Western Travel Trends Up

Survey findings offer insight into lucrative regional travel market

By: R. Scott Macintosh

Western travelers top the nation in the number of trips they take, how much they spend on travel, their use of travel agents and their economic outlooks for the year ahead.

About 70 percent of consumers in the West said they took at least one trip in the past year, nearly on par with 2000 travel levels and significantly higher than the 63 percent average in the Rest, according to a recent survey.

Travelers in the West also spent more on their trips than travelers in the Rest, had more vacation time to travel, and nearly 50 percent said they believe their financial positions will improve in the year ahead.

The findings offer insight into the lucrative Western travel market, suggesting the region has fared relatively better than the Rest during the recent downturn and that growing consumer purchasing power could fuel stronger growth in the travel industry in 2004.

“There is a more educated workforce in the West, with higher earnings, and they are more sophisticated,” said Bruce B. Tepper, vice president of Joselyn, Tepper & Associates. “Of course it depends on where you are. But there is more worldliness in the West.”

The demographic insights also dovetail with the American Express Leisure Travel Index released in October that found travelers in the West expect to travel more next year and spend more on their trips than travelers in other areas.

The survey for Northstar Travel Media by NFO Plog Research also found that travelers in the West were most likely to use travel agents, and that those who used agents took more business and leisure trips and spent more on those trips.

Target Areas

The demographics of Western travelers offers increased economic potential for agents and others in the industry who can successfully tap into the unique characteristics and tailor targeted offerings to those tastes as travel begins to pick up.

Savvy agents and others could benefit from destination trends: At the top of the list of states Western travelers said they plan to visit within the next three years were California, Nevada, Hawaii, Washington and Texas.

And leisure travelers who used agents were more likely to visit multiple destinations: About a quarter of agent users in the West said they had visited three to four destinations in the last year compared to 23 percent in the Rest.

Discretionary leisure time trends also offer potential: Close to a third of Westerners surveyed had 26 or more days of vacation; only about 26 percent of travelers elsewhere had as many vacation days.

As well as passport trends: Western travelers were more likely to carry a passport than travelers elsewhere, and more than half of the Western travel-agent users said they carried a passport significantly more than 46 percent elsewhere.

The Business Traveler

Business travelers in the West also offer a potentially more lucrative market than travelers in the Rest.

The Plog survey found that about 21 percent of Western travelers made a business trip in the past year, compared to just 17 percent elsewhere.

Business travelers in the West who used agents also traveled more frequently than those who did not use agents, and traveled more frequently than business travelers in other states that used agents.

Thirty-eight percent of Western business travelers who used travel agents took a business trip in the last year, compared to 35 percent of the Rest.

Business travelers in the West who used agents also were more likely to fly, with about 30 percent choosing airlines for their travel compared with 21 percent who used ground transportation such as trains.

A reason for this, according to some analysts, is the longer distances between cities in the West than those in the Rest.

But the survey also found that business travelers who did not use agents, even in the West, were more likely to take ground transportation.

The Leisure Traveler

On the leisure side, Western travelers made plenty of trips in the past year, with about 68 percent saying they took some sort of vacation and nearly all agent users in the West 99 percent saying they took a leisure trip in the past year.

Unlike their business-traveler counterparts, however, they were more likely to drive on vacations.

“We’re, for the most part, more spread out in cities designed with the automobile in mind,” Tepper said. “We put more miles on the car and are comfortable with that.”

The survey also found that Western travelers spent more money on their trips, especially those who used travel agents.

About 21 percent of Western travelers using agents spent more than $3,000 on leisure trips in the last year; only 9 percent of Western travelers without agents spent that amount.

Another 13 percent of the agent-users spent more than $4,000 on vacations, and about 6 percent spent between $5,000 and $7,500.

In other states only about 11 percent spent more than $4,000.

Barbara Webb, the American Society of Travel Agents’ director for Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, said the findings may be reflecting a spending slowdown in the East following Sept. 11.

“West Coast agencies have not been as impacted as much as the East Coast,” she said. “I think that they are not traveling as far. They are taking shorter trips than we are doing here. They have definitely felt the impact more there.”

And Western travelers’ longer leisure trips included more journeys abroad than among those in the Rest: About 18 percent in the West made trips out of the country in the last year compared to 13 percent elsewhere.

About 36 percent of travelers in the West who used agents traveled internationally.

British Columbia was the most popular international destination for agent users in the West, followed by France, Cabo, Mexico and London.

For domestic leisure trips, Western travelers were most likely to travel in the West. Of the 10 most-visited states in the past year, all but Florida and Louisiana were in the West.