My travel blog

Report: Don’t ignore baby boomers in favor of millennials when it comes to travel

Focusing on millennials means baby boomers become an oft overlooked, large slice of the U.S. travel pie, according to Phocuswright research analyst Mark Blutstein.

Although the 75.4 million millennials (people age 20-37) outnumber boomers, there are still 74.9 million boomers (age 54-72). Each year more boomers will retire, providing many of them with the time and money to travel.

Boomers also make up a larger share of the traveler population: about 30 percent of U.S. leisure travelers were boomers in 2016, up from 24 percent in 2015, according to Blutstein. That compares with overall U.S. leisure travel declining somewhat in the same period.

While millennial travelers are adventurous and seek authentic experiences, they’re price-sensitive and brand-agnostic, Blutstein says.

Boomers may take fewer leisure trips each year, but they take longer trips – often seven nights or more – and spend more money than millennials, Blutstein said. Boomers are the only age group that increased travel spending from 2015 to 2016.

Average travel spending (Phocuswritght)

Boomers expect to take four or five leisure trips this year, spending about $6,400 ― the same or more than in 2017, according to a national survey conducted by AARP.

About half of those survey respondents expect to travel within the United States, with Florida and California being the most popular destinations. The other half plan to travel domestically and internationally. Top choices for those going abroad are the Caribbean/Latin America and Europe.

In 2016, 30 million Americans traveled internationally for leisure, according to the International Trade Administration. Here are some characteristics about U.S. leisure travelers who visited another country that year:

  • The average age was 45.
  • 54 percent were women
  • 58 percent traveled alone
  • 91 percent were adults
  • 63 percent were on vacation and 32 percent visited family or friends
  • The top three international destinations were: Europe (36 percent); the Caribbean (25 percent); and Asia (18 percent).
  • The average trip cost $2,398 per person.
  • The average household income of travelers was $119,779.
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6 travel trends to look for this year

Who doesn’t love to travel?

Each year, many of us add more destinations to our bucket list and new experiences we want as part of those trips. That’s partly why travel is up and expected to grow even faster this year, according to the US Travel Association. Another reason is the strong economy and high unemployment giving people the means to travel.

Here are six trends that may reshape the way we travel this year and beyond:

1. Unplug

More travelers want to refresh themselves and escape their busy lives. They’re prioritizing mental health over fun and thrills, according to the ATTA-Outside study.

This trend, however, varies by age, according to AARP. Nearly half of boomers say they travel to relax and rejuvenate or as a getaway from everyday life. But nearly three-quarters of millennials expect to bring work along on a trip.

I wrote an article about spa travel for the Chicago Tribune in late 2016. Spa spending has grown steadily over the last decade.

Japanese garden at Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary
The Japanese garden at Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary in Freestone, Calif., offers another way to relax and meditate. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

2. Higher prices

That relaxation may come at a higher cost this year — a reflection of the stronger U.S. economy and growing travel demand, according to a report by Carlson Wagonlit Travel and the GBTA Foundation. They expect global airfares to rise 3.5 percent, hotel prices to increase 3.7 percent and ground transportation, such as taxis, trains and buses, to remain more or less flat.

“If 2017 was the rise of the airline carriers’ “basic economy/no frills” concept, 2018 will be the hotel industry’s big year for ancillary charges,” according to a report by American Express. More lodgings are charging higher rates for a refundable room and fees for services that used to be free, such as Wi-Fi service, holding luggage, parking, early departures or a room safe, it said.

This may affect older travelers more because Baby Boomers (people age 54-72) prefer to stay in hotels or motels for amenities such as the concierge and room service, according to AARP. Millennials (age 13-36) are more open to staying in private home rentals, citing better prices, more space and amenities like a kitchen or washer/dryer.

3. Travel restrictions

Cheap regional airfares, home rentals and social media hype has contributed to overtourism in many popular places worldwide. Italy’s Cinque Terre is trying to control large tour groups that visit the five small, hillside towns linked by a trail along the Ligurian coast. Peru’s Machu Picchu restricts the number of visitors and how and when they access its ruins. Norway has introduced safety digital marketing to help deal with increased tourism and rescue calls.

