Consider this: Do you remember the last time you were in love? And do you remember how details like how much money you were spending in those moments simply did not matter?
Just as people in love are more than willing to open their pocketbooks, the same is true for travelers. Falling in love with a city or place is not so distant from the giddiness of falling in love with another. Cares melt away and all you want is more of what you love.
When visitors are delighted with their travel experience in a particular city, they spend considerably more during their stay than the average traveler, according to the J.D. Power 2016 Destination Experience Satisfaction Study released last month.
The first-of-its-kind study measures overall satisfaction among visitors to the top 50 U.S. travel destinations for business or leisure. The study assesses the customer experience based on six factors: activities; cost and fees; food and beverage; infrastructure; lodging; and travel/arrival.
And not surprisingly, the study finds that great travel experiences drives higher spending. While, on average, visitors spend $1,169 on a trip, or $301 per day, visitors who are especially delighted with their experience (rating their overall satisfaction a 10 out of 10) will spend some $1,446, or 24% more than average. Those who are either indifferent (6 or 7) or disappointed (5 or lower) spend nearly $250 less per trip than average—a full 37% difference in spending between delighted and disappointed.
“Interestingly, while visitors spend more when they have a great experience, they’re also more satisfied with the value they receive for their expenditure,” said Rick Garlick, global travel and hospitality practice lead at J.D. Power. “Especially for cities that are perhaps less thought of for tourism, the investment in creating a superb visitor experience can really pay off.”
Destination Experience Rankings
While the top-ranked cities include well-known destinations, two of the leading regional destinations are state capitals/college towns known for music and football rather than being a travel destination. At the segment level, the south and southwest regions tie for the highest average score, at 802 points each (on a 1,000-point scale). They are followed closely by the west region, with a score of 801.
West Region: Las Vegas claims to have it all, and maybe proponents are right, as it ranks highest in the region and earns the study’s highest index score of 827. Las Vegas performs particularly well in four of the six factors: travel/arrival; lodging; infrastructure; and cost and fees. Las Vegas is followed in the regional rankings by Oahu Island, Hawaii, with a score of 813 and San Diego with 812.
Southwest Region: Austin, the Texas capital and home to the University of Texas and a myriad of music venues, ranks highest with a score of 818, followed by Dallas with 811 and San Antonio, Texas, with 807. Austin performs particularly well in the infrastructure and activities factors.
South Region: Orlando, Fla., noted for family-oriented theme parks, ranks highest in the region, with a score of 815 points, followed by Miami and New Orleans in a tie at 814. Orlando performs particularly well in the infrastructure and activities factors. The south region is the most competitive in the study, with only 27 points separating the highest- and lowest-ranked destinations in the region.
Northeast/Mid-Atlantic Region: New York, the city that never sleeps, ranks highest with a score of 805, followed by Boston with 789. New York performs particularly well in four of the six factors: travel/arrival; lodging; food and beverage; and activities.
Midwest Region: Columbus, state capital of Ohio and home of The Ohio State University, ranks highest with a score of 799, followed by Kansas City with 791 and Indianapolis with 789. Columbus performs particularly well in the infrastructure; food and beverage; and cost and fees factors.
“When we see cities like Austin and Columbus among the highest-ranked destinations, it certainly challenges some preconceived ideas in the travel industry,” said Garlick. “This is a great example of how cities that are able to exceed travelers’ expectations can leave a positive impression that has real value.”
Following are other key findings of the study:
- More than a Destination: Visitors often view cities as more than just a place to visit, they develop a strong emotional connection. Cities with a high percentage of visitors feeling a strong emotional attachment include Austin, Oahu Island, Orlando, Miami and San Diego. “Some places go beyond satisfaction and really capture the hearts and minds of people who visit,” said Garlick.
- Loving the City You Visit: Despite the great weather offered in other regions, the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic region has the highest proportion of visitors who are most likely to return (73%) and recommend their destinations to others (65%). The West, however, contains cities such as Anaheim, Denver and San Diego, to which people have fond emotional attachment, with 39% saying they would be “greatly disappointed” if they could not return.
- Food, Fun and Lodging: Three things travelers often consider when selecting a place to visit are things to do, food options and places to stay. The study finds Las Vegas and New Orleans are the two cities that are among the top five for all three: lodging, food & beverage and entertainment, which includes options such as shopping, nightlife, zoos, aquariums and gaming. Orlando is among the top five cities for lodging and entertainment, and Oahu Island is among the leaders for food & beverage and entertainment.
- Traditional Travel Agents Garner Better Experiences: While 28% of visitors used an independent online travel website to book their trip, satisfaction with their destination is significantly higher among those who used a traditional travel agent (805 vs. 845, respectively). However, most travel continues to be booked online, with only 7% of visitors having used a travel agent to book their trip.
- Business Travelers More Satisfied Than Vacationers: Those who travel to a destination for business purposes enjoy their trip slightly more than those who travel for leisure (806 vs. 795, respectively). Satisfaction with cost and fees plays a role, as business travelers frequently have their trip paid for by their employer. Satisfaction in the travel/arrival factor is also higher among business travelers than among leisure travelers, perhaps because they’ve learned to adapt to the travel process much better than less experienced travelers.
- U.S. Travel Overwhelmingly Considered Safe: The study finds that 95% of visitors feel safe traveling in the United States, underscoring the efforts of the travel industry as well as federal and local leaders and law enforcement agencies, in keeping travelers feeling secure.
The 2016 Destination Experience Satisfaction Study is based on responses gathered between February and July 2016 from more than 26,000 travelers who visited a U.S. metropolitan area between December 2015 and July 2016.