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Best Western Travel Summit Predicting Strong Summer Season

Expect filled to the brim hotels this weekend and all summer long as more people are taking time off.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Francine Cohen
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After the rough winter that’s finally behind us, good news comes in the form of sunnier days bringing sunnier news for hoteliers who can expect occupancy rates to improve this summer, according to new numbers from Best Western International, and the American Automobile Association (AAA) showing an uptick in advance summer travel plans and booking.

The positive news was delivered at Best Western’s annual Travel Summit; a lunchtime panel discussion featuring executives from myriad areas of the travel industry, including AAA, U.S. Travel Association (USTA), Best Western International (of course), and DNA Digital Infusion – leading experts in strategic digital marketing for the hospitality segment.

Knowing the summer travel season is kicking off just right this Memorial Day weekend, Bill Sutherland, Vice President, AAA Travel Services shares details of his annual travel report which indicates the AAA/IHS forecast calls for 36.1 million travelers this holiday, an increase of 1.5 percent from 2013. The report is based on two key components; the Travel Forecast and the ISH/AAA US Travel Sentiment Index (UTSI). The Travel Forecast is based on economic conditions with the USTI is developed by analyzing social media around travel. Factored into this are macroeconomic drivers such as employment, output, household net worth, asset prices including stock indices, interest rates, housing market indicators, and variables related to travel and tourism, including prices of gasoline, airline travel, and hotel stays.

What the numbers and social media data mining reveals is that travelers arriving to their destination by car will be arriving at approximately the same rate they did last year, but air travel is expected to increase. Sutherland’s report notes, “The economic picture continues on its slow and steady path towards improvement, with gains in nearly all fundamentals helping to drive the travel forecast up 1.5 percent from 2013, with 36.1 million people expected to travel this Memorial Day holiday. Automobile travel is expected to increase 1.2 percent from 2013 with 31.8 million travelers expected to hit the road. The share of people traveling by car is expected to fall slightly to 88.1 percent. Gas prices are expected to be relatively similar to one year ago for the holiday. Air travel is expected to be up 2.4 percent this year, as 2.6 million travelers are expected to fly to their holiday destination. Air travel share of overall trips will increase slightly to 7.1 percent as a result of the gain.

This increase marks the third consecutive year of traveler growth for Memorial Day and the 2014 forecast is 2.6 percent higher than the 35.2 million average seen during the previous ten years. This was good news for the panel. Sutherland summed it up when he said, “There is growth. It is strong. Book early.”

Gary Oster, Executive Vice President of US Travel concurs there is growth in the travel segment, despite revealing facts such as four out of ten people don’t take all the vacation time due to them. That’s 429 million days of earned time off that expires. Essentially handing money back to their employer. What a waste! He and his colleagues have undertaken a campaign to encourage people to take advantage of their time off, knowing that it is in the best interest of them on a personal/family level and in terms of productivity in the office. He comments, “We have to get people to use time off. [They need to understand the] economic impact and understand how an individual can benefit – they are refreshed, more engaged with family and friends.”

He continues to illustrate the tangible and positive benefits of travel as he says, “Families who travel earn 12% more than families who didn’t travel together as kids. Couples who don’t vacation together have a higher rate of divorce. And men who don’t take vacation have a higher rate of heart disease.”
Save yourself and travel! Who wants to be unhealthy just because they decided spending more hours in the office was more important than taking that family trip? Nobody with any sense of keeping their family together.

Keeping families humming remains women’s work and what they excel at when it comes to travel. Dorothy Dowling, SVP Marketing and Sales for Best Western International, where they are seeing double digit growth in terms of activity for the summer presented a survey that illustrated the role of women in the decision making process. The Best Western Female Travel Summer Survey found that 90 percent of U.S. women frequently put the needs and wants of others over their own when planning summer vacation. She says, “We just did a shared survey with Wakefield to study American women and travel. “These results really drive home the many factors that women take into consideration when making travel decisions. And how important it is for them to book a summer travel trip that’s a fit for the whole family, including themselves,”

She continues, “Over half the decision on where to travel is made by women. Women are good at doing research and bringing value back to their family. They want to make sure the experience is something they can count on. It used to be free breakfast, now it is WiFi. Millenials look at WiFi as air and so, in offering value with WiFi, breakfast and parking that’s why mid-market hotels are winning. Women are also unlikely to spend extra for travel upgrades, which could speak to the trend of expecting more value (and fewer extra charges) out of their hotel and airfare. Only 7 percent of respondents say they would be most likely to splurge on hotel upgrades and 3 percent would be most likely to pay more for upgraded transportation. While they are unlikely to pay more for upgrades, hotel nights was the top choice (54 percent) for how women typically choose to redeem their travel rewards loyalty points. This was followed closely by airfare (52 percent), while 31 percent redeem their points for merchandise or other non-travel items.

Sutherland confirms the importance placed on value as women plan travel for their family, “58 percent of [our] respondents mentioned unexpected fees – like resort fees – pissing them off.” Those resort fees can be avoided with some thoughtful planning and turning to our mobile devices. Sutherland notes “11 percent of all AAA bookings were done on mobile last year. This year it is up to 19 percent.” And Best Western’s study shows that 46% of their respondents were researching restaurants and other local businesses once they’d booked a trip and post- trip 31 percent of female travelers use their smart phone to share travel experiences on social media. David Atkins of DNA Digital Infusion explains, “Mobile is part of the fabric of our lives. But it isn’t ubiquitous. It’s important to differentiate between hardware. 90 percent of all leisure travel is impacted before it is booked on any device; you may use your smart phone on the train, your tablet in bed at night – there’s continuity across day parts and devices when researching.”

That research allows for successful planning of both the long range and spur of the moment travel. Dowling notes, 59 percent of mid-market hotel rooms are booked on the go. That’s part of the adventure. If there’s a dream you have about a destination, I say plan and book early, but if ‘of the moment’ travel is important you can still find holistic value by searching for that free breakfast, etc. If you plan ahead you can have additional savings for families.

Dowling concludes, “Summer vacations are memory creators and Best Western wants to do that.”

Credit
Francine Cohen    Francine Cohen
Associate Editor
Hotel Interactive Editorial Division

Bio: Francine Cohen is hotelinteractive.com’s editor. She covers the notable people, news and trends that make the hospitality world so vibrant. Recent guest judge appearances at the Cape May Food & Wine Festival Iron Chef competition and Saborea Culinary Festival in Puerto Rico have led to ongoing speaking engagements. ...
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