The ATTA expects more places to restrict visitor access as governments and local residents protest the impact of overtourism on historical sites, pollution, traffic and the cost of living.

4. Customized travel

More people traveling to more places means there are fewer hidden gems and untrammeled areas. Research by Deloitte and the ATTA show that more travelers want personalized itineraries in their quest to experience something truly different.

5. Go local

Travelers also want more authentic interactions with local residents and communities, according to a study by the ATTA, East Carolina University and Outside magazine. This may include immersive experiences, such as staying overnight in a villager’s home or visiting a farm to learn about their sustainability efforts.

AARP found similar trends among international travelers: 49 percent want to “tour with a local” vs. 40 percent in 2017.

Bike and donkey in New Zeland
Personalized travel, such as a multi-day bicycle tour in New Zealand, lets you get closer to local people and animals. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

6. Virtual travel

Simulated travel experiences based on virtual and augmented reality technology provide access for people who can’t travel, enhance travel with behind-the-scene looks at damaged or hard-to-reach sites and create new marketing opportunities, according to the ATTA. Discovery Communications’ Discovery TRVLR project takes people to the seven continents using VR headsets. Go Under the Canopy takes people into the Amazon rainforest in an educational VR tour by Conservation International and Jaunt. You can take an interactive kayak tour of the Grand Canyon with Immersive Entertainment.

Virtual travel still can’t replace the real thing.

More Alaska Airlines changes are on the horizon

Alaska Airlines today will end its year-old daily flight between Los Angeles and Cuba due to low demand and changes in the Trump administration’s policy toward Cuba.

It’s just one of many changes occurring since Alaska merged with Virgin America in December 2016 and have been gradually integrating their operations, staff and policies. Earlier this month, Alaska received a single operating certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration for it and Virgin America to fly as one airline, which will enable some of the biggest changes.

Here are some examples of what Alaska has in store this year and beyond:

  • Paint the first Airbus plane in Alaska’s colors this month.
  • Add high-speed, satellite Wi-Fi to its entire fleet of Boeing and Airbus aircraft starting in March.
  • Upgrade its in-flight menus by adding fresh meal options in the First Class and Main cabins, and West Coast-inspired beer and wine choices.
  • Install blue mood lighting on more Boeing planes. Virgin America is famous for its cabin “mood lighting,” which changes color and brightness throughout a flight depending on the time of day and conditions outside the plane. The largely pink and purple hues were supposed to create a calm environment.
Alaska Airlines' blue mood lighting
Alaska Airlines said it plans to add blue lighting to more planes vs. the primarily pink and purple mood lighting that was popular on Virgin American planes. (Courtesy of Alaska Airlines)
  • Install new modern interiors in all Airbus planes, such as new seats, carpeting and lighting.  Alaska will increase the number of First Class seats and introduce Premium Class seats.
  • Locate an Airbus operations control center with one for Boeing aircraft at its Seattle-based flight operations center in March.
  • Offer travelers one mobile app, website and airport check-in counter when Alaska moves to a single reservations system in late April. For now, customers will continue to use separate Alaska and Virgin America platforms.
  • Update and expand airport lounges, including a new New York JFK lounge in April and a flagship lounge at Seattle next year.
  • See new uniforms designed by Seattle designer Luly Yang in 2019. Flight and ground crews will start testing new uniforms soon.
Since late 2016, travelers already have seen Alaska make the following changes: merge Virgin America’s loyalty program with the Alaska Mileage Plan; end Virgin America’s credit card program to focus on Alaska’s credit card; and update its no-show policy.

The featured photo at top is by Artur Bergman via Flickr under Creative Commons license.

New coalition aims to reverse declining international travel to the United States

A new business coalition hopes to work with the Trump administration to reverse declining international travel to the United States.

The Visit U.S. Coalition, which launched today, consists of trade groups that represent many travel-related businesses and workers.

As global travel increased 8 percent over the last two years, the U.S. share of that travel fell — from 13.6 percent in 2015 to 11.9 percent in 2017, according to data cited by the coalition.

International travelers spent $246 billion in 2016, according to the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), which is member of the coalition. About half of the 75.6 million foreign visitors that year were from Mexico and Canada.

