Jamie Biesiada
Jamie Biesiada

It's a question that has been looming over the industry for some time now: Is a travel recession coming?

Chris Davidson, executive vice president of insights and strategy for MMGY Global, tackled the question during the recent New York Times Travel Show. There are, as Davidson pointed out, some indications that things might be headed south, but there are also some good signs.

"I think there are some mixed messages, but generally, I'm seeing some optimistic news in the numbers, as well," he said.

MMGY's traveler sentiment index has been strong, Davidson said, but it does reflect a slight downward trend.

"We don't see it being a huge concern," Davidson said, but the trend line has been softening.

Davidson shared a graphic from the Wall Street Journal that tracked the predictions of economists around the country who were asked whether the U.S. would enter a recession in the next 12 months, and historically, the country has entered into a recession shortly after their predictions peaked. Recently, it looks like predictions have hit a peak.

"Now, those beliefs are incredibly high," Davidson said, but "it doesn't mean it's going to happen."

Four times a year, MMGY uses its Travelhorizons survey to ask leisure travelers if they plan to take a trip in the next six months. In the fourth survey of 2019, 56% said they do, down slightly from the past few years: In 2017, it was 61%, and in 2018, 61%.

Business travel has declined slightly over the past two years, as well.

"While it's not a major concern, we are seeing a bit of a converging trend on these numbers," Davidson said.

So there is a softening in travel overall, he said, but based on past recessions, MMGY said people will still travel during a recession -- they might just travel differently.

There is also a case for optimism, Davidson said.

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