Analyses - December 6, 2004



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December 2004


Print Customer segments, Products and activities,

The cultural travel market

American cultural travellers represent an especially lucrative market: nearly one-third spend over US$1,000 when they travel. By way of comparison, only 11% of all U.S. travellers spend this much. This news comes from Renee Mitchell, Research Director, Smithsonian Magazine, speaking at the most recent TIA Marketing Outlook Forum. Her presentation discussed the demand for cultural travel.

Characteristics of cultural travellers

Over 44 million American cultural tourists stay in commercial lodgings when they travel and generate an estimated US$29 billion per year in travel spending. Around 76% of them are leisure travellers, while 24% are business travellers. Some specific traits of cultural travellers are listed below:

  • Average age is 46 years old
  • Average household income is US$75,800
  • 62% are married
  • 87% have a college diploma or higher
  • 31% have children living at home
  • 37% travel during the summer

Interest in culture = interest in travel

According to Mitchell, Americans interested in history and culture, like the readers of Smithsonian Magazine, are especially interested in travel with an historic/cultural emphasis. A survey of the magazine’s readers showed:

  • 93% visit historic sites
  • 84% learn all they can about a destination before going there
  • 76% consider culture and heritage when selecting a destination
  • 71% explore towns off the beaten path

According to a TIA/Smithsonian survey, American cultural travellers can be characterized by the four “L’s”:

  • Learning – 82 million say, “Trips where I learn something new are more memorable.”
  • Leisure Activities – 67 million say, “My hobbies and interests influence my destination selection.”
  • Locals – 63 million say, “While on vacation, I like to find places that are popular with locals.”
  • Love it! – 34 million say, “Vacation/leisure trips including cultural activities are more important to me.”

Not the same as other travellers

Comparing cultural travellers with other travellers reveals some interesting differences. For example, cultural travellers spend a lot more than other travellers and tend to stay at destinations for much longer (see table). In addition, they are very active tourists: nearly half of those who stay in hotels participate in at least four activities. They are fond of shopping, nightlife and urban sightseeing.

Table 1: Comparison of American travel behaviours

All travellers Hotel travellers Cultural hotel travellers

  • Spent US$1,000+ on trip 11% 20% 30%
  • Primary travel by air 19% 30% 32%
  • Trip = 3+ nights 41% 52% 66%
  • Trip = 7+ nights 13% 23%
  • 3+ people in party 19% 26%
  • 2+ activities on trip 38% 45% 88%
  • 4+ activities on trip 7% 45%
  • Shopping 29% 29% 47%
  • Nightlife/dancing 7% 10% 16%
  • City/urban sightseeing 10% 15% 30%

Source: Roper Reports 2004

Promising outlook for 2005

In 2005, the demand for historic/cultural travel products will be high. According to a Roper survey, among Americans planning to travel in 2005:

  • 24% will visit an historical site
  • 17% will take a fishing trip
  • 16% will visit a casino
  • 16% will go hiking or camping
  • 10% will purchase a package tour
  • 9% will visit a health spa

Renee Mitchell emphasized that the travel behaviour of cultural hotel travellers makes them very profitable targets. She also stressed that hotels are ideal cultural partners for promoting special products, packages, events, etc.

However, one must remain realistic with regard to the overall tourism potential of US travellers. It is increasingly difficult to get them to cross any borders. For Americans, the most important factor in selecting a destination is safety (75%), which has now surpassed affordability (62%). Obviously, statistics such as these tend to favour domestic travel. Nonetheless, Canada does offer proximity and a reputation for safety, which certainly gives it an edge over other destinations.

The Roper Center – TIA and Smithsonian Magazine. “The Historic/Cultural Traveler” [], 2003.

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