More travelers want to be active on vacation: 5 free ways

What do you do on vacation?

Some people just want to lie on the beach and read a book while sipping a piña colada to decompress from their busy work lives.

But more people want to be active, explore and have a bit of an adventure. In fact, more than 90% of travelers participated in an activity during their last trip, according to travel research firm Phocuswright (see its tweet below).

Phocuswright defines “activities” as tours, attractions, events, activities (excluding dining and shopping) and transportation that travelers spend time and money on while traveling.

The global travel activities market represented 10% of the global travel market in 2016 — more than the rail, car rental and cruise segments, according to Phocuswright.

Phocuswright chart of activities share of travel

And the global travel activities market is growing fast — faster than the overall travel industry — and Phocuswright expects it to reach $183 billion in bookings by 2020.

Phocuswright global activities bookings

So, what do people most like to do when they travel?

Hiking is a top activity, according to the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA). Travelers also like trips with an “environmentally sustainable” element and family or multigenerational travel. I wrote an article on multigenerational travel in January for The Dallas Morning News.

Being active on your vacation doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Here are five free or inexpensive ways to explore and stay active:

Free tours: Many U.S. cities offer free walking tours — either guided or self-guided with brochures made available at a library or visitor center. Many organizations, such as San Francisco’s nonprofit City Guides, are led by volunteers who accept donations. FreeTour and Free Tours by Foot offer free or low-cost guided walking tours of many U.S. and European cities. These tours are a good way to meet locals of a new city or country as well as fellow travelers.

Universities: Many universities offer campus tours to the public, not just prospective students. Stanford University, for instance, offers a free 70-minute, volunteer-led walk daily at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. In addition, some colleges have free offerings, such as campaniles, nature trails and art museums. I wrote a blog post “How to make college tours fun” last year about some of these offerings at California universities.

Mobile apps: Many apps will act as your tour guide just about anywhere. The free Field Trip app uses your phone’s GPS to find cool things wherever you are worldwide — from temples and museums to restaurants and shops. The Historypin app (all free) offers planned excursions and vintage photos of your location with information and an interactive map — all through crowdsourcing.

Bike share: Many cities offer bike (or scooter) share programs that are inexpensive. It’s an easy way to see a city, but stay active.

Airbnb Experiences: In addition to home rentals, Airbnb a few years ago began offering activities offered by locals of a destination. Recent top-rated experiences ranged from snorkeling in Merida, Mexico, for $41 per person to a traditional Thai Yantra tattoo in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for $82. Since 2016, Airbnb has expanded its Experiences to more than 1,000 destinations.

What’s your pleasure? travel

We know more Americans traveled last year, and now we know more about who traveled and how they traveled.

Most people traveled for pleasure, not business, and most of that travel is within the United States.

U.S. leisure travel increased about 2 percent last year, accounting for 80 percent of all U.S. travel, according to the U.S. Travel Association (USTA).

Overall, airlines carried a record 965 million U.S. passengers* in 2017, up 3.4 percent from the previous high in 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). More than three-quarters of those passengers (742 million) were on flights within the United States.

Airline passenger traffic 2003-17

Travelers were more likely to choose closer-to-home destinations with paid lodgings, but not necessarily a packaged flight, according to travel research firm Phocuswright. In fact, air and cruise purchases declined in 2017, and prepackaged vacations were flat, it said.

Leisure travelers spent $718 billion in 2017, nearly double the amount spent by business travelers and up 5 percent from 2016, according to the USTA. Food and lodging were the top two spending categories.

Here’s how those USTA numbers broke down for 2017:

  • Travelers spent $257 billion on food at restaurants, grocery stores and bars, accounting for 25 percent of all U.S. traveler spending.
  • Travelers spent $220 billion on lodging, including vacation homes and campgrounds, accounting for 21 percent of total U.S. traveler spending. Although more than two-thirds of U.S. travelers (68 percent) stayed in a hotel, that declined from 73 percent in 2016, according to Phocuswright.
  • Spending on auto travel rose 8 percent, mostly due to higher gasoline prices. Phocuswright also found that the number of car rentals also increased slightly
Phocuswright travel trends
Leisure travel trends from 2014 to 2017. (Courtesy of Phocuswright)

U.S. air travel continues to rise this year. As of April, the number of air passengers was up about 5 percent from a year ago, according to BTS statistics.

* Passengers on domestic and international trips traveling on U.S. or foreign airlines.

Are travel sites ripe for personalization?

Most people plan and book their travel online these days.

Last year, consumers booked nearly half of all U.S. travel online, and the online travel market is growing faster than the offline market, according to industry researcher Phocuswright.

Research firm eMarketer predicts that global digital travel sales will increase from $548 billion in 2016 to $855 billion by 2021.

Phocuswright's Mark Blutstein headshot
Mark Blutstein (Courtesy of Phocuswright)

It’s not all smooth sailing though. A new report from Phocuswright notes that consumers often complain that online travel shopping takes too long and they have to search too many different websites.

