Traveler hiking

The news was mixed for travel advisors in the closely-watched 2019 Portrait of American Travelers survey produced by MMGY Global, whose research and insights division MMGY Travel Intelligence, conducted the survey. The results were revealed at a press conference in New York this week.

The good news is that, despite the strong possibility of an economic recession in the next 12 months, travelers intend to spend about the same on travel in 2019 ($5,025) this year as they did in 2018 ($5,038.) And while they plan to take slightly fewer vacations (3.2 in 2019 vs. 3.5 in 2018), travelers anticipate spending 17 percent more than they did at this same point in 2018.

On the negative side, Chris Davidson, executive vice president-insights and strategy, said there is a good chance of an overall recession in the next 12 months, which would lead to a travel recession. Still, he offered “cautious optimism” because of the growing importance of travel in people’s lives, saying that while travel spending may slow, Gen X and Boomer travelers should hold up business for the next 12 months.

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Millennials Moving Toward Travel Advisors

Somewhat less positive was that in the past 12 months 16 percent of respondents used a traditional travel agent, up from 14 percent in 2018 (and down from 18 percent in 2017 and a peak of 19 percent in 2016).

The brighter side of that issue is that millennials are the age group most attracted to traditional travel advisors, with about 24 percent of them saying they plan to use an agent for at least one vacation during the next two years, followed by GenXers at 15 percent and Boomers at 16 percent. Craig Compagnone, COO of MMGY, said this goes to the desire for experiential travel, which millennials believe can best be delivered by travel agents.

Survey of Likely Travelers

The survey was taken among consumers with an annual income of $50,000 or more who had taken an overnight trip of at least 75 miles in the past year – a segment constituting about 23 percent of the population in the U.S. An increasingly important portion of the report, which has been conducted for 29 years, is the shift in how travelers approach their trips. A full 41 percent say that the places they visit say something about who they are, according to Davidson.

Compagnone said that 72 percent of travelers see travel as providing them new perspectives on different ways of life. There was a hefty 13 percent increase in travelers wanting to experience different cultures and 9 percent who wanted to broaden their perspectives.

Trends in Sharing Economy, Culinary Tourism and More

The report also touched on many other travel trends, including:

– Sharing economy. Davidson said that while there is growth in the hotel /condo rental market (up 45 percent in just one year), that product has not yet had a significant impact on traditional hotels. However, he said it will at some point enter the mainstream of hospitality because people are seeking local and authentic experiences.

– Culinary tourism. Food and drink have a significant impact on destination choice for many consumers. More travelers are seeking things like street food and food trucks rather than Michelin-starred restaurants.

– Wings & Wheels: Road trips continue to surge in popularity but more interestingly for travel advisors, a new Wings & Wheels segment will fly to a destination, then rent a car. This is especially popular with millennials.

– Safety is growing in importance every year and concern over safety can be a major obstacle to choosing a destination. Millennials’ desire for safety in a destination rose the most, up six points from 79 percent in 2018 to 85 percent in 2019. Still, travel has proven to be extremely resilient with visitors returning quickly after a negative event or natural disaster.

Davidson summarized the report by saying that travel is in a transformative period with motivations for travel changing, the desire for exploration growing and memories of travel becoming more important than consumer goods that people might purchase.