What you do on your summer vacation

Joe Schwartz


Summer is still the peak season for travel, but vacation parties are smaller than they were a generation ago, Marketers are tapping a new consumer need for shorter vacations that still offer relaxation and entertainment,

Summer remains America’s time to travel. June, July, and August saw 222.6 million trips last year, or one-third of all trips taken between the fall of 1989 and the summer of 1990. This was a 5 percent increase over the summer of 1989.

Travel is not expected to increase significantly over 1990 levels this summer, but recent trends in summer travel will continue. These include shorter trips, smaller travel parties, and increasing diversity of travelers’ wants and needs.

The typical summer traveler is a married baby boomer (aged 25 to 44) from the South or the Midwest with a household income of $20,000 to $40,000. Typical travelers hit the road in groups of two and go to the same location every year–a coastal area of the Southeast or the West. Most drive their own car, truck, or recreational vehicle on a trip that totals only 830 miles. And they are most likely to stay with friends or family, rather than in a hotel or motel.

Summer “pleasure trips” are growing in importance to the travel industry. * The number of business and convention summer trips in 1990 fell 19 percent below the 1989 level, but pleasure travel increased 15 percent in the summer of 1989, including a 9 percent increase in vacation travel.

These gains are concentrated among budget-minded vacationers. Automobile travel will account for 84 percent of summer travel this year, up from 82 percent in the summer of 1990, according to a forecast from the U.S. Travel Data Center in Washington, D.C.

Americans took 167.7 million pleasure trips in 1990. The vast majority (93 percent) of these were also identified by respondents as “vacation trips,” but many vacation trips have a combined purpose. Of the 40.1 million business trips recorded in the summer of 1990, 18 percent were also considered vacation trips (see page 4).

Americans spend an average of $1,146 on a vacation trip, according to The Roper Organization in New York City. But some demographic segments spend much more, including executives and professionals (average: $1,567), college graduates ($1,479), people aged 45 to 59 ($1,465), and people from the Northeast ($1,450).


Summer vacation parties remain small. In 1990, the typical group included two people. Yet summer travelers are more likely than average to live in households of two or more people. One in five summer travelers lives in a single-person household, compared with 25 percent of all Americans. One-third of travelers are from two-person households, and 17 percent are from households of three people; these shares are near the national average. But 29 percent of travelers come from households of four or more people, compared with 25 percent of the population. The likely explanation is that an increasing number of summer trips do not involve all household members.

The largest share of summer travelers (42 percent) comes from single-earner households, which claim just 33 percent of all households. Thirty-seven percent of summer travelers come from dual-earner households, compared with 35 percent of all households; 6 percent come from households with three or more earners, compared with 11 percent; and 16 percent come from households with no wage earners, compared with 21 percent.

Summer travelers also are clustered among young and middle-aged groups. Of the 222.6 million summer trips last year, 41 percent were taken by people aged 18 to 34; this age group claims just 37 percent of all adults. Summer travelers aged 35 to 54 are 38 percent of the market and 34 percent of all adults. Travelers aged 55 and older took just 22 percent of all summer trips, but they are 28 percent of adults.

The best growth area in summer travel is among people aged 35 to 54. The number of summer trips taken by this age group increased by almost 8 percent between 1989 and 1990. That is good news for vacation marketers, because the number of 35- to -54-year-olds will grow from 63.4 million in 1990 to 81.1 million in 2000. Summer travel among younger adults (aged 18 to 34) increased 6 percent between 1989 and 1990. Travel among people aged 55 and older held steady, at 49 million trips.

Although wealthy Americans can more easily afford to travel, the bulk of summer travelers comes from moderate-income families. Just 18 percent of summer travelers have family incomes below $20,000, 24 percent have incomes of $20,000 to $29,999, 17 percent have incomes of $30,000 to $39,999, 14 percent have incomes of $40,000 to $49,999, and 28 percent have incomes of $50,000 or more.

The South is the leading region for summer travel. It is the most populous region of the U.S., with 34 percent of the total population. It is also the most popular summer destination, accounting for 37 percent of summer trip destinations, and the most common origin point for summer travelers, at 38 percent.

