Travel Industry Leaders Discuss Tourism’s Impact on the U.S. Economy and Changing Vacation Demographics

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Best Western International, AAA and U.S. Travel Association executives share summer travel outlook and trends.

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2013 Best Western Leisure Travel Summit panelists - L to R: Gary Oster, US Travel Association, Dorothy Dowling, Best Western and Bill Sutherland, AAA.

We had solid growth last year, then improved growth this year, and it speaks to how consumers are driving this economic recovery and will continue to do so, Dorothy Dowling, Best Western International

The U.S. travel industry is poised for one the strongest summers in history as demand soars and travelers reinvest in their vacation plans, said top travel executives from Best Western International and the U. S. Travel Association at the eighth annual Leisure Travel Summit in New York last week.

With Best Western tracking a 3 to 4 percent growth in summer hotel rates for its 2,200 hotels in North America the organization is predicting a strong summer travel season, Dorothy Dowling, senior vice president of marketing and sales for Best Western attributed the steady year-over-year growth to renewed consumer commitment when it comes to taking a summer vacation.

“We’re seeing continued demand increases and a lot of that lends back to the belief that Americans view vacation travel as a right… they want to invest in time with family and those they care about,” said Dowling. “We had solid growth last year, then improved growth this year, and it speaks to how consumers are driving this economic recovery and will continue to do so.”

Panelists agreed that travel, both domestic and inbound, is a key economic driver for the entire United States economy. The travel industry employs one out of eight Americans, and has added 398,000 jobs since the economic recovery began in early 2010 according to the U.S Travel Association. “Increases in domestic and international travel volume create a healthier U.S. economy because those travelers support millions of American jobs and generate much needed tax revenue,” said Gary Oster, U.S. Travel Association’s senior vice president, business development.

According to Bill Sutherland, AAA vice president of travel services, multi-generational travel will be very popular this year. In a recent AAA survey, nearly one-third of respondents plan to take a multi-generational trip in the next 12 months.

“Of those multi-generational travelers, 25 percent are traveling in groups of three generations, which is a very striking number,” said Sutherland. “As we go forward, the infrastructure will need to evolve to accommodate this kind of large-scale family travel.”

According to Dowling, this rise in multi-generational travel is due in large part to the fact that women are now the primary decision-makers when it comes to purchasing, a concept that Dowling refers to as the “she-conomy.”

“As women take a much more central role in families’ financial decisions, we’re seeing changes in the way people travel,” said Dowling. “Women want to invest in relationships with their family, partners, and loved ones, and they place a high value on vacations as a way to strengthen these relationships.” Dowling says that brands are recognizing the decision-making power that women represent and are increasingly investing in programs that will speak strongly to women and their families, such as Best Western’s partnership with Disney.

In addition to relationship-building, Oster said that people are starting to invest more in travel for reasons such as health and wellness, personal development and education. To educate consumers about the benefits of travel and encourage them to continue to take vacations, the U.S. Travel Association recently launched the website

“The goal of the [] site is to provide a compelling case through research and data for why travel matters to all aspects of a person’s life,” said Oster. “We want to show people why they need to take vacation and how it can help them to be healthier, more creative, more inspired, and get more done in their everyday life.”

Panelists also said that mobile and social media offerings are continuing to grow and shape the way travelers plan their trips. “Mobile offers convenience and speed, and there are a growing number of applications to help with every step of the travel process – check-in, reservations, reviews, and so on,” said Oster. But while mobile has become a preferred channel in the research and shopping phase, most consumers are still warming to the idea of completing the transaction through their smart phone.

“Many people are weary of booking through their phone or tablet because of concerns about financial security and possible glitches, but these things are going to get worked out and then mobile will be huge. As mobile technology advances and we overcome security concerns, mobile booking is undoubtedly the way of the future,” said Sutherland.

Finally, panelists agreed that loyalty programs continue to be an integral factor in travel decisions. A recent AAA survey found that 35 percent of people consider their points program when deciding where to stay. Sutherland reinforced that this shows how important value is to travelers,.

According to Dowling, consumers’ commitment to loyalty programs is one reason Best Western did not follow suit when other hotel brands recently chose to devalue their rewards programs. “We know how important these programs are in driving preference, and we want to show our customers how much we care and value their loyalty and patronage,” she said. “By continuing to value Best Western Rewards we hope that travelers will continue to stay with us and reinvest with our family.”

Best Western International, Inc., headquartered in Phoenix, Ariz., is a privately held hotel brand made up of more than 4,000* BEST WESTERN®, BEST WESTERN PLUS® and BEST WESTERN PREMIER® hotels in more than 100* countries and territories worldwide. Now celebrating 67 years of hospitality, Best Western welcomes hundreds of thousands of guests nightly. Best Western provides its hoteliers with global operational, sales, marketing and promotional support, and online and mobile booking capabilities. More than 15 million travelers are members of the brand’s award-winning loyalty program Best Western Rewards®, one of the few programs in which members earn points that never expire and can be redeemed at any Best Western hotel worldwide. The brand’s partnerships with AAA/CAA, race car driver Michael Waltrip, and Harley-Davidson® provide travelers with exciting ways to interact with the brand. In 2012, Best Western won a record number of awards, including AAA’s Hotel Partner of the Year, CAA’s Partner of the Year, TravelClick’s eMarketer of the Year and Compuware’s Best of the Web Gold awards.

For more information or to make a reservation, please visit

*Numbers are approximate and can fluctuate.

As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 53 million members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited on the Internet at

The U.S. Travel Association is the national, non-profit organization representing all components of the travel industry that generates $2.0 trillion in economic output and supports 14.6 million jobs. U.S. Travel's mission is to increase travel to and within the United States.

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