Leisure Travel Is (Finally) Back And That’s Good News for Agents
by Robin Amster

Despite a slow but steady economic recovery, it wasn’t until last year that Americans picked up the pace of their leisure travel, according to a new consumer travel report from PhoCusWright.

The research firm’s “U.S. Consumer Travel Report Sixth Edition” found that consumers have finally moved on from the recession. While the percentage who booked with travel agents remained relatively flat, the growth in vacation travel is good news for agents.

Sixty-five percent of consumers took at least one leisure trip in 2013, compared to 63% in 2010, 62% in 2011 and 61% in 2012. In the pre-recession year of 2008, some 70% of consumers took leisure trips.

How they’re booking
The share of consumers who booked flights with an agent, however, remained roughly the same – at 5% in both 2012 and 2013. Those who booked hotels with agents increased by one point, from 3% in 2012 to 4%, last year, said Marcello Gasdia, PhoCusWright senior analyst.

The bulk of consumers’ air and hotel bookings were made through a combination of OTAs, supplier websites and retail agency websites, he said.

The report, conducted in February 2014, surveyed the travel behavior of 1,850 adults during the previous year. “One trip” was defined as at least one overnight trip 75 miles from home that included a lodging purchase.

Don’t lose heart
The report’s findings on agent bookings shouldn’t necessarily be disheartening for the agency community, said Gasdia.

“We’re talking about 61% of consumers taking a trip in 2012 with a four point increase to 65% in 2013,” he said. “That means millions of more people traveling, which means many more booked with agents. Those are significant numbers.

 “If agents can hold on to that 5%, they’ll still have a strong year, proving they have a strong niche.”

OTAs lose ground
Moreover, while agent bookings remain stable, the mega-OTAs continued to lose ground with travel shoppers, the report said.

The percentage of online travel shoppers who visited sites like Priceline and Expedia fell from 61% in 2011 to 59% in 2012 and 54% in 2013.

Those baby boomers . . . again
The most dramatic turnaround for leisure travel came from baby boomers, ages 45 to 64. Nearly half of boomers didn’t take a single trip in 2012. But in 2013, 60% of them traveled at least once, the report found.

Travel by older millennials, ages 25 to 34, also surged, with 73% traveling last year, up from 66% in 2012.

“The dam has finally burst, following the exodus of adults leaving the [travel] marketplace,” Gasdia said.

“Since 2010 we’ve undeniably made a lot of progress in terms of retail spending and consumer confidence,” he added. “But it’s only starting to show in leisure travel now.”

Who’s traveling?
The two market segments that registered the biggest spikes in travel were families with children under age 18 and travel parties of two adults, couples or otherwise.

Family travel grew to 36% last year, up from 31% in 2012, while travel by two adults rose from 53% to 57% last year, according to the report.

More complex trips
International travel was also up last year. One-third (33%) of travelers left the country in 2013, up from 30% in 2012 and 28% in 2011.

Although the percentage of vacationers who traveled as part of a tour or organized group remained the same in 2013 as in 2012 – at 4% – the growth of international travel spells good news for both tour operators and agents, said Gasdia.

“More complex trips are tour operators’ bread and butter,” he said. “That’s their value proposition to consumers.”

The same holds for agents who provide consumers with an alternative to trying to arrange their own complex trips online, Gasdia added.

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