Industry Update
Press Release29 August 2012

New survey reveals comeback of pre-recession leisure travel habits and preferences

Emotional Power of Travel Now Trumps Americans’ Economic Concerns

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Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russel MMGY

Despite years of a challenging economic climate, new research points to a revival of the most meaningful driver of American vacations: the emotional connection between travel and quality of life. Leisure travelers are doing less of the things that characterized the economic hardship of recent years and are now adopting more behaviors that confirm the importance of travel in their emerging lifestyles, according to the newly released MMGY Global/Harrison Group 2012 Portrait of American Travelers, a nationally-representative survey of 2,527 U.S. households.


The in-depth, annual survey reveals that while the average number of overnight leisure trips taken during the past year has remained essentially unchanged versus the previous year, the motivations underlying these getaways are evolving. "Trading down," "staycations" and other cost-conscious travel behaviors that emerged during the Great Recession have waned, and the new findings augur well for a boost in 2013 travel spending thanks to a renewed interest in quality experiences that Americans deem "worth it."

Key insights from the new MMGY Global/Harrison Group 2012 Portrait of American Travelers reveal that today's travelers:

  • PLACE HIGH VALUE ON THE EMOTIONAL POWER OF TRAVEL: More than nine in 10 travelers agree, "The memories I get from my vacations make the tripworth it." This and other emotional connections echo throughout the study, suggesting this sentiment is the primary reason for renewed interest in travel by consumers who endured years of having less money and time to do so. Vacationers' top goals for the coming year speak to this connection – they want to see more of the world and spend more time with family and friends (37 and 29 percent, respectively). Additionally, 75 percent of leisure travelers agree, "Taking a vacation is the event I most look forward to each year," and fully half would even take a vacation by themselves to "get away from it all," if given the opportunity.
  • ARE MORE LIKELY TO TRADE UP: More travelers prefer upscale hotels and resorts this year than last, with 26 percent of vacationers preferring luxury lodging versus just 15 percent in 2011 – a statistically significant boost. And travelers increasingly place a premium on the convenience associated with access to full hotel services: fully eight in 10 now prefer a full-service hotel or resort (with a restaurant), compared to 75 percent just two years ago.
  • EMPHASIZE THE EXPERIENCE VS. THE COST: Travelers in all annual household income groups now value "quality" over "savings." They are more willing to pay full price "as long as I am guaranteed the quality and service I deserve." In a surprising departure from the travel planning scenarios that prevailed during the recent recession, today's travelers choose the destination (34 percent) and type of trip (33 percent) first, before setting a budget (18 percent) and searching for deals (eight percent). The number of travelers engaged in general cost-cutting shopping behaviors has also declined. Significantly fewer vacationers now wait for items to go on sale, purchase generic or less expensive brands, or maintain a membership in a travel rewards program. However, perceived "value for the price" remains the most influential factor for nine out of 10 travelers when choosing lodging. The influence of "value" on hotel and resort selection has increased coincidental with a decline in the influence of "room rates," suggesting that travelers really do make a distinction between "price" and "value."
  • FOCUS MORE ON FAMILY: "Togethering" vacations are on the rise in what remains an uncertain economy, with 43 percent of leisure travelers saying family getaways were the primary purpose of one or more leisure trips during the past year, compared to 40 percent just two years ago. This renewed familial focus has also given way to a significant boost in multigenerational travel – 23 percent of all active leisure travelers are now grandparents, and 37 percent of those took at least one vacation with their grandchildren during the past 12 months (compared to just 32 percent in 2011).
  • CHANGED THE TYPES OF TRIPS TAKEN LAST YEAR: In an interesting juxtaposition of interests, more travelers enjoyed both trips focused on outdoor activities as well as city-based vacations last year, with each type of getaway reflecting a two percentage-point rise since 2011 (46 and 25 percent, respectively). And while trips focused on outdoor activities rose in popularity, less-active general sightseeing vacations declined significantly, dropping from 29 percent in 2011 to just 26 percent today. Gambling vacations and trips to see sporting events also declined in popularity.
  • SHOW A SHIFT IN DESTINATION INTEREST: While the most popular U.S. states retained their appeal this year (Calif., Fla., HI, N.Y. and AK), the allure of several other domestic destinations has increased. States like Alaska, Hawaii, Arizona and Tennessee saw decreases in interest, while Louisiana, Michigan, Oregon and Washington, DC, were the beneficiaries of increased interest. Consistent with the preferences cited earlier, many destinations that feature outdoor recreation now enjoy a statistically significant rise in interest – think mountain areas such as the Utah mountain resorts, Lake Tahoe (Calif. and Nev.), Gatlinburg (Tenn.), Pocono Mountains (Pa.), as well as coastal spots like the Mississippi and Florida Gulf Coasts, Atlantic City (N.J.), the Outer Banks (N.C.) and South Carolina shoreline. Other destinations with rising popularity are those that offer unique visitor experiences such as historic Colonial Williamsburg (Va.) and St. Augustine (Fla.), wine-focused Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley (Calif.) and glitzy hotspot Las Vegas (Nev.). International destinations with rising interest in visitation include Africa, the Middle East and Oceania (Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands, etc.). However, fewer U.S. travelers are interested in international trips overall, dropping to nine percent of all leisure travelers today (versus 11 percent last year).
  • USE MOBILE MEDIA DIFFERENTLY: The usage of tablets has exploded during the past two years. While less than one in 10 leisure travelers accessed the Internet through an iPad or tablet computer in 2011, this has increased nearly four-fold to 27 percent in 2012. When comparing the activities performed by leisure travelers on tablets versus smartphones, travelers now use tablets more frequently when comparing prices, making air travel, lodging reservations, or purchasing tickets to attractions and other activities. Smartphones are more likely to be used for activities on the go, such as finding nearby restaurants and shops, navigation, scanning QR codes, or using check-in features or apps such as Facebook Places and Foursquare.
  • RISE IN OPTIMISM: U.S. travelers now embrace a more positive view of the world - no doubt another reason for their renewed interest in rediscovering the emotional benefits of travel. Specifically, significantly more leisure travelers now say they are extremely/very optimistic about "their own future," "the future of their children," "their jobs," "their companies" and "the world in general" than just two years ago.

The MMGY Global/Harrison Group 2012 Portrait of American Travelers is a national survey of 2,527 U.S. households. The results provide a detailed examination of the impact of the current economic environment, social values and emerging media habits of Americans with an annual household income of $50,000 or more who have taken at least one overnight trip of 75 miles or more from home during the previous 12 months.

For more information about these insights, other industry research, to order a report or a custom subset analysis, visit

MMGY Global
is a $150 million integrated global marketing firm with more than 35 years of experience in the travel, hospitality and entertainment industries. For more information, visit

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Amanda Drake
Senior Account Executive MMGY Global
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