MILWAUKEE—According to the U.S. Travel Association, U.S. travelers took about 1.8 billion vacations in 2017. While conventional wisdom would suggest the vast majority of these travelers plan and book their trips a month or more in advance, a new study from advertising agency Hoffman York finds that nearly half are doing so at the last minute. HY surveyed 888 people who took at least one overnight trip over 50 miles away for leisure purposes in the last 12 months.
Why are so many people booking their vacations last minute? Is it all those great last-minute travel deals flooding our inboxes? Or today’s millennial travelers who are more comfortable with the technology that allows them to quickly and easily plan and book flights, hotels, rental cars, and event tickets? The answer, according to research, is both. Among travelers, 44 percent are planning and booking their leisure trips two weeks or less prior to their departure, with more than half agreeing that they can be swayed by last-minute deals, and 64 percent choosing to book their trips through online travel agencies.
What does it mean to be a last-minute traveler?
HY defined last-minute traveler (LMT) as a person who books transportation, lodging, and event tickets for an overnight leisure trip within 14 days of their vacation, including same-day booking. How long are their trips? According to the research, the average last-minute traveler spends two to three days on their trip while one in five last-minute travelers are taking trips that are five days or longer. On the contrary, most non-LMTs stay five or more days (44 percent).
Last-minute traveler demographics
The last-minute traveler is younger—40 percent are under 35 compared to 32 percent of non-last-minute travelers. Notably younger, 42 percent of LMTs make $50,000 or less, annually. LMTs often have children (41 percent) in the home versus 32 percent of non-LMTs.
How last-minute travelers book
Though the last-minute traveler is defined as someone who books within two weeks of departure, survey results show that most LMTs are actually booking within one week of their vacation. When planning and booking, 58 percent of transportation, 59 percent of lodging, and 78 percent of event tickets are purchased within one week of the LMT’s departure.
What’s more, 64 percent of flights and 30 percent of hotels are booked using an online travel agency (OTA) such as Expedia, Travelocity, and Priceline. Non-LMT’s use an OTA for 30 percent of flights and 25 percent of hotel bookings. Non-LMTs are more likely to book directly through an airline (46 percent compared to 24 percent of LMTs) and directly through a hotel (42 percent compared to 30 percent of LMTs).
How they get there and where they stay
Primarily, last-minute travelers use their personal vehicle (74 percent of LMTs compared to 67 percent non-LMTs). The second most popular mode of transportation for LMTs is flying (36 percent). Significantly more non-LMTs are flying at 57 percent.
The research showed that 67 percent of LMTs stay in hotels compared to 76 percent of non-LMTs. Many LMTs (43 percent) also stay with friends or family, compared to 34 percent of non-LMTs.
On average, a last-minute traveler’s destination is 580 miles from their home. A non-last-minute traveler’s destination is nearly 900 miles. As for where they are going, 42 percent of last-minute travelers vacation in cities and 31 percent visit somewhere outdoors (e.g., lake, beach, state or national park). For non-LMTs, 38 percent visit a city and 27 percent visit the outdoors. During their trips, 58 percent of last-minute travelers visit friends or family, 21 percent seek an outdoor adventure, 22 visit a historic attraction, and 16 percent attend an amusement park. As for non-LMTs, 48 percent visit friends or family, 25 percent seek an outdoor adventure, 32 percent visit a historic attraction, and 17 percent attend an amusement park.
“Today’s new generation of last-minute travelers represent a significant segment of the overall leisure traveler population,” said Angie Buchanan, vice president, account supervisor for Hoffman York. “How they book, where they’re going, and how they go about the travel process is different from traditional vacation planners. It’s important for today’s travel and hospitality marketers to understand how and when to reach them and why they need to make the booking process fast and easy.”