Where the Tourists Spend Big

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A new report shows that tourists don't play regional favorites when it comes to spending money.

Looking for a quiet place to vacation - and a place that won't leave your wallet running on empty? Try North Dakota.

According to recent analysis gathered by the Travel Industry Association (TIA), tourism expenditures in the Flickertail State dropped by more than any of the other 49 states or Washington D.C.

However, this is nothing endemic to the Midwest. Hawaii experienced the second largest decline in tourist expenditures, with Vermont next on the list. On the other hand, if you're looking for a place where tourists are spending a lot of cash, New Hampshire should lead your itinerary. The Granite State attracted the largest increase in travel expenditures, followed by Illinois and Texas.

Why has New Hampshire become so expensive for tourists? According to the TIA, it's due to the substantial growth of the Boston metro area, stretching into the southern part of the state.

And that's just the start of what the research organization discovered about the $500 billion domestic travel market in the U.S. In order to understand more about where consumers are inclined to travel when they're spending all of that money - and to demonstrate the economic impact of the travel industry - the TIA gathered data from the federal government, national travel organizations, and scoured their own substantial research trove.

First, the research organization discovered that travel to the U.S. is on the rise: up 3.7 percent between 1997 and 1998. Most of that increase comes from people who live in the U.S. Domestic travelers account for 86 percent of all travel spending in this country, and increased their spending at a faster pace than international visitors.

While U.S. travelers spent 4.8 percent more on domestic tourism between 1997 and 1998, foreign tourists spent 2.3 percent less than the year before. The TIA attributes the decline, in part, to the economic crisis in Asia in 1998. (This was also likely a factor in the decline in travel expenditures in Hawaii, which attracts many Asian tourists each year, and is the fourth most popular state for foreign travelers to visit.)

The single largest category that consumers spend on when they're traveling in these United States? Food. Consumers spent nearly a quarter of their travel budget on food in 1998, totaling $117.2 billion. Although lodging only accounted for 20 percent of the total vacation bill in 1998, spending on hotels, campgrounds, and vacation-home ownership and rental increased 7 percent - the largest jump of any category between 1997 and 1998.

Travel spending in the U.S. is highly concentrated. A full 42 percent of all domestic travel expenditures occurred in just five states: California, Florida, New York, Texas, and Illinois. In total, domestic and international travelers spent $207.3 billion in those top states. No wonder state governments are spending big bucks to attract that cash. In fiscal 1999-2000, state tourism offices planned to spend $644 million to promote their respective states. The top spender? Hawaii, which spent $60 million on promotions.

In a separate study, the TIA found that most domestic travel in the U.S. is for pleasure. A whopping 66 percent of all person-trips (one person traveling 50 miles or more from home and/or overnight) are for leisure, 17 percent are for business. Most consumers travel by car, truck, or RV - the great open highway being the preferred mode of transportation for 76 percent of all trips. Just 18 percent of domestic travelers go by airplane, while 2 percent travel by bus.

Given today's hectic lifestyle, most getaways are brief: 17 percent of all person-trips are just day trips; 38 percent are one to two nights; while 45 percent are three nights or more. The largest share of consumers (43 percent) spend those nights in a hotel, motel, or bed and breakfast; more than a third spend the night in a private home. With so much spending to do, who has time to sleep anyway?

For more information, contact the Travel Industry Association of America, (202) 408-8422 or www.tia.org.

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