Summer Forecast: More Sunshine

Excerpts from the TIA annual travel forecast, presented May 14

By: Suzanne Cook, Travel Industry Assn. of American

This summer we forecast that leisure travel will continue to be strong, increasing 2.5 percent during the months of June, July and August, to total 275.4 million person-trips. We expect growth to gain momentum as the summer progresses.

We have witnessed Americans shifting even more of their trips than usual to the highways, to closer-to-home and more rural destinations, and to travel motivated by a desire to connect with family and friends, while shifting their travel choices away from air travel and trips to major cities and travel destinations.

While we expect these trends to remain strong this summer, they may not be as exaggerated as we saw last year, reflecting Americans’ gradual return to their more traditional travel patterns.

And finally, our most recent surveys also suggest that the late booking trends we have seen developing over the past few years are continuing. Forty-one percent of all travelers said that while they do plan leisure travel this summer, they have not yet started planning or booking their trips. Among those who have not yet started to plan or book, two-thirds say they have not yet decided when to go, and 42 percent have not yet decided where to go. This suggests that travel destinations and companies still have the opportunity to influence the decisions of millions of Americans about summer travel.

So, that’s the story for leisure travel. We are also somewhat more optimistic about U.S. business travel, which has been in decline since before 9/11. By the end of 2002, for example, business travel was down nearly 9 percent from 2000 levels. Recovery is, of course, being challenged by tighter travel policies and the increasing use of technology to replace travel. We think those trends will continue.

But, several new surveys, such as one recently released by the Business Travel Coalition, suggest that companies may be relaxing some of their travel restrictions. If the economy continues to strengthen, as now expected, business should pick up, along with business confidence and profits, providing the need for corporate executives to get back on the road and in the air.