A Publication of WTVP

If you are like most Americans, you put travel near the top of your wish list. In fact, recent surveys indicate that some 56 million Americans have a spirit of wanderlust and consider travel a birthright. Make no mistake: we have all moderated our spending across multiple categories, including travel, over the past couple of years. Nonetheless, leisure travel, often considered the epitome of discretionary income, continues to attract over a quarter of a trillion dollars each year in out-of-pocket expenditures.

The evidence is compelling. The Great Recession of the 21st century notwithstanding, the average American leisure traveler took an average of four trips in 2009 and spent more than $3,500 on travel services. You might be surprised to learn that three out of every 10 of you took a last-minute trip, many planning those visits just six days prior to departure. Some 38 percent of you even booked a complete vacation as a result of “flash sales” via unsolicited emails from travel suppliers. Clearly, we are all time-starved, and coordinating schedules to get away is a greater obstacle than the actual cost of the trip.

Fully one out of four of us took a local vacation, a.k.a. a staycation (a leisure vacation within 50 miles of your home) as an alternative to one involving significant travel planning. This type of vacation is alive and well, proving to be more reality than myth, and not only does it present a cost-effective marketing opportunity for travel providers, it appears to be yet another manifestation of the trend toward more impulsive and economical travel behavior. In the previous 12 months, one in four leisure travelers with an annual household income exceeding $50,000 took at least one overnight leisure vacation within 50 miles of their home, often as an alternative to a major vacation.

There is very little argument that travel powers America. In 2009, travelers spent $704 billion, 85 percent of that in domestic migration. That income to America’s towns, cities and villages delivered a robust $113 billion in tax receipts and allowed more than seven million persons to have gainful employment. In Illinois, $30 million-plus was spent in the state from both domestic and international visitors (based on 2008 reports, the latest available), bringing in over $5.5 million in tax receipts. It appears that one of the most efficient methods to jumpstart our fledgling economy is to travel.

So what can you expect this coming year as you prepare to hit the road? For starters, the leisure travel market has finally stabilized. Demand is expected to grow by a small, but positive two to three percent in 2011. Eighty-two percent of us will continue to shop for the lowest airfare and hotel rates online. But while demand will see growth in the year ahead, we will all continue to place a premium on value. Over one third of travelers will continue their resourcefulness and wait for sales before making their travel purchases. The good news is that there will continue to be numerous affordable travel opportunities as travel suppliers adapt to this trend.

With traveler sentiment on the rise, attributed to the perceived affordability of travel, the hope is that this positive shift will translate into an increased demand for air travel, lodging, dining and attraction visits by the thousands of visitors who come to the Peoria area each year. But as for each of you, please do your part: pack your bags and get going. Whether your trip is to Peoria or Palm Beach, Princeton or Phoenix, travel is good for you, and good for the economy. iBi