Americans Expected to Spend More on Travel

American Express Leisure Travel Index also finds increases expected among Western travelers

By: Lisa Jennings

Americans are expected to spend more money for longer vacations both in the U.S. and overseas next year, according to the American Express Leisure Travel Index released last week.

On average, travelers are expected to spend $2,962 in 2004 on airfare, accommodations, sightseeing, meals, souvenirs and other expenses for their vacations, up from the $2,163 average respondents said they planned to spend in 2003.

And the number of travelers expected to spend more than $5,000 (6 percent) will nearly double to 11 percent, the index predicted.

The data for the index is collected by a phone survey, which this year included 1,356 adults in late September.

The survey also looked at travel trends in the West and found 34 percent of travelers said they plan to take a leisure trip before the end of this year. Westerners, on average, also said they are planning to take three extended vacations more than residents in any other region.

Western travelers plan to spend $2,990 on average on long pleasure trips next year, up from $2,581 that they said they would spend this year.

Nearly 40 percent said they plan to stay in the U.S. for their travel, 10 percent said they will travel internationally, and 49 percent said they planned to do both.

Overall, in all regions, about half of those surveyed who plan to travel by plane next year said they will travel both domestically and internationally, an increase from the 36 percent with such plans in 2002.

While spending is expected to increase, 78 percent of respondents still described themselves as “value minded, seeking good quality within a budget,” even in higher income categories.

Nearly half of respondents said they use the Internet as a travel resource (45 percent up from 35 percent in 2002), followed by friends and family (33 percent up from 30 percent in 2002), travel agents (25 percent up from 15 percent), travel magazines (10 percent up from 9 percent), tour operators (6 percent on par with 2002).

But for booking, non-Internet sources are preferred, with 37 percent saying they would buy directly from airlines, hotel, car rentals and cruise lines by phone.

Still, nearly one-third (30 percent, up from 23 percent in 2002) said they would use a travel agent, but online agencies also increased in popularity (29 percent up from 20 percent), followed by supplier Websites (27 percent up from 18) and tour operators (4 percent, down from 5 percent).

Meanwhile, Hawaii is expected to take the lead as the most popular holiday destination next year, according to a survey of American Express travel counselors released last week.

Of the 114 agents surveyed, 35 percent picked Honolulu as the No. 1 holiday destination, followed by Orlando, New York City, Las Vegas and Miami.

Internationally, Mexico Cancun in particular emerged as a popular international destination for the holidays, followed by Rome, the Bahamas, Jamaica, and London.

“Hawaii made a strong showing in 2003 and will gain even more momentum in 2004 with the addition of seven-day cruises in the Hawaiian marketplace,” said Cynthia Valles, senior vice president and general manager of American Express U.S. Consumer Travel Network.

“Rome has always been a popular destination for Americans, but now we are seeing Americans venture into other cities and regions in Italy, and we expect that trend to continue in the coming year,” she said. “Mexico is a great getaway destination and Cancun continues to differentiate itself with upscale properties and a variety of activities. Greece and Athens will also be popular during 2004.”

Other up-and-coming destinations forecast for next year include Florida, California and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.