U.S. Travel Outlook: Business/Meeting travel improves while leisure travel outpaces

While some recent research points to more disposable income for American households, high unemployment rates and the 16-day government shutdown negate the positive research, according to the latest U.S. Travel Outlook. While there is good news in terms of growth in household wealth (+1.8 percent in Q2 over Q1), low interest rates and lower gas prices, the shutdown is estimated to have taken approximately $3.1 billion out of the gross domestic product, according to HIS Global. In addition, non-government business losses, temporary layoffs and disrupted consumer confidence have taken their toll on the economy.

Prior to the shutdown, August employment figures showed the addition of 169,000 jobs, 14,000 of them in the travel industry, says the U.S. Travel Association. David Huether, senior vice president of research for the organization, notes that this is “equal to the number of jobs added by the entire manufacturing sector.”

Consumer confidence however, which had increased in August, decreased in September. As well, Gallup reports that Americans’ confidence has further deteriorated by the government shutdown. Consumer spending, while somewhat dull throughout the summer, did increase a bit in August (+0.3 percent).

Business and meetings travel shows some positive trends according to recent surveys. According to new research by ICCA and IMEX, almost one-third of association respondents reported higher attendance for 2013 than in 2012. As well, 30 percent of associations plan to hold more meetings in 2014 than this year.

Leisure travel, however, continues to outpace business travel. A new American Express survey reports that 63 percent of its travel counselors report that customers are planning the same or more number of trips in 2014 as in 2013. Wellness travel is also a hot topic, says SRI’s Center for Science, Technology and Economic Development. According to SRI’s recent study, wellness tourism now accounts for nearly $439 billion in tourism impact worldwide and is expected to increase nearly 50 percent faster than overall tourism. Other recent research shows that younger people are traveling more, staying longer and spending more money. According to the World Youth Student & Educational Confederation, young travelers represent 20 percent of international tourism and spent $217 billion in 2012.

Leisure travel is not without its challenges, though. A recent report titled “No-Vacation Nation Revisited” by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, says that the U.S. is the only advanced economy that does not require employers to provide paid vacation time. Nearly a quarter of Americans don’t receive any paid vacation or paid holidays. As well, even those Americans who do receive paid vacation do not receive even the minimum amount of paid days that workers in 19 other economically advanced countries.