The snow is melting, down jackets are being packed away, and flowers are beginning to bud. As winter fades, spring happily shows her green face and brightens our moods. Frequent travelers, always one or two steps ahead of the game, are already planing their summer vacations. Domestic US summer travel trends haven’t changed dramatically — or even all that much — in a decade. Summer travel trend indicators from the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) show that for the eleventh year in a row, the same top five US summer travel destinations are again being booked by North Americans who engage the services of travel agents in 2013, as in years past. These are 1. Orlando 2. Las Vegas 3. San Francisco 4. Los Angeles, and 5. Miami.
The top 10 US summer travel destinations, for travelers who use travel agents to book their vacations, has New York City in the sixth spot. Unusual, right? New York City is second only to Orlando in terms of true domestic travel rates. What this US summer travel trend tells us perhaps, is that more people planning New York City vacations figure they can “go it alone,” without the assistance of a travel agent, as compared to other urban US travel destinations. This is interesting. Orlando, being the theme park capital of the world, seems tailor-made for travelers — especially those traveling with children – to figure out what they want to see and do on their own. And New York City could possibly be the most intimidating city in our country for first-time visitors. The crush of confused, lost tourists seemed practically unbearable to me when I lived there, after all. Pick up your pace, people, I’m trying to get somewhere!
Again, these summer travel trends are measured by ASTA, hence, only measure vacations booked through travel agents. Despite the aberration of New York City’s ranking here, it’s hard to argue with the popularity of the city destinations as indicated below. This is ASTA’s summer travel trends list for the United States:
1. Orlando: Percentage change from 2007 to 2013 = -10%
2. Las Vegas: Percentage change from 2007 to 2013 = -10%
3. San Francisco: Percentage change from 2007 to 2013 = 5%
4. Los Angeles: Percentage change from 2007 to 2013 = 10%
5. Miami: Percentage change from 2007 to 2013 = 35%
6. New York City: Percentage change from 2007 to 2013 = -83%
7. Honolulu: Percentage change from 2007 to 2013 = -74%
8. San Diego: Percentage change from 2007 to 2013 = -3%
9. Seattle: Percentage change from 2007 to 2013 = -20%
10. Washington, DC: Percentage change from 2007 to 2013 = -20%
Notice that the top two most popular US cities for summer travel, Orlando and Las Vegas, have both seen small decreases in their entire market share. Orlando had 18% overall share of responses, and Las Vegas has 15% of the responses. They’re still the champs, although with gains made by San Francisco, Los Angeles and Miami — check out Miami’s 35% gain! — the top 5 may be more in flux than the past seven years may indicate. Now take a look at New York City. A gigantic 83% drop in overall market share is noted by the statisticians over at ASTA. What the heck is going on? NYC has only seen increases in tourism since 2008 (that was a bad year for travel overall, due to the economy).
It’s clear that there is a huge gap between travelers who book their own travel, and travelers who use the services of travel agents, when NYC is the destination. This seems counterintuitive to me; again, NYC can be overwhelming and confusing to first-timers. Perhaps New York City and its vibrancy, its massive array of cultural offerings, its intuitive subway system (well…mostly intuitive) and neighborhoods with their distinct subcultures and hubs, make it one of the the most fun US summer destinations for return visits. Perhaps watching the development of the new downtown area on a year-to-year basis is bringing people back. Perhaps NYC & Company, the New York City tourism company, has developed even more friendly and usable methods for tourists to love the city. Perhaps the new Times Square walking area has made midtown so much more navigable that it has opened itself up to a new love of NYC pedestrianism. Most likely, it’s a combination of all these factors and more that leads to proportionally many more people actually traveling to NYC than those who do so using travel agents.
I asked Melissa Teates, ASTA’s Director of Research, about this. She told me, “Orlando is code for Disney World. Disney World is very complex and can be very expensive as can Las Vegas. Using a travel agent means your have an expert to make sure you get the best vacation for you at the best price. Most Americans feel comfortable with NYC (it’s Times Square, Statue of Liberty and Empire State [Building] for most).” This is not what I’d have thought, but, well, the differential is use of travel agents has to have some explanation.
Honolulu has also seen a statistically large change in market share, while Hawaii generally has not seen a drop in tourism rates. Honolulu, remember, is not always the final destination of Hawaii travelers. Other parts of Oahu, such as the North Shore, may be where travelers hang their hats — or, even more likely, travelers may typically land in Honolulu’s airport and take a smaller plane to Maui, Hawaii Island (nee the Big Island), Kauai or Lanai. Since more direct routes exist now than in 2007 to those other islands, Honolulu may be being bypassed altogether. And, for travelers whose end point is indeed Waikiki, an urban Hawaii summer vacation therein usually entails tons of Waikiki shopping and dining — no travel agent needed for that!
Summer travel trends also allow us to see the most popular US states for summer vacations. Orlando pulls such a large number that of course Florida claims the top spot. Further, with Miami’s increase in market share, along with Tampa and Fort Lauderdale’s popularity for summer vacations, Florida does not depend solely on Orlando’s theme parks to capture a top spot anymore. Interestingly, the increase in travel agent-booked trips to San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego has led to California taking over the second place spot, which had previously been held by Nevada. This may be a permanent US travel trend switch; after all, California is a huge, geographically diverse state with a lot to offer any type of summer traveler. Summer is prime beach time, and, well, there’s a notable paucity of ocean in Nevada. New York and Hawaii round out the top five US states for summer travel, as booked through travel agents, in 2013.
The American Society of Travel Agents’ summer travel trends report elucidates a few points that tourism analysts could find interesting (I did, and I’m no tourism analyst). One, travel agents are not an endangered species. Many people still use travel agents to help plan and book their vacations. But, two, savvy travelers to New York City seem to use travel agents at a significantly much lower rate than travelers planning trips to other US summer vacation destinations. Three, California is making concerted efforts to gain market share, and this is slowly proving effective for summer travel. Four, while overall the top US summer vacation destinations have remained unchanged in terms of pure rank over the past several years, numbers indicate that change may be afoot. And five, it’s not too early to start planning your summer vacation. In fact, plenty of savvy travelers have already completed their summer travel plans, be it with a travel agent or not. It’s time to make those plans, and to start looking forward to summer vacation.
Survey data was collected through the 2013 ASTA Research Family in January 2013. This survey has a 95 percent rate confidence with an error rate +/-4 percent. A copy of the results can be found on the research page of ASTA.org.