Travel Trends 2006: Family Travel Is Up And Going Higher Across USA - My Family Travels

Trends Report – June 2006: FTFc finds family travel is up within the United States, from Americans vacationing domestically and foreigners visiting the U.S. with children in tow.

Here's a snapshot of how the travel business is doing, from FTFc, Family Travel Forum's consulting division. In our June 2006 analysis, we can see that 2005 was a better year overall than 2004, with more travelers moving around and spending more money. Some highlights:

There are more foreign tourists coming to the US.
– There is less international travel by Americans.
– There is more crowding on domestic air routes due to fewer flights and smaller planes.
– Travel costs are increasing due to higher fuel and labor costs; consumers are paying.
– Multi-generational travel is increasing because aging Boomers have better health and finances.

Who's Traveling This Year?

To determine traveler characteristics, FTFc uses the U.S. Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) benchmark American Travel Survey (1995). A decade ago, 37.9% of Americans' long distance (more than 100 miles one way) person-trips were made by married adults with children under 18, 4.3% were made by single mothers with children under 18 and 1.3% were made by single fathers with children under 18. All together, this meant that 14.6% of all household trips involved children, at that time totaling more than 92 million family trips annually. Seen from a younger vantage point, the 1995 survey revealed that 16% of all long distance travel by Americans was done by children under 18.

Unfortunately, the DOT budget no longer supports extensive surveys of traveler characteristics. However, many other recent surveys indicate that family travel is up overall, especially since 2001, and subtle changes in family traveler characteristics have been tracked by others.

In a recent travel agent poll from American Express Travel, 79% of the travel specialists surveyed agreed that family travel was one of 2006's most significantly increasing travel trends. Findings corroborated what American Express family travel and leisure specialist Maggie Eskicioglu says has been "an unbelievable year for travel about building cultural bridges between people." As the makeup of American families continues to evolve, 31% noted an increase in blended family travel (vacations with divorced/remarried parents and children), and almost the same numbers acknowledged more travel by adults with adult children, by friends traveling together and by mothers with daughters. As family vacations continue to evolve, 62% of American Express agents noted 62% more families are booking outdoor and adventure vacations. Top adventure destinations this year include Turkey, where Ms. Eskicioglu has clients with three teens who are sightseeing in remote coastal areas by kayak, and Costa Rica, long a popular eco-destination for families.

International Travel All Ages

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, total international travel and tourism "exports" (receipts from visitors to the US) reached $104.8 billion in 2005. This represents a 12% increase in travel exports over 2004, twice the growth rate of travel "imports" (payments made by Americans traveling abroad) during the same time period.

In 2005, when perception of America as a destination seemed to be at an all-time low, international visitation increased 7% over 2004 to 49.9 million visitors. The top three ports of entry for foreign visitors, New York JFK, Miami and Los Angeles, accounted for 37% of all overseas arrivals. As in past years, the arrival ports coincided with some of the most popular U.S. destinations for foreign visitors. However, the second consecutive year of growth was substantially less than the 12% posted in 2004, in part due to the imposition of strict visa entry procedures.

Americans are still interested in "imports" or travel abroad. In noting that Americans took 60 million foreign trips last year, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the Global Travel and Tourism Summit in April, "The knowledge and experience that citizens gain through their private travels is vital for the cause of diplomacy and international understanding in the 21st century."
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International Travel All Ages (continued)

International family travel specifically is on the increase, according to 57% of the agents polled in the American Express Travel survey, with about half citing cruises as the means of transport. The top five international destinations for American Express Travel clients are London, United Kingdom; Rome, Italy; Paris, France; Cancun, Mexico; and Nassau, Bahamas.

The European Travel Commission agrees; they estimate that for 2006, Europe could receive more American travelers than the record 13.12 million set in 2000. In an upward trajectory since 2003, US arrivals in Europe climbed to 12.6 million in 2005 — up 4%. But overall, in keeping with the closer-to-home trends FTFc has seen since 2001, American spending for travel abroad fell 6%, helping to add nearly $6 billion to what the Commerce Department views as "the already favorable U.S. travel and tourism balance of trade."

