January 6, 2015, Americans today are taking less vacation time than at any point in nearly 40 years, according to an October report for the U.S. Travel Association by Oxford Economics. So where and how will we be spending our precious leisure time in 2015?
As a new year begins, industry and research groups are looking into their crystal balls. Turns out, when Americans travel internationally most stick close to home. Michelle Grant, a travel and tourism research manager for Euromonitor International, a market research company, pointed out that nearly half of overseas travelers are from the East Coast, and they make trips within the Western Hemisphere or to Western Europe, to places that are more affordable and easier to reach (with shorter and direct flights) than those farther afield.
The most popular international destination, by a landslide, will be Mexico, according to Euromonitor. Mexico topped the list last year with about 20,916,000 trips, and Euromonitor predicts it will be favored again this year, with some 21,297,000 trips, an increase of 1.8 percent. Ms. Grant noted that California and the border states are huge drivers of the trend. (The group’s forecasts are derived from national statistics and trade sources and are based in part on the number of trips Americans made in 2014.)
Mexico is alluring not only for its sun and sand but also for its cuisine, destination yoga retreats and cultural activities, be it exploring the ruins of ancient Maya civilization at Chichen Itza, a Unesco World Heritage site near Cancún, or partying in Cabo San Lucas. While some tourists are steering clear of places afflicted with gang and drugrelated violence like Acapulco and Sinaloa, places like Cancún and Puerto Vallarta continue to be popular.
Capturing second place is Canada. Americans made about 12,331,000 trips there last year and according to Euromonitor, it will again be the secondmost visited international destination with 12,489,000 trips.
For the last few years the Reputation Institute, a global management company that says it takes the pulse of more than 27,000 people in the G8 countries, has ranked Canada among the top countries in the world to visit thanks to its beauty, friendly people, safe environment and “contributions to global culture,” as the Canadian Tourism Commission put it in a news release.
Rounding out the top three is Britain, though it lags far behind Mexico and Canada (there were some 2,516,000 trips to Britain in 2014 and Euromonitor is forecasting about 2,546,000 this year).
Britain, of course, offers a variety of lush landscapes and cultures throughout England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. That said, London — with its historic buildings, parks, gardens, museums and pubs — attracted twothirds of Americans’ vacation visits to Britain, a 2013 report said, while the rest of England attracted 30 percent, according to VisitBritain, the national tourism agency. Scotland, where travelers are drawn to castles and villages, captured 10 percent of visits, while Wales had 3 percent.
France, Italy, Germany, the Bahamas, Jamaica, China, Spain and Japan (the latter two essentially tied) complete the top 11, in that order. Euromonitor analysts say Japan is likely to experience the biggest bump in American tourists, thanks to decreasing prices as well as the fading effects of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis. (Forecasts for additional international and domestic destinations are at nytimes.com/travel.)
So far, the estimates appear to be corroborated by other companies. Mexico and London are among the top three international destinations being booked for 2015, according to a survey of 1,226 travel agency owners, managers and agents from the Travel Leaders Group, one of the nation’s largest travel agencies. Travel professionals questioned in November and December were asked to name up to five top destinations that they were already booking for 2015. The No. 1 international trip was a cruise vacation in the Caribbean; however, in a news release, the group said that “Europe is drawing in Americans in the highest numbers we’ve seen this millennium.”
A research team at Bing, Microsoft’s search engine, revealed a similar forecast, with London, Paris and Cancún topping its list of 2015 international destinations.
But what about emerging tourist destinations? According to members of the United States Tour Operators Association, an industry group, Myanmar will be the top emerging destination in 2015. Cuba took second place in a survey for the association conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, though one suspects it will soon nab the top spot now that travel restrictions are easing because of the restoration of diplomatic relations with the United States. Indeed, between Dec. 16 and 18, in the days surrounding President Obama’s announcement about reopening relations with Cuba, travel queries related to the island jumped 809 percent, according to Google. Most searches came from users in Florida, New York and California. On Cuba’s heels were Croatia, Iceland, India, Peru, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia and Panama, according to the survey.
When it comes to domestic tourism, California has been and is likely to continue to be by far the most popular destination, according to Euromonitor. The state is projected to attract some 134,145,000 tourists in 2015, lured by wineries, food, beaches, spas, surf culture, theme parks, the slick artifice of Hollywood and the natural wonders of Yosemite and Big Sur. Little wonder California is the nation’s largest tourism economy, according to Visit California, the state’s marketing and tourism arm.
Texas nabbed second place with an estimated 87,502,000 tourist visits in 2015, followed by Florida (69,463,000 visits) and New York (55,383,000 visits). Florida is likely to be the fastest growing state for tourism, according to Euromonitor, thanks to its sunny skies and initiatives at theme parks like the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley at Universal Studios. Indeed, agents at Travel Leaders Group listed Orlando as the secondmost popular domestic destination in 2015 based on bookings so far. (The No. 1 domestic vacation is an Alaskan cruise.)
How Americans allocate their vacation dollars in 2015 will depend on where they decide to go. Based on national statistics and trade sources, Euromonitor analysts predict that Americans who take international vacations will spend most of their money on accommodations. Food is next on the list, followed by shopping, travel within the country and entertainment. (According to data from the United States Department of Commerce, in 2013 sightseeing and shopping were the most popular activities among leisure travelers overseas.)
The rankings change a bit for domestic vacations. Analysts think Americans will spend most of their money on travel within their own country, followed by lodging, entertainment, food, shopping and excursions.
Given bookingstodate for 2015 and conversations with clients, almost 97 percent of Travel Leaders Group agents said their clients would spend the same or more on international travel this year compared with last year. Of course, the cost of any trip is determined by a variety of factors: destination, length, class of service, hotel, experiences. Taking that into consideration, analysts at American Express Travel said that based on the average seven day trip (for international travel), a 2015 vacation is likely to cost from $2,100 to $5,000 or more. (A report from the Commerce Department shows that in 2013 the average trip expenditure per leisure traveler visiting overseas was $2,914. Most flew economy class.) Based on an average of six days for domestic travel, the trip cost could be $1,500 to $3,000 or more, according to American Express.
By and large most Americans will travel by land in 2015, making 870,526,000 trips, according to Euromonitor. Air travel is likely to be a distant second (154,021,000 trips), followed by rail (78,270,000) and, lastly, sea (6,291,000).
Hotels and motels will remain the dominant lodging option, but private rentals are expected to continue to garner popularity. Some 14 percent of travelers booked a private home, condo or apartment rental for at least one of their trips in 2013, up from 8 percent in 2010, according to PhoCusWright, a travel market research company.
Should you make it to one of the most popular places, Britain, you may want to experience a rising trend: the socalled poshtel, a kind of elegant hostel such as Hoax or Safe stay. Hostels seem to be hotter than ever, and Euromonitor predicts that the sector will experience a record 3 percent growth through 2018.
That’s good news for those striving for a little luxury on a little budget in the new year.