The West accounts for 22 percent of destinations, 20 percent of origins, and 21 percent of the population. The Northeast claims 20 percent of the population, but just 13 percent of destinations and 17 percent of origins. The Midwest accounts for 23 percent of destinations, 26 percent of origins, and 24 percent of the total population. Six percent of all trips have destinations outside the U.S.


In a recession, summer vacationers shorter trips and are more likely to visit friends and relatives, according to the U.S. Travel Data Center. The center predicts that the duration of an overnight summer vacation trip will decline from an average of 5.1 nights in summer 1990 to 4.9 nights this summer. Trips of one to three nights should be more popular than ever.

Two out of three Americans take at least one weekend trip a year, according to The Roper Organization. Among weekend travelers, 22 percent take six or more weekend excursions in a year, 29 percent take three to five weekend trips, and 49 percent take one or two. Frequent weekend travelers have household incomes of $50,000 or more, live in the West, and work as executives or professionals. But they are in the minority.

The low-budget, high-volume vacationer has transformed the summer travel market. For proof, look to Las Vegas. Despite the city’s high-roller image, most visitors drive into town in their own vehicles and stay three nights. The average 1990 Las Vegas visitor spent a total of $566, including lodging, local transportation, shows, meals, shopping, and sightseeing, according to the city’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

In fiscal year 1990, more than half (51 percent) of Las Vegas’s 20.3 million visitors came from states in the West. And two-thirds (65 percent) of western visitors came from neighboring California. That’s why marketers at the Excalibur Hotel spend 65 percent of their media dollars in southern California.

“We position ourselves to be attractive to the vast majority of that drive-in market,” says Vince Manfredi, assistant director, of marketing for the one-year-old Excalibur. This giant hotel on the famous Strip is among the world’s largest, with 4,032 rooms and parking for 7,000 cars.

The average drive-in customers at the Excalibur are 35-to-54-year-old college-educated couples who earn $50,000 to $80,000 a year, says Manfredi. The couple also has one or two children living at home who may accompany the parents to the hotel. “That is how we have positioned the Excalibur,” he says. “We are describing the vast majority of people who drive into Las Vegas.”

Travel-related businesses once depended on families with children who took vacations of a week or more. But today, the typical summer traveler “is fitting leisure time into the cracks,” says Bickley Townsend, a vice president at The Roper Organization and a contributing editor of American Demographics.

Most travelers do not want their shorter vacations to be intense. In 1987 and in 1990, Roper asked a representative sample of adults what they prefer to do on their vacations. The share who say they want to “go away, do many things” decreased from 51 percent to 44 percent. Those who want to “go away, sit and relax” increased from 23 percent to 25 percent, and those who say they prefer to “stay home and relax” increased from 17 percent to 22 percent. “There is a marked increase in people who just want to relax,” says Townsend.

Most Americans (63 percent) say they prefer two or more short vacations or a number of weekend trips to one long vacation a year, according to Roper. Only 25 percent still prefer one long vacation; 11 percent are undecided. And people who prefer shorter vacations are likely to have higher household incomes and greater educational attainment.

“It’s sort of like compressing vacations into sound bites,” says Townsend. “Now you have vacation bites.”


For more information on summer vacation trends, see the 1991 Summer Vacation Travel Forecast, published by the U.S. Travel Data Center, Two Lafayette Centre, 1133 21st Street NW, Washington, DC 20036-3390; telephone (202) 293-1040. Also see the U.S. Travel Data Center’s 1990 Summer Travel Market Report, available for $100. Reprints of this article may be purchased by calling (800) 828-1133.

* A trip is counted each time one or more adults travels 100 miles or more away from home and returns. Pleasure trips are defined as travel for entertainment, for visits to friends or relatives, or for some sort of outdoor recreation such as boating, camping, fishing, or hunting.

Joe Schwartz is senior editor of American Demographics.

COPYRIGHT 1991 Copyright by Media Central Inc., A PRIMEDIA Company. All rights reserved.

COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning

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