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Reaching Your Target Market: North American Travelers


Identifying your target market is the first step in successful tourism marketing. Even a well-executed marketing plan will fail if it’s not reaching the right audience. Earlier this week, David presented a simple plan to help your tourism business reach your ideal travel market. In order to reach your target audience, it’s important to find out who your market is and how that market behaves. Let’s start by looking at a source market we know well: North America. 

How many Americans travel?

Just how big is the market? In 2011, 27 million U.S. travelers visited overseas destinations.

About 35% of Americans have passports, but only 5-10% of the U.S. population travels abroad each year. What gives? There are a few reasons for this discrepancy. The U.S. averages 13 paid vacation days each year – far behind most other developed countries. On top of that, only 57% people reported using all their vacation time in a given year. An estimated 459 millions vacation days go unused in the United States. Americans work hard, but often forget to play hard.

passport project

But it’s not all bad news. 27 million travelers is still a huge number. Of the 27 million Americans who traveled overseas, they spent over $110 billion abroad. Although full statistics are not available yet, overseas travel was up 5.5% in 2012. The market is moving in the right direction. Even a slight increase in the 5-10% of Americans who travel now would be a huge boom for international destinations. 

How are Americans planning their vacations?

It’s no surprise that most travelers are using the Internet to plan their travel. 83% of leisure travelers and 76% of business travelers plan their trips online. Ninety-six percent of leisure travelers start their hotel planning with an online search. 

The most popular travel planning website is, but American travelers use a variety of sources when researching travel. In fact, a U.S. traveler visits an average of 21 travel websites before eventually booking a trip. Learn how we can help your business be one of those 21 visited websites!

Social media also plays a huge rule in forming traveler’s decisions at the beginning stage of planning. Over half of all travelers reported using social media for vacation inspiration. Many leisure travelers and 70% of affluent travelers begin their online travel research with no specific destination in mind. There is a huge opportunity to grab those viewers before they begin narrowing their search to a particular location. 

Travelers decide on their destination about 95 days in advance of their travel date. Airline reservations are made 63 days prior to departure, on average. Almost half (48%) of travelers book their hotels in advance.

What type of travel are Americans doing?

There are five major geographic regions that account for most of the international travel from the U.S.: Europe (36%), Caribbean (23%), Asia (19%) and South America (7%) and Central America (7%).

Top leisure activities for U.S. travelers, other than dining and shopping, are visiting historical places, visiting small towns and villages, sightseeing in cities, touring the countryside, and visiting cultural heritage sites.

While those destinations and activities remain fairly predictable for the majority of travelers, there is growing demand for less conventional and more experiential travel. In 2013, U.S. tour operators anticipate the following destinations will become popular: Myanmar, Vietnam, India, Peru, Cambodia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Ecuador, to name a few. They also reported that travelers are increasingly interested in tours that highlight adventure, cuisine, art, safari and sport.

A few growing trends have also emerged regarding luxury lodging and full-service hotels. In 2012, 26% of vacationers preferred luxury lodging versus just 15% in 2011. Travelers are also placing a premium on the convenience of full-service hotels (restaurant on site): 8 in 10 travelers now prefer a full-service hotel or resort compared to 75% two years ago. 

What does the American traveler look like?

The average American traveler spends almost $3,000 per overseas trip - including airfare, lodging and other expenditures. A huge portion of that is spent on airfare alone.

For the first time, women account for more than half of all foreign travelers. In 2000, women accounted for 39% of all outbound travel. Today, that number is over 51%. That’s a huge increase over the last decade for this growing market segment. The average age of female and male travelers is 45.9 and 44.2, respectively.

Learn how marketing with a purpose can help your tourism business or destination reach the North American market! 


Infographic: The Passport Project   


MMGY Global/Harrison Group 2012 Portrait of American Travelers Survey

U.S. Department of Commerce

World Tourism Organization

U.S. Travel Association

United States Tour Operators Association

Google/Ipsos Media ‘The 2012 Traveler study'

US Bureau of Labor & Statistics

ABC News

CNN News 


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