By Caroline Bremner from Euromonitor
As the August holiday season gets into full swing, recent research surveys shed light on some current consumer attitudes influencing tourism trends.
Travel and tourism is one of the most heavily researched consumer markets today, being a vital element of economies at all levels of development right around the world.
Travel is one of the growth industries in the modern world economy, with world tourism receipts growing by 51.3 per cent in US$ terms between 2001 and 2006. Recent surveys however highlight more sober findings.
Chief of these are:
Severe limitations on holiday-taking in the USA, in both US consumer attitudes and practical time availability (US workers could take14 days paid-leave in 2006 on average) – plus a new trend in which incoming travel checks are restricting visitor arrivals in the USA.
The impact of consumer concerns over carbon emissions and tourist flights amongst European consumers, leading to practical decisions to take holidays at home.
No holidays in the USA
It's being called the “No Vacation Nation.” US citizens receive some of the lowest paid holiday entitlement of any developed economy - 14 days in 2006, compared to 20 in the UK, 30 in Brazil, and 18 in Japan.
To compound matters, the USA has one the lowest amount of public holidays falling on a work day - just one in 2006 (Indonesia topped the world rankings with a massive 17 in that year).
A new report from the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), Washington, and also published by the European Economic and Employment Policy Brief, compared statutory paid leave and paid holidays across advanced economies worldwide.
The USA was the only country in the survey not legally requiring employer paid leave or paid public holiday days. As a result, almost one in four US workers has no paid leave and no paid public holidays.
The issue heavily affects the lower paid, who receive far less paid holiday time than higher paid workers.
In Europe, legislation usually requires a minimum of 20 days paid leave a year, rising to 25 and even 30 in some cases (e.g. Norway).
At the same time, US consumers themselves place less emphasis on holidays. AC Nielsen's regular international Online Consumer Confidence Survey 2006, for example, includes an analysis of use of spare cash, including use on vacations.
Finally, looking at key European domestic tourist statistics, Finland, Sweden, France and Germany show the greatest consumer demand for domestic tourism – with over 2.5 domestic trips per person in 2006.
As a consequence of robust economic growth and rocketing disposable incomes, the propensity to travel has mounted in Asia Pacific. Leisure consciousness has been enhanced with travel no longer seen as a luxury but an affordable commodity.
The prevalent trend is for more frequent holidays within the region. Some 90 per cent of all outbound departures from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Macau, went to destinations within the region in 2006.
Weekend breaks have been increasing in popularity as hectic, westernised lifestyles become the norm. As travel restrictions are lifted and incomes grow, Chinese outbound tourism is booming.
Chinese consumers prefer familiarity while on holiday in terms of food, customs and having Mandarin language translations for brochures, websites and other textual materials so the propensity to stay within the region is apparent.
If this year's trends continue, we should expect to see the difference between domestic and outbound leisure trips begin to even out in northern Europe, although it will obviously require a sea-change in public travel and holiday attitudes to reach the levels apparent in southern Europe.
Only 25 per cent of US consumers put their spare cash into holidays and vacations, compared to a global average of 34 per cent.
While holidays are the number two use of spare cash globally (behind savings), it is much less important in the USA.
In the USA, paying off credit cards, out-of-home entertainment and home improvements rank higher. And the USA is in the bottom ten of all markets in putting spare cash into holidays.
As well as receiving less paid time than many of their overseas counterparts, US consumers place less importance on holidays – and US office workers are notorious for not actually taking their full annual entitlement.
Finally, whilst US consumers prove cautious holiday-takers, the USA is also suffering falls in visitor numbers.
Increased difficulties in obtaining visas and increased, time-consuming security at US airports is currently cited as a main reason for not visiting the USA in tourist surveys around the world.
In a survey in April/May of 3,061 Canadians (Scotia Bank's annual travel survey conducted by Decima Research), more than half (51 per cent) said they would be travelling within Canada.
Some 16 per cent planned to travel to the USA, but it is thought that this is being hit by new Canadian passport requirements and delays, and by concerns over US border requirements.
Europeans to stay at home?
When US consumers do take vacations, domestic trips dominate the market with 3.1 billion domestic trips in 2006. Europeans have greater propensity for foreign travel, but nearer may be about to mean better for today's Europeans.
Southern European consumers have long vacated at home, partly due to the expense of foreign travel for previous generations and partly due to their living in prime holiday destinations (albeit that local and international holiday centres usually differ).
Now Northern European markets are also showing a trend to stay at home.
The trend is especially noticeable in Germany, the largest European economy. The domestic sector is the leading travel destination for German consumers and is growing in importance. The number of vacations within the country grew by 12.5 per cent between 2001 and 2006.
The two key factors behind this are interrelated: German consumers are actively responding to global warming issues, and global warming is having a noticeable impact on the local climate.
Green issues are taken seriously in Germany, and consumers are showing reluctance to fly south to the Mediterranean or further, and prefer to take a train or short drive, for example north to the coastal resorts on the Baltic, which are now enjoying extended sunny summers.
Re-unification has also been a factor in the longer-term – opening up new destinations to the east since the start of the 1990s. While the number one national holiday resort is Bavaria, number two is Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, a coastal region in the former East Germany.
Elsewhere in Northern Europe, Swedish consumers also show a strong preference for domestic holidays. A survey from Nordea Bank, released in June, found that Swedish consumers spend an estimated 38 billion kroner on holidays, of which the great bulk, or 33 billion kroner, is spent in Sweden.
In the UK, as the holiday season got under way in May, tourism minister Kim Howells called on UK consumers to follow the German example and holiday at home – emphasising the domestic economic gains.
However, the UK market is more complex. It is influenced heavily by local weather, which although clearly changing is still not necessarily reliable, and cost comparisons.
A survey by YouGov, released in July, found that almost half of UK consumers find the UK too expensive compared to foreign resorts.
Some 45 per cent were concerned about carbon emissions in flying abroad. And more than a fifth would like to take a break in the UK rather than travel abroad specifically to reduce their carbon footprint, but find the UK too expensive.
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