Phocuswright analyst Mark Blutstein notes that other websites — from e-tailers to Netflix —  have personalized and streamlined the process. These sites offer customers suggestions, such as movies or clothing they might like, based on current site activity, what’s in their cart and past searches or purchases. Why can’t travel sites?

Half of U.S. online travelers say they’d rather see fewer choices based on their interests than spend hours searching for the perfect option, according to Phocuswright.

The flip side of personalization, Blutstein reminds us, is that you have to share your personal data.

Many consumers are on high alert about data privacy these days. Social network Facebook recently garnered a lot of attention about the way it collects and stores users’ information following news that Cambridge Analytica, a company with links to President Donald Trump’s campaign, accessed the personal data of tens of millions of Facebook users to target them for political campaigns.

Travelers may be different — at least when it comes to some general information. Roughly half of travelers say they’re comfortable sharing their past or current travel brands and destinations with online travel sites if it helps provide a more personalized experience, according to Phocuswright.

 

Two U.S. travel startups win contest

Paperless tickets for tourist attractions? Hotel bookings based on price reductions?

That’s the technology behind two travel startups attracting attention.

Redeam, the business behind the paperless ticket idea, and Waylo, the hotel price prediction and tracking app, won Phocuswright’s Battleground: The Americas on Sept. 12 in Sunnyvale, Calif.

I previewed the Battleground contest in a blog post last month. Overall, 16 startups each had six minutes to show their innovations to judges and a live audience. Here’s a bit more about the two winners:

Redeam: It enables businesses to accept paper vouchers and mobile tickets from any reseller using a tablet-based validation platform. The company is based in Boulder, Colo.

Waylo: This app tracks hotels you’re interested in booking by using proprietary technology to predict lower rates and sending you alerts. The company is based in Berkeley, Calif.

Next, Redeam, Waylo and startups from other Battlegrounds worldwide will compete Nov. 7-9 at the Phocuswright Conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for a $100,000 investment from venture capital firm General Catalyst.

Funding for ideas that make travel easier, faster, cheaper and better has increased. Travel startups raised $29 billion from 2016 through June 30, nearly double the total amount raised in the previous decade, according to travel and tourism research firm Phocuswright.

Travel startups attract more capital

As travel has increased, so has funding for travel startups.

Travel startups raised $29 billion from 2016 through the second quarter of this year, nearly doubling the total amount raised in the previous decade, according to Phocuswright. Such startups raised $33 billion in capital from 2005-15 — the first decade that Connecticut-based travel and tourism research firm tracked funding.

Those statistics offer a peek at a Phocuswright report, “The State of Travel Startups 2017,” to be released next month.

Part of the reason for the funding increase is the trove of travel-focused investors, incubators, accelerators and startup programs that have launched in the past several years to link  startups with capital, resources and mentors, wrote Phocuswright analyst Michael Coletta in a company newsletter.

Another reason might be the increased demand for travel as more baby boomers retire and millennials rank travel high.

Travel grew in 2016 and is expected to continue growing at a moderate pace in the near term, according to the U.S. Travel Association. More travel will be within the United States, not internationally.

While Coletta noted that big travel companies continue to get bigger, making it difficult for startups to compete, entrepreneurs in the tourism industry are focusing on new technologies and innovations. For example, millennial business travelers (age 18-34) book more than half of their hotel stays and nearly half of their airline reservations on smartphones, according to Phocuswright research.

Phocuswright will host a startup contest — Battleground: The Americas — on Sept. 12 at Plug and Play Tech Center in Sunnyvale, Calif. Sixteen startups get six minutes each to show their innovations to judges and a live audience. Two companies will progress to pitch their ideas to some 1,800 industry influencers at the Phocuswright Conference on Nov. 7-9 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Three travel startups vie for top innovator

What’s the next cool travel tool? Maybe it’s one of these three startups that will vie for the title of Business Travel Innovator of the Year later this month at the Global Business Travel Association Convention‘s Innovation Series Competition:

30k: The technology computes the number of frequent flyer miles needed for any flight in your airline loyalty program and related alliance and private airlines. The membership-based service also highlights upgradable fares.

AirMule: This app matches travelers who have unused luggage space with TSA-certified shipping companies on the same route. Air couriers earn $150 per checked bag each way or they can buy an Airmule flight with savings built into the price. The company says it screens and inspects all shipments. It sends items for you to pack and deliver.

WayGo: Point your iOS or Android smartphone at a menu or sign in Chinese, Japanese and Korean for this free app translate it without an Internet connection. More languages are on the way.

The three companies already beat out six other startups to win spots at the convention’s expo July 15-19 in Boston and a chance to pitch their ideas to convention goers, who will vote for the top innovation. The competition is a partnership between GBTA and Phocuswright, a travel industry research firm.