I currently work with many foreign countries, helping them attract more American visitors. One constant question I receive is, “Why don’t more Americans hold passports? Why don’t they want to travel overseas more?”
My standard answer is that the competition from domestic destinations almost always wins for a variety of reasons. We have a huge, diverse country with high quality offerings and wonderful travel experiences. Americans instinctively know that, and combined with strong family ties, the pull of domestic travel is often irresistible. Graduations, summer weddings, and family reunions have a huge pull on the limited time and money considerations of U.S. travelers.
Another overlooked factor is the great value of the U.S. domestic travel industry. As I recall my family vacation experience last summer, I am overwhelmingly satisfied with almost every aspect of my American travel experience. When I look at our industry as a consumer, rather than a participant, I get a good feeling about the status of almost all segments of our business.
U.S. hotels offer the best values in the world. We have the most brands, locations, price points and product offerings of any other country. You seldom have to worry, that you will not find an affordable selection of hotel rooms. I also believe that many of our new lower end properties offering breakfasts, flat screen TVs, digital access, free parking etc., are better than most 3 and 4 star hotels in many countries.
We didn’t invent ships but we sure invented the cruise business. Millions of Americans take a cruise vacation annually. And the number is growing for good reason. The vast majority of cruise passengers are satisfied with the experience and value. Ships now sail frequently from domestic ports within a few hours drive from the majority of Americans. While you may now need a passport for this vacation, the onboard travel experience is uniquely American.
Another uniquely American travel experience is our fantastic theme parks. Sure everybody loves Disney, but America is blessed with major adventure and theme parks, throughout the land. We have roller coaster parks, aquariums, zoos and history parks. Oh, did I mention the best National Parks in the World? You can go for a day, a week or a month. Millions of foreign travelers come to experience not only our cities and scenery, but they love the American park experiences.
Last summer I was given the keys to a “keyless” car. It made me think about this important segment of American travel. Our car rental system is also world class. The amount of locations, quantity and quality of vehicles and the relative value is beyond compare. You can rent convertibles, SUVs, sports cars and electric cars. Pick up at hotels, airports, train stations or some companies will come and get you. Not too bad for a vital but overlooked part of domestic travel.
I do struggle, however with our domestic airlines. I will grant you that they are safe, reliable and relatively inexpensive, in spite of the unbelievable price of fuel. Air travel today is not fun. Air travel today is not family friendly. It isn’t all the fault of the airlines. TSA, airport authorities, and manufacturers all have a part in our collective discomfort.
Airlines brag about introducing the latest version of the Boeing 737-800. This may be a great piece of equipment for them, but for us passengers, it is the same as the old Boeing 707s of the 60s & 70s. It has the same width, speed, windows, and aisles – 1!
The changes airlines have made were to move the seats closer, remove some lavatories, and eliminate meals and movies. The promise of greater comfort and service has been under delivered in this segment. Sadly, apart from safety and reliability, our domestic air service leaves much to be desired.
Travel abroad this summer? Sure millions of us will do just that, but millions more will pack the car, pack the kids, meet Grandma and go domestic. The travel industry in the U.S. has much of which to be proud. Summer vacation experiences in all shapes, sizes and locations are beginning soon.
Have a happy, healthy and safe summer vacation.
Bill is a veteran of over 30 years in the travel & tourism business. He has worked on both the supplier and agency sides. Most recently he served for over a decade as the CEO of ASTA. He is currently associated as a Senior Consultant toPartner Concepts, an Annapolis based marketing company serving Fortune 500 companies and many National Tourism Organizations (NTO). He lives in Alexandria, VA., where he also manages WAM Strategic Development. You can find him on Twitter @WldTrvlBill