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Americans hold on to summer trips but feel pricing pressure: Deloitte

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Deloitte Insights produced a report on Americans' 2024 summer travel plans
Over the past two years, travel has been largely impervious to Americans' concerns about inflation but that is changing, a new Deloitte study found.

Americans still plan to take summer trips but their sense of inflated fares and fees is affecting every aspect of travel. Deloitte said general affordability is typically the biggest deterrent to travel but over the past year, 'an important shift has occurred': More nontravelers cite inflation. One in three say travel is too expensive now, up from one in four in 2023.

The Deloitte report presents valuable insights into the consumer mindset although it entails mostly lodging and air travel insights; cruising is mentioned just once. And based on the public reporting of the major cruise companies, 2024 summer travel is largely booked by now, with Carnival Corp. & plc, Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings all reporting record booked positions.

Fewer and shorter trips but still budgeting for travel

Among travelers, Deloitte found pricing perceptions are contributing to a pullback in the number and length of trips, but Americans are also adjusting their budgets to make travel fit.

Pricing perceptions are driving several patterns and behaviors. With more low-income Americans (household income less than $100,000) deterred, high-income Americans are expected to make up a larger share of travelers this summer: 44% versus 35% in 2023. Boomers' share is poised to climb from 28% to 34%.

With a greater share of high-income travelers, this means that despite the pricing pressure, a similar share of Americans plan to travel overseas, and they're booking more premium products.

With 38% of travelers flying international, similar to 2023, Deloitte found more diversity in destinations. After a rush to Europe in 2023, Asia is seeing the biggest gains this year.

Each income group expects to pay 6% to 13% more than in 2023, and due to the growth in high-income influence, overall summer travel budgets are up 18%.

Facing strong room rates and airfares, travelers 'still seek elevated and unique experiences,' Deloitte found, with travelers gravitating toward more experiential options.

More higher-income travelers headed to cruises

The Deloitte study's sole mention of cruising was in the context of where travelers intend to stay, with more higher-income travelers headed to cruises (and vacation rentals versus hotels).

Americans plan fewer and shorter trips, and road trips are up as a cost-saving strategy.

Deal-seeking is up

'Higher emphasis on deals, even with a wealthier traveler pool, indicates that pricing pressure is widely felt,' Deloitte reported. Half of 'marquee trips' were still in play, with no bookings made so far, indicating lower-income travelers may be waiting for deals while higher-income travelers accounted for most of the booked trips.

Americans, especially boomers, also appear to be applying lifestyle flexibility to avoid peak travel dates, continuing a shift toward more post-Labor Day trips over the last three summers.

In other findings, 21% of travelers plan to work during their longest trip this summer, up slightly from 2023 but more say they will work through the trip, versus partially. These so-called 'laptop luggers' travel further and do more in the destination.

AI use

The growth of generative AI in travel planning slowed, with minimal gains over five months but while adoption is low, the rate of follow-through on recommendations indicates users find these tools helpful.

Deloitte concluded: 'Among the many positive signals that Americans continue to value travel highly, travel suppliers should not ignore the concerning indicators. Perceptions of rising travel costs have Americans seeking deals and experimenting with different approaches to stretch their travel dollar. Delivering the best possible experience will be key to continuing to pass the value test and remaining a spending priority among American consumers.'

A representative sample of 4,022 Americans took Deloitte's survey between March 20 and April 2. Among them, 2,348 qualified as travelers. A smaller subset of 1,936 who plan to stay in paid lodging, rather than with friends and relatives, completed the longest version of the survey.

The 2024 summer travel study is available to download