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UNWTO reports US travellers set to return to Europe

Despite the downward revision of the country's economic growth forecast, US tour operators predict US travellers will return to Europe in growing numbers.

The report offers reassuring insights into the US outbound market, indicating that in spite of the downward revision of national economic growth forecast, US travellers will gradually return to Europe in growing numbers.

Key findings

Consumer confidence is returning and the US travel industry is predicting modest growth in travel to Europe in 2012.

Demand for Europe, which has been pent-up since the start of the global economic crisis in 2008, is likely to see numbers return to 2008 levels by 2014 and continue to grow thereafter.

Europe remains an aspirational ‘must-see’ destination for Americans. Its appeal is deeply embedded in the American mind. Its appeals are its diversity, and in particular its history, culture and hospitable people.

Travel profile and behaviour

Most US travellers to Europe visit only one country per visit (70 per cent). They live mostly in the Middle Atlantic States (30 per cent), the South Atlantic States (25 per cent) and Pacific States (14 per cent). New York is the largest source of visitors to Europe (17 per cent), followed by California (11 per cent).

Most Americans travel as couples, they tend to be middle aged – older, wealthier and better-educated than the average.

There is some evidence of a growth in multi-generational travel (i.e. grandparents, parents, children), while travel to Europe for educational reasons can confer ‘bragging rights’ on children’s return to school.

They travel mostly in the May-September period, peaking in the summer months, and stay for an average of 18.3 days. However, shorter breaks of one to two weeks are growing, largely as a result of economic pressure.
Americans want to feel safe, but they also want to travel off the beaten-track – a challenge for both destinations and tour operators to deliver. Although travellers to Europe tend to be more financially resilient than many, they are still keen on finding value for money at every turn.

How do people book?

When seeking information on where to go, US travellers still trust human and traditional sources over digital ones: 

  1. family and friends (81 per cent)
  2. guidebooks (57 per cent)
  3. followed by online travel agents (54 per cent)
  4. online travel advisory sites (53 per cent)
  5. company sites and travel agents (46 per cent)
  6. media coverage (43 per cent)
  7. brochures (39 per cent)
  8. blogs (33 per cent)
  9. travel advertising (27 per cent)
  10. Facebook/Twitter (19 per cent)
  11. YouTube (14 per cent)

However, when it comes to booking, it would seem that the shift from offline (travel agents) to online has stabilised, with around 60 per cent still booking via traditional travel agents and central reservations systems or walk-ins, compared to 38 per cent via supplier-branded and online travel agencies.

Mobile devices (particularly iPads and smart phones) tend to be used mostly for finding domestic travel information (e.g. finding restaurants and checking flight times), rather than for international travel.

However their use for overseas travel is likely to grow, with tablets being increasingly used as an indispensable travelling companion – and probably even overtaking smart phones – for both pre-departure information and in-destination information.

What does this mean for your business?

Have plenty of information available for visitors on ‘must see’ cultural and historic attractions in your area.

For many American visitors, their trip to Scotland might be a ‘once in a lifetime’ event. Think of ways you can make them feel really special, for example by offering them access to ‘unique’ experiences.

As they tend to stay longer than other visitors, have plenty of information available about what there is to see and do in your local area and beyond.

Think about how you can make them feel they’re really getting value for money, for example by offering added value or special deals.

American visitors are slightly more reliant than other visitors on traditional marketing channels such as recommendations by family and friends and guidebooks. Think about what this means for your marketing strategy and how you could reach potential visitors.

With use of mobile devices on the increase, think about how you can signpost your guests to online ‘in-destination’ information.