NEW YORK -- For the first time in 12 years, travel marketing firm MMGY forecasts a decline in the number of vacations Americans will take.

MMGY's survey asked travelers about their intentions to travel more, less, or the same in the year ahead compared to the previous 12 months. Twenty-one percent of travelers indicated an intention to take more vacations, while 30% said they plan to take fewer, resulting in a 9-point negative variance in vacation intentions.

This is the first time that variance has been negative in the 12 years the question has been asked, and it raises a concern about a softening of the leisure travel market in the months ahead.

The survey's results were presented by MMGY vice president of travel insights Steve Cohen at the company's office here on Tuesday.

Cohen said travel intentions in 2016 were "up at levels we'd never seen before, and as the year played out, that's what happened -- we saw travel like we'd never seen it before."

Last year, MMGY forecasted continuing growth, but not at 2016's level.

"This year, we're starting to see a bit of a slowdown," Cohen said.

As for the number of leisure trips people are taking, last year people took an average of three, while the previous year they took 3.3. In the next 12 months, travelers intend to take an average of 2.9 vacations. Cohen said the difference between three and 2.9 vacations is not statistically significant -- it is within the margin of error -- but it could indicate the beginning of a decline of the number of vacations taken.

Household spending on vacations in the past 12 months decreased to $4,281 from $4,600 in 2016. That shouldn't "raise the red flags," Cohen said. Travelers spent 5% less on travel in 2017 than they intended to. But he was "almost impressed" that travelers were only 5% off, he said, as it's difficult to estimate what one will spend when taking a survey. And, in the year ahead, travelers reported spending just about as much on vacations as they did in the past year at $4,278.

He also said travelers are spending more per vacation at $1,475, up 4% from last year, indicating fewer but longer trips.

Generally, he said, "There's a slowing. The extent to which that slowing will sustain remains to be seen. This is the first year we've seen any kind of drop at all, and it's a very small drop."

As far as travel agent usage, MMGY's study found that 8% of vacations were aided by traditional travel agents in 2018, down from 11% in 2017. Sixteen percent plan to use an agent for vacations during the next two years, compared to 23% in 2017.


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