Expert: Travel market poised for recovery

May 7, 2002 8:04 AM

Shaking off the tragic events of last fall, as well as the effects of a sluggish economy, leisure and business travelers are expected to hit the road in greater numbers in the months ahead.

That’s the bottom-line message delivered in the highly-regarded 2002 National Travel Monitor, an annual survey of American travel habits and preferences conducted by Yesawich, Pepperdine and Brown, an Orlando-based marketing firm that co-authors the report with Yankelovich Partners.

The survey is the first significant one to be conducted since the terrorist attacks of September 11.

"Consumer attitudes toward travel have improved dramatically in recent months," said Peter C. Yesawich, president and CEO of Yesawich, Pepperdine and Brown.

Yesawich was keynote speaker last Saturday at the Millennium Hospitality Summit, a meeting of travel and hotel executives and educators. The three-day summit was held at The Venetian and Rio hotels.

Yesawich said the results of the survey ”” based on polls of 1,351 leisure and 1,200 business travelers taken earlier this year ”” reveal that 36 percent of leisure travelers plan to take more trips in the next year, a six percent increase over last year.

In addition, 39 percent of travelers say they will take the same number of trips as last year, and 25 percent say they will take fewer trips.

Business travelers are expected to be even more active. More than 40 percent of business travelers plan to take more business trips in the coming year, compared to 22 percent who expect to take fewer trips.

"There is still a small minority of travelers hesitant to travel too far from home, but there are far more people who are ready to reclaim their vacations from the fear and emotional trauma that devastated the industry last September," Yesawich said. "The numbers bode well for the forthcoming summer travel season."

Las Vegas should benefit from travelers’ optimism. According to the survey, about 46 percent of travelers say they want to go to Las Vegas. The only other cities with a higher appeal to travelers is Honolulu (65 percent), New Orleans (53 percent), Orlando, Florida (52 percent) and New York (49 percent).

The primary deterrent to travel ”” both leisure and business ”” is concerns over the economy and financial conditions.

Security and airline safety were cited as concerns by four percent of leisure travelers, and less than one percent of business travelers.

Nevertheless, the increased security measures at airports and other terminals, and the resulting slowdown, has added to the frustration of business travel. The survey indicated 32 percent of business travelers believe heightened security has made travel "a big hassle," and 18 percent report they actually fly less as a result.

Net Gains

The National Monitor Survey also reveals that Americans are becoming more comfortable with the use of the Internet to make travel plans and purchase travel services.

This is particularly true of leisure travelers, 53 percent of whom now report using the Internet to obtain information or rates online. This is an increase from the 47 percent last year.

Moreover, about 55 percent of business travelers consulted the Internet to obtain information, fares and rates during the past 12 months, the same percentage as last year.

Yesawich added that travelers are very price conscious and liked to use the Internet to "comparison shop" for various services, from hotel rooms and air fares to car rental rates.

"We’re finding that the travel consumer is becoming less loyal to a brand name," Yesawich said. "Travelers really don’t distinguish between Hilton, Marriott or Holiday Inn any more. Instead, they’re becoming increasingly loyal to the best, that is, lowest price."

These trends are revealed in survey findings:

  • 39 percent of travelers who go online and use travel agents think the Internet is easier and faster to use for travel planning than a travel agent; 44 percent of business travelers feel the same way.

  • 32 percent of leisure travelers actually made a reservation online during the past 12 months; among business travelers, the percentage was 33 percent.

  • 90 percent of both leisure and business travelers state that the web site feature they value most is "being able to check the lowest rates."