,188 travelers, identifies important factors to consider when targeting Hispanic travelers. According to the report, 51% of Hispanic households are likely to have children in the household, compared with 38% of the general population. And of those, 42% of Hispanic households have children under 8 years old compared with 38% overall. Those statistics, coupled with Hispanic travelers being more likely to take multi-generation trips, means that “packages that include a diversity of activities for the young and not so young will be important,” said Mandala. Hispanic travelers tend to travel in larger groups than the average traveler, the report found; 31% of overnight travelers have four or more people in their party, compared with 25% for the average traveler. Hispanic travelers also are more likely than the average traveler to travel to a casino, take city day trips and go to theme parks. Hispanic travelers are also Web-savvy and are more likely than other travelers to buy travel on the Internet, with 46% of Hispanic travelers booking their trip online, compared with 41% of travelers overall. The survey also found that Hispanic travelers use social media more than other travelers. The report on African-American travelers differed from the Hispanic report by comparing the data less to the general population and focusing more on the different segmentations of African-American travelers. The report found that the highest concentration of African-American leisure travelers, 52%, reside in the South, and mostly take trips within 500 miles of their homes, compared with 800 miles, on average, by the overall leisure market. The report suggests that marketing efforts to attract African-American travelers would be most effective in the South. Compared to the overall leisure travel market in the U.S., far more African-American leisure travelers prefer trips that involve pampering, 81%, vs. 66% in the general population. A smaller percentage of African-American travelers, compared with other travelers, seek experiences where the destination, its buildings and surroundings feature historical character. Rey Alton, leisure marketing director for Almeda Travel in Houston, arranges many trips for African-American and Hispanic groups. He said that over the last five years, he has noticed an increase in interest from African-American and Hispanic travelers, especially for large group trips. Alton recently arranged for a group of 19 African-American travelers to visit Australia, and every year he handles travel for the local chapter of the National Brotherhood of Skiers, an African-American skiing association. Alton noted that while travel spending of people in general had tapered off over the last few years, Hispanic and African-American travelers had increased their budgets. “For many [of my clients], it’s their first big vacation,” Alton said. “We definitely have to help a lot of people in regards to obtaining a passport.” Alton said he is seeing more interest in destination weddings from African-American travelers as well as “bucket list” trips to places like Australia, and girlfriend getaways. Alton said his business comes from a variety of sources, but in keeping with Mandala’s findings, word of mouth is key. “It starts off with local groups, and they have friends in other places, and it becomes national,” he said. Social media is also huge, he said. “Someone sees your pictures, you’ll get some calls,” he said. “‘Hey, I saw that trip. I want to set that up.’ [African-American organizations] have Facebook pages, and they are active.” The studies were released in late 2011. Both reports are available for purchase at MandalaResearch.com. ASTA members get 20% off. Another webinar on the U.S. Hispanic traveler data will be presented by Mandala on Friday Feb. 10 at 2 p.m. Eastern. Follow Johanna Jainchill on Twitter @jjainchilltw.