In Depth

Holiday Travel In Two Directions

We’re in the heart of the holiday season, and that means people are going places (literally).

In North America, consumers have been doing so in record numbers since before Thanksgiving. Travel for Turkey Day in the U.S. this year was the busiest to date, according to Sojern, which sussed out that the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and the titular day itself were the three most popular travel days, in descending order, for the holiday in 2015.

Being that Thanksgiving is a family-centric and U.S.-localized celebration, travel surrounding it this year — as it does every year — largely stuck to those parameters, with consumers visiting loved ones in domestic locations (the Sojern story adds that the top five Thanksgiving destinations in 2015, based on online search data, were New York, Chicago, Miami, Dallas and Los Angeles, in that order). Companies in the travel and hospitality industries that were aware of these Thanksgiving trends in advance — including the always-profitable consumer practice of last-minute booking — and folded them into competitive deals benefited from this record-setting holiday. For those who might have missed out, there’s always next year.

The good news for the latter group (and, frankly, the travel industry as a whole) is that — given that the holiday season is far from over — there is much travel remaining to be booked for Christmas and New Year’s. And, unlike the case with Thanksgiving, not all travelers in that regard will be U.S.-based to begin with and, even among those who are, not all will be journeying home (which is to say, homes of their family members) for those holidays.

Another Sojern story notes that December — during which several religious holidays (including Christmas, natch) and school vacations worldwide take place within a few weeks — is the most popular month of the year for travel. The 19th of December, in fact, is a date that travel companies ought to have circled on their calendars, as Sojern reports that it is the single most popular travel date of the year across Europe, Asia-Pacific and Latin America and the second most popular in North America. Not a great day to be in transit, to be sure, but a very profitable one for businesses that facilitate that process.

Just as it was for Thanksgiving, the segment of American consumers that book at the last minute stands to be a boon for the travel industry when it comes to Christmas and New Year’s. Skift shares information from travel data company Adara showing that, last year, 50 percent of all holiday hotel stays were booked after Dec. 14, while the same percentage of flights were booked after Nov. 17. According to Adara, the search-to-book ratio for the holiday travel period (which Adara defines as Dec. 18, 2015, to Jan, 3, 2016) is at a higher rate this year than it was last, which bodes very well for airlines and hotels.

For those types of businesses to focus solely on marketing to the homeward-bound consumer, however, would be to miss out on an entirely different — and potentially quite lucrative — segment of holiday travelers: those who spurn the traditional practice of heading home (in one form or another) for the holidays in favor of luxury destinations and experiences.

As a study from Martini Media, shared by Skift, bears out, these are folks who range from emerging to hyper-affluent and have an estimated per-person budget of $1,950 to spend on holiday (or, perhaps more accurately, “getaway”) travel. On the whole, they’re more interested in experiences than physical items, and they’re willing to spend good money for them.

“Money can’t buy priceless memories, but it can buy everything that leads to them,” writes Dan Peltier of Skift. “Travel rather than material possessions is the new luxury for affluent travelers who want an experience that takes them further than their living room sofas.”

In a statement shared by Skift, Vincent Krsulich, senior VP of sales at Martini Media, remarked: “The memories made from one-of-a-kind travel experiences are something that money cannot buy. Affluents would rather spend money on vacation than on material possessions, and the amount of time and money they plan to spend is expected to increase over the coming year.”

Travel retailers seeking to attract the business of non-traditional holiday excursionists have a wide range of options to offer. A story on the Travel Channel’s website outlines several, including pop culture-inspired tourism (such as fans of the Disney movie “Frozen” visiting Norway for its snow-covered fjords and ice castles), local experiences that immerse visitors in the point of view of locales’ inhabitants, adventure travel (to Mt. Kilimanjaro, for example) that raises funds for the regions hosting it and even replicating travel to far-off lands without the consumer having to leave his or her couch, thanks to virtual reality.

Whether travel companies are catering to the affluent consumer or those making the more traditional journeys for Christmas and New Year’s (both of which can apply, it should be noted, to the much-desired millennials), there are key practices that ought to be engaged in to take full advantage of the business opportunities spanning Christmas through New Year’s. Among those that travel site Zozi recommends are cooking-centric journeys, “glamping” (experiencing nature while enjoying luxury accommodations) and — most importantly, no matter where a traveler is headed — offering mobile booking, as the story points out that travel purchases made on mobile devices are expected to account for $36.77 billion in sales this year (a 40 percent increase from the year previous).

If any company in the travel business is willing to miss out on those kinds of numbers, they might as well just stay home this Christmas.

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