Americans are planning fall travel despite higher costs ahead

Financial worries may have bumped the pandemic as a top concern for travelers, but close to two-thirds of Americans still plan to hop on at least one overnight leisure trip in the upcoming three months — which includes the holiday season. Of those travelers, nearly half are planning to visit friends and relatives.

“Despite the challenges facing our industry, the outlook for fall looks stable,” said Erin Francis-Cummings, chief executive officer of Destination Analysts, in a livestreamed presentation of the latest quarterly State of the American Traveler report released Tuesday. The pre-holiday report and survey spans data collected from July through most of September.

A whopping 80% of US travelers confirm that they are excited about future trips, according to the report, with nearly a third saying they will take more leisure vacations in the next 12 months, compared to a year earlier.

That’s not to say that inflation hasn’t affected plans for some; due to high prices, more than 30% had to cancel an upcoming trip. Some 45% hadn’t traveled in the past month. The frustration of traveling over the summer has persuaded at least 31% of American travelers to reconsider their fall travel plans.

Financial confidence has also taken a hit; only 27% say their financial situation is stronger than in the prior year, compared to 41% who had felt stronger financially in 2021, compared to 2020.

Still, US travel optimism is running high, despite chaotic, expensive and frustrating service over the summer. That’s just as well because the upcoming holiday season isn’t looking smoother. It’s predicted to be the costliest, busiest yet, according to the latest Holiday Travel Outlook report from Hopper, the Goldman Sachs-backed booking and fintech startup.

Hopper found more than half of American travelers plan to get around for one or both of this year’s major holidays; 70% plan to stay inside the US while 25% plan to head overseas.

Destinations popular with US tourists, such as Japan, have been announcing a lessening of restrictions; Canada is dropping COVID-19 entry requirements this weekend.

Navigating fall travel season

Nonetheless, the creeping cost of airfare, together with global financial uncertainty, may keep more Americans home, perhaps on road trips. Hopper predicts that plane tickets will cost 41% more than last year for international fare and 43% more for domestic tickets, or 25% and 22% higher, respectively, than pre-pandemic prices in 2019.

Baby boomers are the segment most inclined to spend on leisure travel in the next 12 months, closely followed by millennials and Gen Xers; members of Gen Z were the most price conscious. And luxury travelers predictably led the pack. Boomers are currently driving 77% of all tour bookings, according to survey results from JourneyWoman.

As for the luxury segment, a travel panel presented Tuesday by Robb Report said that unconventional modes of traveling are grabbing more attention and dollars. Space Perspective, which offers individuals the experience of floating at the edge of space in an eight-seat capsule for $125,000 per person, is sold out until the end of 2024.

Culinary travel also ranks high among US luxury travelers, who tend to be more eco-conscious and are likelier to support minority-owned businesses when traveling, said Francis-Cummings, with Destination Analysts. Some 61% of this segment indicated that they’d be interested in using the metaverse to gain travel inspiration.

“I would encourage a more open look at who luxury travelers are,” Francis-Cummings adds during a follow-up interview. “Many of those prioritizing luxury travel experiences have not yet hit a $100,000 household income yet, but are still choosing to spend their discretionary income on luxury experiences in travel.”

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