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Experiment and Experience: 2016 Vacation Outlook

By Caroline Brooks

School’s out for the summer, and as the temperatures rise across the United States, so does the volume of vacation travel. But the types of vacations Americans seek in 2016 buck travel trends from recent years and show a shift in what they hope to get out of their well-earned time away. Expert insight from Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business forecasts the biggest 2016 vacation trends and explains the forces driving them.

Bonnie Knutson, professor in Broad’s School of Hospitality Business, has tracked consumer and behavior trends in the hospitality industry for more than 30 years. “It might have officially ended a few years ago, but many Americans just now feel as though they’ve financially recovered from the recession. There is a wealth of pent-up demand from the last decade, and they are ready to spend more of their income on travel and entertainment,” Knutson said.

Bonnie Knutson
Bonnie Knutson, Hospitality Business professor for the Broad College of Business

She believes that the traveler of 2016 is not only savvier, but seeking a totally different experience than years before. Here is Knutson’s take on what the travel industry can expect this vacation season:

1) Multi-generation groups. More than ever, travel groups include grandparents, parents, and their kids. “Grandparents are the ones with the money who are willing to initiate a family trip. They see quality time and memories with their children and grandchildren much more valuable than traveling alone,” Knutson explained. To get the most out of their time together, groups seek experiences with hotel configurations opportune for their multi-generation needs: transportation options, dining, a mix of physical and leisure activity, and activities directly surrounding their “home base.”

According to Key Tours Vacations, requests for multi-generation travel groups has jumped 20 percent in just one year, and as a result, hotels are revamping their properties to create multi-room suites to compete with apartment and home rentals for these larger groups.

2) “Bleisure.” Realizing the possibility of offsetting some vacation expenses to employers, Savvy Americans travelers have started what the hospitality industry is calling “bleisure,” Knutson said. Predominantly seen with younger travelers, this trend began gaining momentum post-recession when businesses resumed corporate travel. “Companies often pay for a round-trip ticket, no matter the dates of flying. So travelers tack extra days onto their business trips and stay with friends they know in nearby locations,” she explained.

The trend is catching on: 60 percent of travelers reported having taken bleisure trips, with 30 percent adding at least two additional days to their trip, according to a BridgeStreet Global Hospitality survey.

3) Experiential travel. “Luxury is being redefined. As we can see from travel trends, it’s not about the cost of a trip or the quality of your accommodations; it’s about how much you can experience while you’re there,” Knutson said. This type of travel includes more “doing” and less traditional leisure. “You can only see and do the same thing so many times, and trends reflect that consumers, especially younger ones, want to experience what they’ve never seen or done before,” she said. “Now that travelers feel more secure, they’re more willing to step completely out of their comfort zones and go off the grid.”

Backpack and travel gear
A steady economy and pent up demand makes the 2016 travel forecast from years before.

This type of travel includes educational and cultural experiences, wellness retreats and travel—which climbed 50 percent in the last year alone, according to a recent survey by the Global Wellness Institute—and volunteer- and service-based trips. Adding to this research, Knutson explained that both Millennials and older generations feel a need to make an impact and solve problems, which is why the industry sees them seeking out experiences where they can be a part of a cause or something good.

Whether traveling this summer with grandparents or a yoga partner, 95,000 more passengers will pass through airports a day in 2016’s vacation season, experts say. The 2016 vacation outlook and trends show signs of a stable economy and travelers ready to experience and experiment.


Eli Broad College of Business

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