Tracking Travel and Tourism Trends With TTRA

  • Categories:

    Industry Trends, Marketing Insights, Brand Strategy

  • Date:

    July 28, 2023

Tracking Travel and Tourism Trends With TTRA

Industry Trends Marketing Insights Brand Strategy

From the Griswold family’s ill-fated road trip to Walley World — “Sorry folks, park’s closed.” — to Frances “Baby” Houseman dirty dancing her way through a family getaway in the Catskills, the summer months are synonymous with vacation travel.

Movie moments like these live on as reminders of that fundamental need to escape the daily grind, explore the world and forge memories with friends and family. That same desire for new adventures and experiences can also manifest in where we choose to live and call home, whether that’s a low-country bungalow or a state-of-art urban condominium.

Through Wray Ward’s work with clients such as Palmetto Bluff, Crescent Communities and the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, we use the immersive power of storytelling to help audiences imagine their way into richly textured experiences, connecting them with places and destinations that call to their innermost soul.

The motivations for why people choose to book a trip or make a move, however, are fluid and require aligning the right strategies with the most current data and insights. That’s why I traveled to the Gateway to the West — St. Louis — to attend the Travel and Tourism Research Association’s annual conference in June.

TTRA unites the travel and tourism research community by providing evidence-based data and analysis. The global organization serves as a forum for researchers, academics and industry professionals to collaborate, exchange ideas and advance knowledge in various aspects of travel and tourism.

I’m an admitted research and insights nerd, so attending the conference was a revelation. There is so much happening in the travel industry as it continues to recover from the pandemic. By staying in tune with evolving consumer travel habits and leveraging new and more informative data sources, TTRA is helping brands understand how to adapt through quality tourism research.

Let’s start with the data before we dive into a few of the most interesting travel trends covered at the conference.

Data Sources for Travel Insights Are Diverse and Dynamic

After COVID-19 upended the travel industry in 2020 — when annual spending on travel and tourism went from nearly $5 trillion in 2019 to $2.33 trillion — it’s been a slow but steady climb back to pre-pandemic numbers.

However, the issues having the greatest impact on travel plans in 2023 are no longer related to the virus: Instead, inflation, personal finances and transportation costs now represent three of the biggest barriers for consumers.

But there is good news: According to data shared at the conference, the cumulative number of Q1 2023 “booked room nights” at U.S. hotels climbed to nearly 94% compared to pre-pandemic 2019 levels.

This push and pull on consumers — the desire to return to normal routines, including travel, paired with the headwinds of rising costs — conveys that brands need to rely on all available data to help craft their marketing strategies.

For a long time, that meant mining traditional sources of travel data, such as airport trips and hotel stays. Today, however, those data sources are much more granular and include things such as:

  • Demographics

  • Geolocation

  • Vehicle tracking

  • Credit card swipes

Leveraging data can help destination and hospitality brands identify patterns and correlations that can be used to make predictions about consumer behavior. Through predictive analytics, brands can anticipate customer needs, preferences and booking patterns, enabling them to optimize their marketing efforts and offer timely and relevant promotions.

Two Travel Trends for 2023 and Beyond

Here’s where things get really interesting.

While overall the industry appears well on its way to recovering from the impacts of COVID-19 lockdowns and travel restrictions, the data tell us that the habits and routines formed during the pandemic have changed the reasons and ways we travel.

Whereas previously the motivation for travel was often externally focused — driven by the destination and ease of planning — now, travel decisions are becoming more motivated by internal factors such as reconnecting with the people we love and the desire for personally rewarding experiences.

1. Visiting Friends and Relatives

    Although taking trips to see our loved ones is nothing new, the increase in people’s desire to reconnect in person has undoubtedly been reinvigorated following the pandemic. This dynamic — known as Visiting Friends and Relatives, or VFR — has been a major driving force in the travel industry’s recovery, with VFR travel expected to have a higher compound annual growth rate than leisure travel between 2021–2025.

    The VFR trend highlights the importance of personal connections, shared experiences and social relationships in shaping travel decisions. With VFR, we see how that internal motivation takes the lead in travel decision-making.

    Technology has also enabled the travel industry to get a better picture of the VFR traveler via data sourced from GPS-enabled phones and vehicles. What we see is a traveler who may explore a city’s downtown during the day but, in the evening, heads to the suburbs to stay with family or friends instead of booking a hotel room. We also know that the VFR traveler tends to stay longer, make more repeat visits and help fill the seasonal gaps.

    For destination marketing organizations, the VFR traveler may have initially chosen to visit your city because a friend or relative lives nearby. But there is still ample opportunity to capture their interest — and wallet — through a marketing campaign that employs immersive imagery, compelling content and savvy social media. Whether that’s using photography to capture the soul of your city or tapping the storytelling power of a place to bring to life the human connections and unique experiences your destination has to offer, the VFR trend embodies the value of audience-targeted marketing.

    2. Bleisure Travel

      On the other end of the travel spectrum from VFR, we find the bleisure traveler. Combining business and leisure, this is an individual who seeks to piggyback onto work-related trips with some elements of personal travel.

      Again, the bleisure travel trend traces some of its momentum to the pandemic and the introduction of more flexible work environments. This might allow a business traveler to add nights to a conference trip and still work as needed, or their spouse might tag along on a business trip because they can work from the hotel.

      Regardless of the specific scenario, nearly 90% of people stated their plans to add personal vacation time to a business trip in 2022.

      For these travelers, experiencing the destination through dining, entertainment and exploration can fit the budget because their company probably paid for their flights. However, given the complexities of balancing business and pleasure, simplifying the planning for these travelers can be a real appeal. By creating and marketing immersive or all-inclusive experiences such as city tours or country excursions, destination and hospitality brands can solve this challenge for the bleisure traveler and gain wallet share.

      Trends such as VFR and bleisure travel are not only ways for individuals to enhance their trip and create new experiences, but they also benefit destination marketing organizations and tourism brands through increased visitor spending and extended stays.

      Intrigued? Check out how Wray Ward helps brands in the travel industry transport audiences and transcend the ordinary.

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