President Donald Trump blocked travel from several largely Muslim countries, has proposed an end to so-called “chain immigration” and wants to erect a wall at the Mexico border. Visit U.S. cites the strong U.S. dollar, low-cost air travel and stronger air travel security as factors hurting international travel here.

In the coming weeks, Visit U.S. said it will propose policy recommendations. In addition to USTA, the coalition’s founding members include the American Gaming Association, American Hotel & Lodging Association, Asian American Hotel Owners Association, National Restaurant Association, National Retail Federation and U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

 

Trip to Waco, Texas, reveals old-timey wintry drink: hot Dr Pepper (really)

What better way to warm frozen fingers with frigid temperatures across much of the country than a hot drink.

Try hot Dr. Pepper. Yup, I said hot soda.

It sounds weird, but it’s tasty — and I don’t even like cold Dr Pepper. It was offered when I visited the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco, Texas, so I had to try it. When heated, the distinctive flavor of Dr Pepper becomes a delicious herbal tea.

Today, you can still get hot Dr Pepper Frosty’s Soda Shop at the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco, Texas, even though it’s not on the menu. You’ll have to hurry because the seasonal drink is served only from November to February, according to Lauren Schlee, the museum’s visitor services coordinator. It costs 99 cents a cup (plus tax), she said.

Frosty's Soda Shop menu
Note the Dr Pepper Sundae on Frosty’s Soda Shop’ menu at the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco, Texas.

If you want to try hot Dr Pepper at home, the Dr Pepper Snapple Group website suggests heating the soda to 180 degrees in a stovetop pot, then pouring it over a thin slice of lemon in a mug. Look for Dr Pepper in glass bottles that’s made with real sugar.

It turns out the drink has been around longer than I have. A former president of Dr Pepper Co. invented HOT Dr Pepper in 1958 to offer a drink that would warm up people during the winter. It was a popular holiday drink through the 1970s and the company continued to promote HOT Dr Pepper sporadically after the 1980s.

HOT Dr Pepper harkens back to the roots of the nation’s oldest major soda as a curative.

“It’s important to note that when we think of a health drink today, it is much different than what would have been considered healthy more than 100 years ago,” said Rachael Nadeau Johnson, collections manager at the museum. “Back in the 1800s and early 1900s, sodas of all kinds were used for their supposed health benefits.”

Back then, the Dr Pepper company used slogans like “Just What the Doctor Ordered” and “Vim, Vigor, and Vitality.” It also created the “Old Doc” logo — a country doctor with a monocle and top hat, in the 1920s and 1930s.

Dr. Charles Alderton, a young pharmacist at Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store in Waco, is credited with inventing the recipe for Dr Pepper in 1885, according to the museum. The formula, according to Johnson, is a secret.

The Dr Pepper Museum is about 90 minutes from Dallas by car. (GoogleMaps)[/caption]Dr Pepper’s recipe reportedly contains 23 natural and artificial fruit flavors that provide its unique flavor, according to the Dr Pepper Snapple Group website. The company and the museum are not connected.

The museum, which opened in 1991, is home to one of the world’s largest collections of soft drink memorabilia, including less-known names like Kickapoo Joy Juice and Vernors. The museum entrance fee is $10 for adults; less for students and seniors. It’s free for children age four and younger.

You can visit Frosty’s without entering the museum, but both are worth a stop if you’re in the area.

Map of Dr Pepper Museum, Waco
It takes about 90 minutes to drive from Dallas to the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco, Texas. (GoogleMaps)

Looking for something to do this weekend? Marin County parks are free on Jan. 6 and beyond

Marin County Parks is continuing to offer free access on the first Saturday of each month this year — at least for a while.

Starting this Saturday, Jan. 6, visitors can enjoy free entry and free parking at Marin’s three parks and two boat launches thanks to a program called “Measure A Days.” You can fish, ride bicycles, picnic and more at these locations: Blackpoint Boat Launch in Novato, McNears Beach Park in San Rafael (McNears swimming pool still costs $5 per person), Miller Boat Launch on Tomales Bay near Marshall, Paradise Beach Park in Tiburon and Stafford Lake Park, including the all-levels bike park, in Novato.

