Despite Inflation and Rising Costs. Travel Is Still Top-of-Mind for US Consumers

Travel still ranks highly when it comes to discretionary purchases this year and next, despite rising costs and inflation. That is according to new survey data, released on Tuesday by the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) ahead of its annual Legislative Day.

The survey, which ASTA called ASTA 2022 Summer Consumer Tavel Pulse, collected data from 518 US travelers who had taken at least one overnight trip within six months of the start of the pandemic or later via a 15-minute online survey. ASTA undertook the survey in May 2022 and released the findings this week.

Among other things, now that the US’s inbound testing requirement has been rescinded, the survey found that the topic on the minds of all travelers is the cost of things and inflation. Spend is already up across the travel industry — the 2022 average spend per person, per day is $ 512 compared to $ 463 in 2019 — but consumers are still preparing to travel despite the cost, the survey found.

“The number one thing that screams off the page is that 87% felt prices for consumer goods were either somewhat or significantly higher compared to the six months prior to the pandemic,” Jon Last, the president of Sports and Leisure Research Group, which helped ASTA conducted the survey, said on Tuesday.

The situation, Last added, is better in the travel industry (numbers ranged between 72% for hotels and 78% for airfare in terms of high prices impacting spend), but still not great when it comes to consumer sentiment toward pricing. Still, US travelers aren’t currently holding back when it comes to spending on travel and 41% of respondents said they plan to spend somewhat or a lot more on leisure travel for 2023.

Two-thirds of all respondents are planning to travel before the end of the year (50% said they will travel for holidays), with most of that going to leisure travel. And for 2023, there are strong signs for international travel as 49% of respondents said they are eager to travel internationally next year.

There are also bullish signs for higher-cost trips — the survey found that three in ten Americans are planning a “dream vacation,” a higher percentage than those planning on buying a new or better vehicle (24%), remodeling their homes (20 %), buying an expensive consumer item (16%), or buying a new or second home (8%).

And it’s not just experience-for-experience-sake — 80% of respondents said that a vacation would do “wonders” for their mental health.

Travel is, and remains, on top of mind coming out of the pandemic.

Where are consumers planning on going?
While there was a lot of talk of how the pandemic was going to change the most popular destinations for US travelers, there’s not a lot of change from pre-pandemic.

“It’s a lot of the usual suspects,” Last said.

The survey found that, when it comes to domestic travel, Americans still favor Las Vegas (38%), Orlando (33%), New York 31%), Nashville (25%), and Los Angeles (25%).

For international travel, Western Europe (25%), the Caribbean (20%), and Mexico (9%) ranked in the top three for most likely regions to travel to next. Those three regions ranked in that order for every single age group ASTA’s survey measure (under 35; 35 to 64; and 65-plus).

The top 10 cities for international travel also included some familiar destinations — London, Paris, Dublin, Amsterdam, Rome, Athens, Berlin, Munich, Edinburgh, and Barcelona.

The need for advisors keeps increasing
With the need for travel, comes an increasingly strong need for travel advisors.

According to the survey, 46% want more unique experiences when they travel and 49% want more customer service, two things that good advisors typically provide their clients. A large majority of respondents (71%) said that they feel travel planning is becoming more complex, requiring more planning and guidance.

“All of this certainly plays into the hands of what travel advisors do,” Last said. “People are underwhelmed when they think about the experience they are having relative to their pre-COVID recollections. It is not universally meeting that expectation. ”

“A growing number of the traveling public understand the need for a travel advisor,” Zane Kirby, ASTA president and CEO who kicked off the press conference, said.

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