Visa: U.S. travelers considering shorter-haul foreign trips

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Americans continue to be interested in traveling abroad, but the economic slowdown appears to be causing many to adjust their behavior and consider shorter-haul destinations, according to a new survey conducted by credit card company Visa Inc.

A total of 66% of the survey's 1,000 respondents, all of whom had traveled outside the U.S. in the past three years, responded "yes" when asked, "Are you considering traveling abroad, yet closer to home?"

Visa's May survey, along with accompanying data on spending patterns of U.S. cardholders while traveling internationally, is the first of its kind, so comparative historical data are not available. 

The fact that so many travelers said they expected to stay closer to home when traveling abroad was not surprising given the economic climate. "Clearly, Americans are traveling shorter distances," said Paul Wilke, corporate relations senior business leader at Visa, citing the difficult economy. 

The influence of current economic challenges also emerged in responses to a question about reasons for not traveling outside the U.S. Among those not planning to travel internationally in the next 12 months (about 24% of respondents), 49% cited as their deterrent the "current state of the economy," trailing only "cost of travel," at 54%. 

A total of 49% of respondents not planning to travel internationally in the next 12 months gave "U.S. travel" as a reason, suggesting the possibility that some travelers might be planning to substitute domestic trips for international ones.

Another top reason for not traveling abroad was the exchange rate, cited by 38% of respondents.

Wilke said he took some encouragement from the fact that the percentage of respondents who cited terrorism as a deterrent to traveling abroad in the next year (14%) was not higher.

Despite the economy, Wilke said, "Clearly the intent and desire is there to continue to travel internationally." Even among those not planning to travel abroad in the next 12 months, 76% said they were interested in doing so "sometime in the future." Wilke acknowledged, however, that the absence of comparative data from prior years made it impossible to know if the desire to travel abroad has changed.

The survey spanned several traveler preference areas, including booking methods. Among those planning to travel outside the U.S. in the next year, 72% said they likely will use airline or hotel websites, and 59% expected to use an online travel agency. But the report observed that "while travelers are increasingly researching travel on their own and becoming self-reliant in travel booking, a significant number of those traveling abroad in the next year said they will likely rely on traditional travel agents (44%)."

The survey also shed light on how Americans traveling abroad view their budgets and, consequently, the level of service and amenities on which they are willing to spend their travel dollars.

When asked to identify the type of budget they had in mind for their next international trip, 18% said "economy and very low cost," while 55% said "basic and standard cost." The "luxury and high cost" tier was cited by only 2% of respondents, though 19% cited "premium and high cost."  

The survey indicated that 60% of respondents expected to spend more on accommodations while abroad than on any other category. Another 12% expected food to be the top expense, 12% cited entertainment and 9% cited shopping.

Leisure travel was the main focus of most of those surveyed. Among respondents planning travel outside the U.S. in the next 12 months, 72% said the purpose was leisure, 7% said business and 21% said both.

The U.S. cardholder spending data released by Visa included expenditures by country (topped, in 2007, by Canada and Mexico, followed by the U.K., Italy and France).

Visa noted that its cardholder spending data spanned calendar year 2007 and the first quarter of 2008 and were based on its VisaVue Travel reports introduced to a pilot group of U.S. tourism organizations this year.

Visa said it "plans to roll out the product to a broader audience of state and convention and visitors bureau destination marketing entities later this year."

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