The theory is that by Measure A funds approved by Marin County voters in 2012 will offset the loss in park fees on “Measure A Days.” The one-quarter cent (0.25 cents) retail transaction and use tax is being used to: restore, maintain, enhance and protect existing parks and open spaces; and preserve family farm and ranch land.

Measure A Days began in 2017 as a pilot program. It will continue on the first Saturday of each month for the foreseeable future, but some parts of the program could change, said Marin Parks spokesman Kevin Wright.

Marin Parks is starting to evaluate data, such as number of visitors, use patterns and fee revenue, from 2017 to determine whether any changes should be made to the process, Wright said. Any changes will be posted online. He recommends that visitors check the Marin Parks calendar.

If you live in Marin and have a Marin County Free Library card, you can check out a free park pass from any library site for up to a week at a time.

Featured photo at top credit is an edited version of Stafford Lake by Jesse Wagstaff, Creative Commons license via Flickr.

Survey: Christmas season is worst time to fly

Just as millions of Americans prepare to fly back home after Christmas, a new study finds that consumers think air travel is more frustrating than it was five years ago.

Consumers also think the Christmas season is the worst time of year to fly, according to the Morning Consult national survey conducted for the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), an industry trade group.

Such negative emotions mean fewer Americans are willing to travel. The survey found that air travel hassles stopped 24 percent of leisure travelers and 14 percent of business travelers from taking at least one trip in the last five years.

And that’s translated into real losses for the U.S. economy. In 2016, the USTA says Americans avoided 32 million air trips because of travel hassles, costing the economy more than $24 billion in spending.

Here are some of the survey findings over the last five years:

  • 60 percent say airline fees, such as those for checked bags, flight changes and seat assignments, have worsened.
  • 51 percent say the overall cost of flying has increased.
  • 47 percent say airport hassles, such as long lines and crowded terminals, have gotten worse.

Improving airports would help, according to the USTA. Two in five frequent business and leisure travelers would take at least three more trips a year if airport hassles were reduced or went away, according to the survey.

In addition, many survey respondents think Congress should pursue policies to: modernize airport and air traffic control infrastructure (60 percent), give airports more flexibility to improve air service options for travelers (55 percent) and maintain competition between airlines (53 percent).

Morning Consult surveyed 2,201 adults online from Oct. 10-12, 2017. Results have a margin of error of +/- 2 percentage points.

3 tips to help make holiday travel jollier

A record 107.3 million Americans are expected to travel to grandma’s house or some other destination this holiday season, according to AAA.

Most people will drive, but more travelers will fly because holiday airfares cost nearly 20 percent less than last year and are at a five-year low.

Regardless of your mode of transportation, you’ll probably experience crowds, lines and congestion at airports, on roads and at bus and train stations. Here are three tips to help make traveling jollier this holiday season:

1. The big question for many fliers is whether to wrap gifts that you’ll pack in your luggage.

Transportation Security Administration agents can open wrapped gifts to check what’s inside. It’s especially an issue with checked baggage because you’re not with your luggage at that point in the process. The TSA’s blog says wrapped gifts are allowed, but “not encouraged.”

Tip: Instead, bring wrapping paper, bows and tape with you or buy them when you arrive at your destination.

2. If you’re flying, remember that liquids are limited to 3.4 ounces in a quart-sized plastic bag within carry-on bags. If you have TSA Recheck (it will be printed on your boarding pass), you don’t have to put liquids in a baggie and separate them from the rest of your baggage. There’s no restriction if you pack liquids, such as wine, in a checked bag.

The TSA expands the definition of “liquid” to include aerosols, gels (such as some lip balms), creams (such as lotion) and pastes (such as toothpaste) as liquids in carry-on bags. Medications and infant/child nourishments are exempt from the rule.

Tip: If you must give wine or another liquid as a present, ship it ahead through a mail service or buy it once you arrive at your destination.

mittens-2111853_640
(Creative Commons via Pixabay)

3. No matter how you travel during the holidays, space is sure to be a precious commodity. Most airlines charge at least $25 to check a bag and some have tightened their carry-on limits this year. Choose gifts that won’t occupy too much space in your luggage or car.

