seal  Purdue News

May 4, 2004

Summer travel forecast: Vacationers to choose auto travel, short trips

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Two Purdue University hospitality and tourism management professors say this year's summer vacation season will be dominated by shorter, more frequent trips in both domestic and international travel.

Liping Cai, an associate professor and director of the Purdue Hospitality & Research Center, said those planning vacations are acutely aware of terrorism threats and the high price of gasoline, but that won't keep them at home.

"People will travel," Cai said. "Travel is a necessity. For example, in recent years we've seen parents driven by guilt to provide summer educational opportunities through travel for their children.

"But safety concerns will dominate traveler psychology, so car travel will dominate. People will take more frequent, shorter trips (50-75 miles), rather than two weeks at international resorts."

Cai said U.S. outbound travel overseas (not including Canada and Mexico) was increasing between 7 percent and 9 percent annually from 1997 to 2000.

"Then, 2001 was down 6 percent from 2000 and down another 7 percent in 2002," he said. "The number of U.S. travelers going overseas went up 3 percent in 2003, but this came after the two years of declines."

Xinran Lehto, an assistant professor of hospitality and tourism management, said those choosing international travel this summer will tend to choose destinations close to home.

"The higher-end traveler is more likely to choose Caribbean locations or Mexico rather than Europe or Asia this year," Lehto said. "Psychologically, it's another world, but it's closer to home and, therefore, seems safer."

Cai says in the post-9/11 world, the higher cost of gasoline is trumped by safety concerns, but that travelers also will find ways to compensate for $2 per gallon gas.

"In tourism there are always trade-offs – distance, length of stay and money," Cai said. "So travelers may adjust to spend 10 percent less of their vacation budget on food to make up for the higher price of fuel."

Lehto says the travel industry has already taken the pulse of this summer's vacationers and adjusted its offerings accordingly.

"The travel industry is quite attuned and sensitive to its customers' psychology," Lehto said. "Resorts, for example, recognizing the family travel trend, are offering babysitting and kids' clubs."

Cai says there are big-picture trends that don't bode well for the inbound segment of the U.S. travel industry, despite a reported 2 percent increase of 2004 January arrivals over the same period last year.

"The United States has cut 90 percent of an already small international tourism marketing budget," Cai said. "And given the world situation and heightened security measures, international tourists in some of our source markets do not perceive the United States to be as much of a desirable place to visit as they used to. We seem to be making a choice between national security and economics of international tourism."

Cai said there is one big domestic travel growth area – recreational vehicle travel – despite the high price of gasoline.

"There are two distinct markets for RV travel," Cai said. "There are rich people who travel with most of the amenities of home and those outdoor enthusiasts in their truck campers."

Writer: Mike Lillich, (765) 494-2077,

Sources: Liping Cai, (765) 494-4739,

Xinran Lehto, (765) 496-2085,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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