op quiz time. Which of the following
currently is having the greatest impact on leisure travel: a) the
economy, b) the threat of terrorism, c) health issues such as SARS
or d) conflict in the Middle East?
The answer, according to a consumer poll jointly undertaken by
Travel Weekly and The New Yorker, is the economy.
The two publications, which share a keen interest in consumer
attitudes toward travel, joined forces to better understand the
traveling public's present state of mind and, as importantly, their
intentions regarding future travel. The study, titled "First Look:
Leisure Travel Trends," polled two universes -- the general
population and New Yorker readers (who, as a group, are
significantly more affluent and better educated, as well as being a
bit older). The findings were presented last week to a
standing-room crowd of industry leaders who packed the auditorium
in the Conde Nast Building in Times Square.
To begin at the end: Though leisure travelers continue to be
concerned about their pocketbooks and world issues, they're still
willing to explore the world and pursue that perfect vacation.
About 85% of the general population and 95% of New Yorker readers
intend to take a trip before the end of the year.
We wondered to what extent the close-in booking patterns that
drive the industry's forecasters crazy are a result of deliberate
decisions on the part of consumers to plan trips late in the game
or whether it's done without much forethought. We made an
interesting discovery: If the trip is considered by the traveler to
be a "long" trip, they still want the security of planning things
well in advance. In fact, almost a quarter of the general
population and 16% of New Yorker readers say that they have begun
planning long trips further in advance than they used to.
They don't, however, feel the need for a long lead-time when the
trip is considered short. About 30% of the general population and
27% of New Yorker readers said for that for short trips, they book
closer to the travel date than before.
We then segmented travelers into five groups: Cultural, Luxury,
Family, Action/Adventure and Escapists (the last category includes
those who want everything taken care of for them -- they just want
to get away from it all).
The data showed some striking changes in four of these groups.
Cultural travelers -- those interested in experiencing life in
other countries -- have shifted from taking longer trips (seven
days or more) to more medium-term trips (four to six days). Luxury
travelers, who travel and spend a lot are taking more shorter and
medium-length trips than before.
Family vacationers are spending less money on travel overall
compared with a year ago and are sticking closer to home.
Action/Adventure travelers -- the smallest segment -- also are
vacationing more domestically but, unlike the Family travelers, are
spending more money than they did in the recent past.
The Escapists' behavior has remained almost unchanged, and
that's good news for travel agents, tour operators, resort owners
and cruise line executives. They still like to take long trips,
they still like to take international trips, they still like to
take cruises and, more than any other group, they still like to use
travel agents to plan and book their trips.
After the presentation, I moderated a panel of industry leaders
that included Arthur Tauck of Tauck World Discovery, Bob Sharak of
the Cruise Lines International Association, Doug Fyfe of the
Canadian Tourism Commission, Sue Brush of Westin and Doug Baker of
the Department of Commerce, and the discussion reflected the sense
of optimism that the survey conveyed.
I noted that, as a journalist, I've found no shortage of news
affecting the industry in 2003, but that the news has been
overwhelmingly of one variety. Leaving the Conde Nast Building, I
felt for the first time in recent memory that the good news/bad
news equation may be more balanced in the coming months.