Tip: Think small, light and easy-to-pack, such as jewelry, socks, winter accessories, electronic gadgets, candy and gift cards.

Happy holidays!

Who is St. Mungo?

Ever heard of St. Mungo?

Harry Potter fans might recognize the name as the fictional patron saint of St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries.

In the real world, he’s everywhere — at least in Glasgow, Scotland. That’s because he’s the founder and patron saint of that city and was its first bishop.

Glasgow Coat of Arms (WikiMedia Commons)
Glasgow’s Coat of Arms features images, such as the three salmon, associated with St. Mungo. (WikiMedia Commons)

St. Mungo has even made the leap to pop culture. A giant mural painted last year by Glasgow graffiti artist Sam Bates (aka Smug ) on a gable row depicts a modern-day St. Mungo in realist form. (See featured image at top, photographed by me.)

The legend of St. Mungo says he was the illegitimate son of a princess. When her father found out, he threw her over a hill, but she floated down a river to land in Culross in Fife. Around 518, she gave birth to a son named Kentigern, who was raised by St. Serf.

St. Serf called the boy Mungo, meaning “my friend” or “dear one.” St. Mungo did missionary work and brought Christianity to the area in the sixth century before dying in the early seventh century.

The City of Glasgow’s coat of arms, according to TheGlasgowStory, bears symbols connected to St. Mungo:

  • The three salmon with rings in their mouth refers to a tale involving the sixth century Queen and King of Strathclyde (a Scottish kingdom). The queen had an affair with a young soldier, giving him a ring that the king had given to her. When the king found out, he threw the ring in the river, and then demanded that she produce the ring. She confessed to Bishop Mungo, who pledged his help. He sent someone to catch fish from the river. Mungo found the ring inside the salmon, giving it to the queen.
  • The oak tree with a bell hanging from it symbolizes a fire St. Mungo set using one of its branches.
  • The robin on top of the tree signifies a favorite of St. Serf’s that young St. Mungo revived after it was killed.
  • A phrase used by St. Mungo in a sermon was shortened to “Let Glasgow Flourish” to become the city’s official motto.

Some of the same symbols are incorporated into the University of Glasgow’s crest.

Visitors to Glasgow also will find a statue of him at the north entrance to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. His name graces the free St. Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life & Art housed in a 1989 building next to Glasgow Cathedral, where St. Mungo is buried.

What do millennials want when they travel? Authenticity

Millennials have put off expenses like getting married and buying a home or car, but that will change as they enter their prime spending years (25-45), according to a report by Goldman Sachs.

Travel, however, is one thing millennials already spend money — and plan to spend more money and time on, according to Goldman Sachs and other reports.

Millennials were born 1982-2004, making 13 to 35 this year. The range of dates varies depending on the source: Goldman Sachs, for instance, defined millennials as being born between 1980-2000 in its recent report.

Why is so much attention paid to millennials? They’re today’s largest living generation at more than 75 million members. Their numbers are expected to peak at 81.1 million by 2036.

When it comes to travel, millennials want authentic, unique, adventurous and immersive experiences, according to the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA). They want to be active and to live like a local, which influences everything from where they stay overnight to what they eat.

Millennials also are the largest and most technologically and social media engaged group of consumers. In fact, Airbnb says some 60 percent of its bookers are millennials.

Here’s what Airbnb’s “Rise of Millennial Travel” report found out about the travel habits and preferences of U.S. millennials:

  • More than 70 percent say “travel is an important part of who I am as a person.”
  • At least three quarters prefer to create their own itinerary rather than take a tour.
  • Nearly 60 percent don’t mind traveling solo.
  • More than half say they spend more on travel than they did a year ago.
  • Nearly 60 percent seek more of an adventure when they travel vs. decompressing.
  • More than half say meeting people when traveling is more important than bringing back souvenirs.
  • Three quarters prefer to try food at local restaurants, rather than familiar chains.
  • Most say discovering hidden local places is more important than visiting major tourist attractions, and they prefer accommodations in cool, local neighborhoods than close to tourist attractions.

The Airbnb report is based on the company’s booking data and a fall 2016 online survey of about 1,000 millennials in the Unites States, the United Kingdom and China.