On the plus side, domestically, U.S. airlines carried 4.1% more passengers in 2005. BTS reported that the airlines carried 660 million domestic passengers during 2005, up from the 635 million carried in 2004. The passengers were carried on 10 million flights each year, meaning that planes were more crowded in 2005 by 4.5%. The two most popular routes in terms of passenger load were Atlanta-Orlando-Atlanta and Los Angeles-Las Vegas-Los Angeles.

American Express Travel found the top five domestic destinations booked by their agents were Orlando, Florida; New York City; Miami, Florida; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Washington, DC.

Domestic Travel All Ages

This may soon change. "I've seen people open up to more destinations than in the past," notes American Express agent Eskicioglu. While the largest volume of agency requests is for classic vacation destinations, she adds, "Families want more than just beaching it." In fact, 58% of the agents polled said that family clients were favorably impressed with the diverse product currently available, such as discounts on adjoining rooms, special family activities and resorts' efforts to guarantee connecting rooms.

Among airlines, Southwest carried 88 million domestic passengers during 2005, the most of any airline. The top 10 domestic airlines remained steady, with Delta, American, United, Northwest, US Airways, Continental, America West, and American Eagle following, and AirTran moving up from the number 12 spot to 10.

In contrast to international flights, the most used airports for domestic flights were many of the major airlines' hubs: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport was the busiest, followed by Chicago O'Hare, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Los Angeles International, Las Vegas McCarran, Denver, Phoenix Sky Harbor, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County and Houston Bush Intercontinental.

Online Travel Research and Booking By All Ages

When it comes to the Internet, web users are increasingly likely to be leisure travelers, according to Forrester Research's Consumer Technographics Q3 2005 survey, with more than 35 million web users expected to spend 74.4 billion in 2006 on online travel purchases.

Forrester's research found that the average online leisure traveler is 44-years-old, with an average household income of $65,807. Of the 5,000+ surveyed, 65% are married or partnered, and 43% have children under 18 in their household, making this the single largest demographic. "The typical U. S. online leisure traveler takes 4.1 trips per year," their survey notes. "Of these, 57% travel to visit friends and family, 25% travel with their children, and 21% take weekend getaways with their children."

Forrester also discovered that the most frequent online travelers and biggest spenders were over age 55. Among online leisure travelers, 10% are over 55 and 14% are over 65, and they travel more often (an average of 4.4 trips per year) and spend more money (an average of $3,020 per trip) than other age group. It' s worth noting that back in 1995 when the BTS did their benchmark survey, 28% of all long distance person trips were taken by travelers over age 50.

While nearly 65% of those over 55 told Forrester that visiting family and friends was the main reason they travel, only 15% actually travel with family, compared to nearly 30% of adults between ages 25-54 who vacation with children. At FTF we think this is changing, as seniors transition from work to retirement to having fun.

Trends in Family Travel

Since 2004, FTFc ( has noted an increase in vacation groups of three or more generations by analyzing requests to's trip-planning service. The 2005 YPB&R National Leisure Travel Monitor estimated that more than 35% of American grandparents took one or more trips with their grandchildren. Among American Express Travel agents surveyed in 2006, 81% observed an increase in the number of multi-generational travel requests and 69% saw more "grandtravel" or grandparents traveling alone with grandchildren.

FTFc expects that number to grow as tour operators and resorts roll out new multi-generational product. And thanks to two colliding trends — shorter vacations for parents who work, and better health and finances for many retirees – grands will be taking children and grandchildren farther afield and in more luxurious circumstances in years to come, while breadwinners stay home and win bread.

Quote of the year: "Travel fosters understanding and builds respect and creates a subtlety of opinion."
-Condoleezza Rice, April 12, 2006 Global Travel and Tourism Summit Breakfast

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