Rising costs, AI worry American travelers

A jar of money sits next to a toy airplane on a map.
A new WSU report examines broad travel plans and motivators, travel finance considerations, sustainability, and wellness as aspects of travel decisions as well as the impact of AI on travel.

Washington State University’s Carson College of Business released a new report with insights into Americans’ upcoming travel plans, including motivations, budgeting habits, and considerations surrounding sustainability and artificial intelligence.

One of the report’s top findings reveals nearly all members of Gen Z in the survey (97%) expect current or potential rising costs to have “a great deal” or “a moderate influence” on their choice of accommodation (86%), travel destination (83%), trip length (80%), or activities they book or plan (77%).

“The WSU School of Hospitality Business Management is well-known for its leadership in hospitality, travel and tourism research,” said Debbie Compeau, Carson College interim dean. “This report provides a fresh understanding of current traveler trends, equipping industry professionals with the knowledge they need to make informed, actionable decisions.”

The report, conducted in collaboration with KRC Research, examines broad travel plans and motivators, travel finance considerations, sustainability, and wellness as aspects of travel decisions as well as the impact of AI on travel. The report surveyed 1,020 American adults aged 18 years or older.

Key findings include:

Americans’ travel plans: More than three in four of the respondents (76%) say they will travel in the next 12 months. Of those who plan to travel, 95% will travel domestically, and 37% will travel to at least one international destination. Among all these likely travelers, 78% plan on traveling for vacation, 68% will travel to visit family or friends, and 23% will travel for work or business. 

  • Out of 16 possible motivators for choosing destinations and plans when traveling, survey respondents most often said experiencing beautiful surroundings (37%) and focusing on relaxation or well-being (33%) are among their top-three factors.
  • Other common top three travel motivators include having family-friendly experiences (30%), enjoying different cuisines (22%), having an adventure (21%), and participating in leisure or recreational activities (17%).
  • Eighty percent of the respondents agree that traveling is an important way to improve their overall well-being.

Travel planning and budgeting: Almost all of the survey respondents (93%) expect to spend at least some time budgeting, searching for deals, and comparing costs the next time they travel.

  • Nearly all (96%) expect current or potential rising costs—either at home or at their travel destination—will have at least minor influence on their travel planning.
  • More than four in 10 say current or potential rising costs will likely have “a great deal of influence” on their choice of travel destination (47%) or their choice of accommodation (43%) when they travel. Just under four in 10 say the same about planned trip length (39%) and activities booked and planned (37%). 
  • Should inflation cause Americans to scale back their travel plans, the survey respondents report shopping costs (63%), food and drink costs (52%), and activity costs (57%) would be among the most common ways to reduce spending.

Considerations when travelingsustainability and other values: When next given the choice to travel, 75% of the study’s respondents say sustainability will be at least a top, important, or secondary priority in planning where to go, where to stay and dine, what to do, or how to get around.

  • Just one in four (25%) say sustainability is not a priority and has little or no influence on their plans for travel.
  • Nearly three in four (74%) say they feel a responsibility to plan and act sustainably when they travel.
  • For some, sustainable travel may entail “getting off the grid”—44% of respondents say it’s important to visit or stay in rustic locations free of technological or electronic distractions. 
  • Nearly three in four (73%) agree “it’s important for me to find ways to do good for others in the places I travel,” with one in four (25%) strongly agreeing. In fact, 8% of the survey participants say “doing good for others” is a top-three motivation that influences their choice of travel destination and activity, out of 16 options. 

Travel and AI: More than half (51%) of respondents believe they’ve already used tools or services with artificial intelligence  to help with travel, and a majority think it could help them with aspects of their trip.

  • Some of the most common ways they believe they’ve used AI for travel include: to help recommend lodging or dining (31%), to help plan personalized itineraries based on stated criteria or based on what is known about their interests (28%), for searching and booking travel online (21%), and to help communicate and get around (19%).  
  • Sixty-three percent of the survey respondents agree “the overall impact AI can have on my travel experience is probably more positive than negative,” and just over half (55%) agree “it seems likely tools with AI can help me make my travel more meaningful.”
  • Seventy-five percent of the survey respondents are worried “increased use of travel systems with AI can lead to more data breaches,” and 60% “don’t feel comfortable using travel systems with AI due to privacy concerns.”
  • About two in three (67%) are worried “ethical design and testing of travel systems with AI are inadequate for releasing to the market,” (67%) and “fear more AI in the travel system will negatively impact job opportunities for industry professionals” (71%).  

Findings for specific demographics: An analysis of several other population subgroups reveals additional findings about the preferences of different generations.

  • Over a third of Gen Z (38%) and Millennials (34%) in the survey expect to spend “a lot of time” comparing costs of travel destinations and activities the next time they travel, compared to just 25% of Gen X and 19% of Boomers.
  • Eighty-four percent of Gen Z adults in the survey say they will travel in the next 12 months. In contrast, 77% of Millennials, 74% of Gen X, and 74% of Baby Boomers plan to travel.
  • One in three women respondents expect to spend “a lot of time” searching for travel deals and bargains (34%) and comparing costs to help choose between destinations (34%), compared to only one in five men (20%) who have the same expectation.
  • Fifty-nine percent of the parents surveyed say sustainability is a top or important priority when making travel plans, compared to 41% of those without children.

The full report is available online.

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