By Peter Yesawich
Once again, it’s the economy, stupid. How prophetic. Who could have guessed this was coming after four glorious years of impressive growth? And although there are
many new factors that bear on the travel decisions now being made by consumers, the industry
should take comfort in knowing that leisure travel
remains a birthright for the majority of Americans
(unfortunately, not so for business travel).
Although the incidence of overnight travel
among U.S. households has declined (from 57%
in 2008 to 55% this year), travel intentions among
those who are planning an overnight trip in the
year ahead are actually up over the level we recorded last year. But consumers are no longer shopping
and buying like ladies and gentlemen. Value is, once
again, king. And any fare or rate that is perceived to
deliver less than good value is likely to be victimized by a swift tap of the “delete” key.
With the economy beset by pitfalls, consumers are reluctantly accepting lifestyle changes and
making difficult choices. The “Squeeze Economy”
is flexing its might. Many of the variables consumers have grown accustomed to trusting and
predicting (with some measure of success) are in
unsettling flux. Whatever the reality of the marketplace and the broader economy, consumers now
believe that some retrenchment is needed. Even
before gasoline prices soared, consumers,
in particular active travelers, had planned
more spending cuts.
As revealed in this year’s National Travel Monitor, consumers migrate away from
shopping styles that present fiscal red flags when
economic anxiety rises. The first response is to
find cheaper ways to buy but not make sacrifices.
When sacrifices are called for, convenience, indulgence and novelty are the kinds of “value” travelers are most willing to forego in order to economize. Importantly, there are two key contributors
to value that active travelers remain very reluctant
to give up, and they provide strategic options for
travel marketers during a slowdown.
They are quality and service.
portion of high-income consumers are worried
and are taking steps to reduce their discretionary
spending. Bear in mind that for the last decade or
so, the marketplace story has been all about empowerment and the dramatic transfer of control
away from marketers to consumers. In this context, a radically transformed traveler has emerged
— one who covets the driver’s seat, devouring information and taking advantage of new technologies to craft creative solutions that minimize sacrifice and compromise.
And from everything we have observed in our
analysis this year, it is abundantly clear that it’s
time to pay the piper. Changes in many aspects of
travelers’ lives are in order. In fact, they’re probably
overdue. Consumers sense there’s no real “easy”
button and that many of the issues they confront
are not candidates for a quick fix. They know they
can no longer ignore the repercussions of overindulgence, of living unchecked and of an economy
(over) powered by almost mindless accumulation.
One-hundred-calorie snack packs and “green”
consciousness were just the beginning as active
travelers began to tiptoe toward “responsibility.”
The markings of a fundamental shift are beginning to surface as active travelers take the first steps
toward “owning” their problems — economic, social and personal — and as they move ahead toward solutions. At this point, the mindset is more
pragmatic than idealistic, grounded in practicality more than altruism. Prioritizing and making
tough choices is a hard-earned skill that travelers
are beginning to exercise. And the emerging focus
It's time to pay the piper — there's an emerging focus by
consumers on responsibility, accountability and restraint.
TIPTOEING TO RESPONSIBILITY
While the anxiety travelers feel is moderated to
some extent by income, even a substantial pro-
on restraint and accountability is palpable:
• 73% agree our society today gives people a pass
• 62% disagree that all the talk about running
out of natural resources is ridiculous.
• 62% (up from 49% a year ago) agree people
today consume far more of everything than they
• 44% say that in the past year they stopped buying from companies they thought were acting unethically.
• Nearly half now agree that “not buying a vehicle that is larger than you really need to help
reduce our country’s dependence on foreign oil”
defines what it means to be a good citizen; four in
10 believe the same when it comes to “not buying
a home that is larger than you really need to help
reduce energy usage.”
With a strong sense of competence in place, it’s
not surprising that the nature of responsibility
that’s beginning to emerge has facets and dimensions that are unique to this time and marketplace.
Four “Ts” point to the tone travelers are taking, the
tensions they are confronting, the tests they face
and the tense in which they operate.
The tone is serious for most. There are important tensions to be resolved, dissonances to be
overcome. Active travelers face challenges to their
self-determined worlds (for example, how to keep
vital priorities in the picture when everything is
getting squeezed, or how to judiciously pursue the
passions they continue to find to be
important). There are new marketplace
constraints that fly in the face of consumer control, from more demanding
work habits to new credit limits. And
surely more challenges are around the corner. Both
the present and future tenses are being taken into
account — unlike recent downturns, during which
the emphasis was on getting through the present,
the focus today includes an eye toward the future,
We trust you will find the insights shared in this
special supplement provocative, and we invite you
to learn more about how to obtain a complete copy
of the results of the Ypartnership/Yankelovich 2009
National Travel Monitor by visiting the Publications section of www.ypartnership.com.
Peter Yesawich is chairman and CEO of the Ypartnership.