Kurt Weinsheimer
Kurt Weinsheimer

Travel brands are fascinated with the way travelers dream of, research and plan their summer vacations. So we decided to examine changing traveler interest across the last three quarters, comparing Western European and North American vacationgoers.

We found a plethora of fluctuations and patterns, and for simplicity's sake we split them into three personas: Adventurers (travelers who searched for summer 2015 travel during the last quarter of 2014), Realists (searched for summer travel in Q1 of 2015) and Procrastinators (second quarter of the year). You'll see why ...

• Q4 of 2014: Travel planners on both sides of the pond dreamed big.

North American Adventurers had their sights set on international travel. A whopping 62% considered long-haul flights, and four of the top 10 destination cities were outside the U.S.: London, which topped the list, followed by Paris, Cancun and Rome.

As you might recall, the U.S. dollar gained strength in the second half of 2014, making international travel more attractive to Americans.

The European story is a bit more nuanced, thanks to the relative proximity of easy summer getaways and the abundance of low-cost carriers to take you there.

During the same quarter, Spain remained the favorite for European Adventurers, taking the crown in both the country and city rankings. Similar to their North American counterparts, European Adventurers dreamed of more long-haul travel: the U.S. was the top long-distance destination (second overall after Spain) and New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Miami all made the cities' top 10. Thailand also made the top 10 countries list, and Bangkok is sixth on the cities list.

• 2015: Ambitions tempered, travelers looked closer to home for summer trips.

The following quarter, January through March 2015, shows more conservative travel inclinations on both sides of the pond, even as travel searches accelerated.

January was an incredibly active month in terms of overall travel searches, possibly fueled by the winter malaise that tends to follow the holiday season in the Northern Hemisphere. This spike is so significant and consistent that we baptized it "the January jump," and we monitor it every year.

American Realists narrowed down their international city destinations to only London and Paris. Both tumbled down the list to positions four and eight, respectively.

Similarly, only New York, Los Angeles and Bangkok remained in the top 10 for European Realists during the first quarter of the year.

• For Procrastinators on both sides of the pond, the focus shifted completely to short-distance and domestic travel.

Not a single foreign city made Americans' top 10 list.

In Europe, London took the lead in cities, and Spain remained the champion for country searches, while transatlantic and Asian destinations vanished completely.

Biggest wins, losses

So which destination countries saw the biggest fluctuations over the three quarters? Most of the top 10 destinations were remarkably stable over time, but none more so than France for North Americans and Spain for Europeans.

Canada (for North Americans) and the U.K. (for Europeans) were the two top 10 destinations that showed the steadiest rise in traveler interest across the three quarters, while Thailand (Western Europeans) and Ireland (North Americans) showed the most dramatic drops.

Expanding beyond the top 10 destinations into the top 50, the United Arab Emirates dropped a whopping 38 spots in North American interest since Q4 2014, and New Zealand dropped 30 spots in European rankings.

South Africa dramatically lost travelers' interest on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, possibly due to its relative remoteness from both continents.

(For the full picture on top 10 rankings and below, you can refer to the charts.)

Building a dream catcher

Looking at the numbers and reviewing the search trends, timing matters for hotels and airlines looking to capture those Adventurers dreaming big. They would be smart to set strong early-bird incentives targeted toward international and long-haul travelers searching for their destinations, because as time goes on, most travelers come down to earth and keep things closer to home.

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