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2024 Travel Trends

Americans are traveling more and going farther — including trips abroad.

Those are among the key results of “Travel Trends 2024,” a fascinating travel study recently released by the Mastercard Economics Institute. The study aggregated actual spending data from millions of Mastercard users and merchants to create a real-world snapshot of people’s travel habits.

I want to draw your attention to five key findings to keep in mind as you plan group travel for 2025 and beyond.

1. Americans are traveling abroad in record numbers.

According to the study, there has been a huge uptick in outbound international travel. As of March 2024, U.S. travel to overseas destinations (not including Canada and Mexico) had risen 20% over its pre-pandemic peak in 2019. That aligns with a recent Conference Board finding that nearly one in five Americans intends to travel abroad in the next 12 months. In 2019, that figure was closer to one in 10. The takeaway for group travel planners: Now might be the time to start offering international trips even if you haven’t before.

2. Unexpected destinations are trending.

Certain destinations, such as Western Europe and the Caribbean, have always been favorites of American travelers. And while that isn’t necessarily changing, some nontraditional destinations are growing in popularity. According to the Mastercard data, Japan is the world’s fastest-growing international tourism destination. Also among the top 10 are Romania, Malaysia and South Korea. As these destinations begin to generate buzz, you may find your travelers expressing interest in visiting them too.

3. People are spending more on experiences.

Although transportation and lodging usually represent the largest share of travel spending, Mastercard has found that travelers are spending a higher percentage of their travel money on experiences than ever before. This can include attraction tickets, guided tours and nightlife; it does not include shopping, which still hasn’t recovered to pre-pandemic levels. Americans dedicated 13% of their travel spending to experiences in 2023 — the largest percentage ever. For tour groups, it may be time to tweak itineraries to include more activities and fewer outlet malls.

4. The average trip is getting longer.

Among the top headlines of the Mastercard report is an overall growth in the length of the average trip. Worldwide, the length of the average vacation increased from 4.5 days in the 12 months preceding February 2020 to 5.5 days in the year preceding March 2024. The growth in trip length in North America was slightly less dramatic, increasing from 4.7 days to five days. So, should you add one more day to your next group trip? The data suggests you should consider it.

5. Affordable destinations are benefitting the most.

Although the length of the average trip has been growing, that growth hasn’t been equal for all destinations. Travel prices have gone up everywhere, but some destinations have seen much steeper increases than others — and those destinations are experiencing much slower growth in trip duration. The Mastercard data shows that destinations with the smallest increase in hotel prices have seen an average trip-duration growth of 2.1 days. In the destinations with the sharpest hotel rate hikes, that number drops to .7 extra days. So while your travelers may be eager to add another day to their trips, they’ll probably want to spend that day in someplace affordable.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.