American leisure travel and vacation trends are moving in a positive direction, but trade uncertainty clouds the picture

More American opted to travel for leisure in 2017, posting a surge over the 2015 peak, according to new research by Phocuswright. But, while both US domestic and international travel showed solid trends through the early autumn, trade tensions and rising oil prices are now casting some clouds of uncertainty over the longevity of stable traveller volumes, warns the US Travel Association.


Summary:

  • More American opted to travel for leisure in 2017, posting a surge over the 2015 peak, according to new research by Phocuswright;
  • A strong economy propelled more than 70% of the US’ online population to take a leisure trip in 2017, says the study;
  • Other research indicates Americans are making some progress in using their allotted vacation time;
  • While both US domestic and international travel are showing solid trends, trade tensions and rising oil prices are now casting some clouds of uncertainty over the longevity of stable traveller volumes.

The Phocuswright research concluded that a strong economy propelled more than 70% of the US’ online population to take a leisure trip in 2017. It indicates the “jump in leisure travel suggests rising consumer confidence, particularly among Americans with household incomes less than USD50K and middle-income earners earning USD75-USD100K”, Phocuswright concluded.

Other research indicates Americans are making some progress in using their allotted vacation time. Project Time Off in its State of the American Vacation 2018 found that 52% of survey respondents reported having unused vacation days at the end of 2017. This insight came from an online survey in early Jan-2018 of 4,349 American workers age 18 an over working more than 35 hours per week and receiving paid time off.

The results for 2018 are better than 2016 when 54% of survey respondents stated they had unused vacation days and 55% in 2015.  “Though a two percent change might seem small, the impact is mighty,” the report stated. Americans used nearly a half-day (0.4 days) more of vacation than the previous year.

The US national average of vacation usage is 17.2 days, up from 16 days in 2014. An increase from 16.8 days to 17.2 days delivered a USD30.7 billion impact to the US economy and generated USD8.9 billion in additional revenue for Americas, according to the latest version of State of the American vacation.

But, the US Travel Association warns that trade uncertainty hangs over any positive US travel trends. Both US domestic and international travel showed solid trends through the early autumn, but trade tensions and rising oil prices are casting some clouds of uncertainty over the longevity of stable traveller volumes.

Data compiled by the US Travel Association and Oxford Economics show US domestic travel should grow at an average of 2.4% year-on-year through Nov-2018, underpinned by stronger consumer outlays and solid business investment.

For May-2018 US domestic and business leisure travel volumes increased year-on-year, with leisure outpacing business. The current travel index (CTI) for May showed a rating of 51.1 for business travel 51.8 for leisure trips. A rating of 50 or above is considered positive growth. The six month average for business travel was 50.9 and 51.7 for leisure. But the association stated strength in business sentiment and favourable economic conditions offer the potential for business travel to outpace the leisure segment in the near term.

International travel recorded the highest CTI for May-2018 at 52.6. “Continued strength in forward looking international booking suggests a healthy summer travel season ahead,” the association said. The latest data show international inbound travel to the US should grow roughly 3% through the autumn.

However, the US Travel Association is expressing some caution regarding positive inbound travel trends as “negative perceptions abroad of President Trump’s rhetoric and policies continue to post risks to international traveller sentiment”. Additionally, mounting trade tensions and higher oil prices could also hinder global activity, the association concluded.