Kurt Weinsheimer
Kurt Weinsheimer

Long-haul travel is a win-win for everyone. Travelers get once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and travel providers generate greater value along with greater revenue.

We examined data for outbound, long-haul travel in 2016 for both U.S. and European travelers to better understand potential timing and capture actionable insights. Travel planners, take note: There's a sweet spot between the end of year and beginning of the following one when presenting deals for long, international trips could prove advantageous.

Maybe it's the haze of the holidays that makes U.S. travelers dream big when it comes to choosing the length of their trips, or maybe the cold weather triggers their adventure-seeking impulses. Looking at October through December of 2015, more people planned for longer trips than during any other time of the year. The final quarter of 2014 showed similar findings: North Americans had their sights set on international travel, and 62% of them considered long-haul flights.

Let's take a closer look at the timing and destinations driving long-haul demand for U.S. and European travelers. Overall we found that for both groups the destination with the biggest jump in 2016 compared with 2015 is Brazil, which climbs nine places, to 14th, in the U.S. and from 17th to fifth place in Europe over the entire year.

In addition to Brazil, Argentina, Australia and Iceland will rise in popularity as U.S. long-haul destinations in 2016.

For U.S. travelers, Rio de Janeiro climbs 30 spots, to No. 28 among cities, for the entire year and up 58 places, to No. 6, during the summer months when the Olympics are taking place. 

Other rising cities include Buenos Aires, Sydney and Reykjavik, Iceland. With a peak share of 55%, the proportion of Americans flying overseas for an extended period of time is noticeably lower than the 80% clocked by their European counterparts.

Top 2016 destinations for Americans

The top two destination countries flip places for 2016: The U.K. comes in first place, followed by India. Brazil aside, out of the major destinations, the big winners for Americans already looking to fly overseas in 2016 are Japan and Spain. In addition, Cuba and Haiti both climbed in the rankings.

Interest in long-haul travel during 2016 is spread throughout the year much as it was in 2015: Most travelers research and book their trips only a few weeks in advance, with January and Q1 the top months of departure so far.

For January and summer departures, the majority of long-haul trips planned and booked by U.S. travelers for 2016 by the end of 2015 are for trips lasting 12 days or longer.

Top 2016 destinations for Europeans

Among travelers from Europe the top two long-haul destination countries remain unchanged for 2016: the U.S., followed by Thailand. The destination for 2016 with the biggest jump compared with 2015 is, again, Brazil, which climbs from 17th to fifth place over the entire year.

The jump is higher for departures in Q1 2016, where Brazil ranks third. Other notable changes in the popularity of destination cities includes Dubai, which climbs from 11th to sixth over the entire year, and Havana, which rises from 18th to ninth for Q1 departures.

At the other end of the spectrum, Las Vegas drops off the list of top 10 destinations for long-haul travel by Europeans in 2016.

Interest in long-haul travel for European travelers during 2016 is spread over the months in a very similar way to last year. The only difference is a 10% larger share of March departures in 2016 over 2015.

As with Americans, the first quarter constitutes the top months for departures so far, with the only exception being the summer holiday months of July and August.

The majority of long-haul trips planned and booked by European travelers for 2016 by the end of 2015 are for trips lasting 12 days or more with a focus on couples and family travel.

Turning travel dreams into reality

Long-haul shoppers often prove fickle over time. Looking back at the 2014 Q4 dreamers, when push came to shove in the first quarter of 2015, many tempered their ambitions and ended up booking trips closer to home.

This quarter could confirm or debunk travelers' interests in booking long trips. Considering what could encourage booking long-haul travel in lieu of easier, more affordable domestic flights could make Q1 a travel provider's favorite time of year.

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