Leisure Travel Down, Business Bookings Up. Really?
Leisure Travel Down, Business Bookings Up. Really?

Leisure Travel Down, Business Bookings Up. Really?

In what may seem a reversal of expectations, Ypartnership’s February travelhorizons survey revealed leisure travel demand has slipped since last year, while business travel demand has grown.

According to the results of the February 2010 survey of 2,251 U.S. households, 56% of U.S. adults expect to take at least one trip primarily for leisure purposes during the next six months, a 7 point decline from the percentage a year ago.

The percentage translates into an estimated 127 million U.S. adults who say they will take at least one leisure trip between February and July. Although stated leisure travel intentions are down, Ypartnership says that demand for leisure travel services remains “elastic” and predicts that suppliers who develop and implement attractive promotional strategies will be rewarded by consumers looking for value.

The survey also revealed that one out of seven (15%) of adults is planning at least one business trip during the next six months, up 2 points from the percentage recorded one year ago.

According to Ypartnership, this augers well for the long-awaited recovery of demand for business travel services.

However, travel agents are reporting they continue to see the opposite in their own business – leisure is up. Business travel trends are mixed, down for some, up for others.

“I found those statistics interesting, although that is not the trend our Nexion business is reflecting,” Jackie Friedman, president and general manager of Nexion, Inc, told Travel Market Report. “Our YOY leisure sales volume was only down slightly 2009 over 2008 however our number of leisure bookings or passengers traveled was up overall. Customers were still traveling, but were taking less expensive vacations.”

“We are tracking ahead of sales with most of our preferred vendors (at least for passenger count),” said Linda K. Strait, vice president and director of operations for Great Southern Travel, speaking of their leisure business.

On the corporate side, Strait said, “While some of our corporate accounts’ business travel is up significantly, over all it is down slightly from this time last year.”

However, Nexion agents are seeing a slight increase in business travel, Friedman said. “Our corporate agent business was down last year, both in terms of ticket transactions and ARC sales volume. Having said that, our business travel is up by about 5% over the same time last year.”

Donna Johnson, president of Red Bird Travel Plus in Texas told TMR all her business was up.

“We have had a very busy start to the year both in leisure and corporate.”

Another survey finding: Of those traveling for leisure about half said they expect no change in the amount of money they are likely to spend for leisure travel this year versus last. The percentages of those who will spend more on their trips versus those who will spend less, are roughly the same, 24% vs. 26% respectively.

Safety a Concern

Part of the travelhorizons survey is the Traveler Sentiment Index, a derivative of six individual measures of perceptions that affect travel.

According to Ypartnership the Index has remained essentially unchanged since October 2009. It now stands at 91.0 (baseline is 100, established in first quarter 2007) versus 90.5 last fall.

Of the six components which make up the Index, two reflected sizable gains over the previous 90 days: “money available for travel” and “time available for travel.”

However, “interest in travel” and “perceived affordability of travel” both declined slightly.

The most significant change was in the “perceived safety of travel,” which declined from 93.8 in October 2009 to 84.8 this February.

“I’m not surprised about the ‘perceived safety,’” said Strait, who attributed some of the unease to the recent earthquake in Haiti. “We send many people to the Dominican Republic, and there was a lot of concern about aftershocks, and also fear of seeing such devastation and suffering when they were going to vacation.”

Johnson concurred. “Perhaps the underwear bomber in December and the earthquake in Haiti have affected the white knuckle travelers,” she said.

Carolina Murillo, district manager for Garber Travel’s leisure offices recounted a recent incident in which a family planning a reunion was frightened that a cruise ship could be targeted by terrorists and so booked a land vacation to Costa Rica instead.

Travel fears also may be a result of lingering concerns over the deaths in Antigua and the British Virgin Islands of cruise passengers, as well as the recent Chile earthquake.

Strait added that the continuing dialogue about airport screening “keeps travel anxiety fresh in everyone’s minds.”

“What does seem obvious is that most people are glued to the TV news and if there is any type of hype about traveling and safety, many respond somehow… cancel or rebook to another safe part of the world,” Murillo said.

She added that she always reminds her clients that the same basic safety rules that apply in the U.S. in major metro areas also apply abroad.

Travel sellers can also counter this perception with current and accurate information. For instance, Strait said Great Southern Travel always includes TSA information, luggage allowance information and general tips in all documents to help alleviate nervousness.

Murillo said that her agents recommend clients review the state department’s Web site if they’re in doubt. “We let the decision be theirs,” she added.

The travelhorizons survey is co-authored every 90 days with the U.S. Travel Association.

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