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U.S. Traveler Trends Part 1: Despite Green Light, Most Will Not Vacation This Year

Updated: Jul 1, 2021

As beaches around the country welcome waves of sun-starved vacationers, it seems that recovery is in full swing. Yet, a June 2021 iolite research survey[1] shows that vacations (including the purchase of flights and/or lodging) are still not in the plans for 53% of Americans in the next 12 months. One third (33%) will not even take a “free” vacation (overnight trips that do not include the purchase of flights and/or lodging). So, who can’t wait to hit the road? And who still wishes they had the pandemic as an excuse to tell Netflix yes, they are still watching?

Let’s pack our skinny jeans and get out of here

Gen Z may have taken a shine to throwing shade at millennials lately, but their travels may give millennials a leg up in their social media standoff. As their incomes better align with their ambitions, older millennials (35-44 year-olds) have the strongest intent to vacation at 68%, followed closely by 25-34 year-olds at 64%. From there, travel intent drops off quite steeply, with pre-retirement boomers being the least likely to travel. Unlike the great recession of 2008 when nest eggs were brutally crushed, the economic hardships brought by the pandemic have not hit older populations particularly hard. Retirees show a slightly stronger interest in taking a vacation this year than their younger boomer counterparts. The long-term priority of saving for retirement likely outweighs the desire to get away for some of these younger boomers.

Where the ladies at?

While travel generally becomes less of a priority for both genders once they reach middle age, men clearly show a stronger intent to travel within every age group. The strongest difference is within the 35-44 year-old group. The men in this group indicate they are 42% more likely to travel than their female counterparts. Gender differences in travel behavior are not a pandemic-specific trend – they have persisted over the years and across the globe. One might suspect that income is a contributing factor because women make less money on average. However, the disparity exists even within income bands. So, what could be driving the gender difference? Could it be protective moms?

I love my kids, but…

Given that the CDC has not yet approved COVID-19 vaccines for children under 12, one might expect parents of young children to be a group that brings the average intent to travel down in the near term. However, the opposite is true: Parents who have kids under 13 indicate they are 45% more likely to travel than those who do not (61% v 42%). But of course, exhaustion from home schooling and lack of “me time” are not the only things that drive wanderlust. As one might expect, income is a major factor in travel intent. However, even within income bands, both moms and dads are more likely to vacation this year than others – no jabs for kids, no problem.

The gender trend also persists for each group, albeit more narrowly between affluent moms and dads. Women (whether or not they have kids) remain less likely than men to plan travel; it is clearly not cautious moms who are driving the overall gender difference. Ultimately, the pervasiveness of gender differences across time and geography implies that some combination of nature and nurture results in women being slightly more immune to the travel bug – the rare immunity we should hope to erode.

Marketing Implications

Without looking at a scrap of evidence, many could have predicted that millennials would be the most eager to travel again. Given the current vaccination guidelines, the enthusiasm of parents is a bit more unexpected. Parental wanderlust is not just driven by a large millennial contingent – parents within other age groups also have a higher level of intent as well. The risk of serious illness for children due to COVID-19 is low enough for most parents to pursue the reward of much-needed getaway with aplomb.

Ultimately, safety messaging is not going to win anyone over. Most travelers are (or will be) vaccinated and parents are not worrying about their unvaccinated children. Those reluctant to travel because of COVID-19 concerns are not likely to be convinced by ad messaging. No destination, hotel or attraction is going to differentiate itself on a platform of hygiene. The general consensus is that people just want to get back to their lives. For many, vacations represent the penultimate expression of release from a year of home imprisonment.

This is the first post in a series that will cover the trends unearthed in our latest study. Next up, traveler attitudes and priorities for their vacations this year. Who is going to go on a YOLO, FOMO-fueled frenzy, and who is going to spend a chunk of their precious vacation time wiping down every surface in their hotel room?

[1] Proprietary iolite research study fielded on June 10, 2021 by Directions Research. Respondents were a demographically representative sample of US adults, N=1,083

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