Report Overview

Our U.S. Repeat Visitation Survey 2018 provides valuable insight into the habits, motivations, preferences, and more of travelers who have returned to vacation destinations they’ve previously visited in the last five years. For travel brands, and especially destinations, creating loyal customers can be a challenge. By surveying travelers who have returned to destinations in recent years alongside those who have not, we are able to shed some light on how they differ behaviorally and attitudinally.

In this report, we discuss and analyze the findings of the survey, with the help of insights from expert interviews. We present profiles of repeat and non-repeat travelers. We then look deeper at motivations for repeat visitation, activities during repeat visitation, and the impact of repeat visitation on travelers’ attitude about a destination. To provide further insight into this group, we divide it according to the respondents’ age groups and income brackets. Then, we provide a side-by-side comparison of repeat and non-repeat travelers’ travel attitudes and behaviors. Finally, we examine how the number of destinations repeat travelers have returned to in the last five years provides a more nuanced view of the members of this group. Together, the results of our survey demonstrate that repeat tourists have unique attitudes and values that set them apart. Various travel marketers need to use different marketing messages for repeat tourists versus first-time tourists.

Survey Methodology:

Skift Research’s U.S. Repeat Visitation Survey 2018 collected responses from 1,308 respondents who live in the U.S. To qualify for the survey, respondents needed to have taken at least one leisure trip in the past 12 months that included at least two-nights’ stay at least 200 miles from home. Respondents were also asked whether they had traveled to the same vacation destination more than one time in the last five years. In this context, we defined “vacation destination” as the same city if it is in the U.S., or the same country if it is outside the U.S. We asked respondents to only consider trips that were mainly leisure vacations, and not trips for other reasons such as business trips or trips to visit family members. We divided respondents into two groups based on the answer to this question. Those who have returned to a vacation destination in the last five years were placed in the “repeat travelers” group (N=951), and those who have not were placed in the smaller control group we call “non-repeat travelers” (N=357). Breaking respondents into these two groups allowed us to compare the behaviors, habits, and preferences of each. The respondent groups also met quotas of gender, age, and combined household income based on the sample of U.S. travelers represented in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2016 Consumer Expenditure Survey. The survey was fielded by a trusted third-party consumer panel provider.

What You'll Learn From This Report

  • An overview of repeat travelers and non-repeat travelers from a demographic perspective
  • Key factors that motivate repeat travelers to return to a destination
  • Activities preferred by repeat travelers and how they change when returning to a destination
  • Impacts of repeat visitation on traveler’s attitude towards the destination
  • Key differences among repeat travelers by age and income
  • Accommodation preferences of repeat travelers
  • How repeat and non-repeat travelers differ demographically, behaviorally, attitudinally, and more with side-by-side comparisons
  • How repeat travelers differ from each other based on the number of destinations they have returned to in the last five years

Executives Interviewed

  • Cree Lawson - Founder & CEO, Arrivalist
  • Melanie Kelly - Manager Strategy, Research, and Planning, Aruba Tourism Authority
  • Jacob Pewitt Yancey - Director of Consumer Insights and Analytics, VISIT FLORIDA

Executive Summary

Companies across industries are obsessed with consumer loyalty. It is well recognized that loyal customers cost less to market to and spend more with a business than new customers. Loyal customers are also more likely to recommend a business to their friends and family, thereby expanding a company’s reach with very low lift on the company’s part. Unfortunately for much of the travel industry, this equation is less clear cut. We previously explored the state of loyalty in the hospitality industry and the difficulties faced there in creating real customer loyalty. Now, we examine this topic from the point of view of destinations and repeat visitation.

As Cree Lawson, founder and CEO of Arrivalist, told Skift Research, “In marketing, the ideal scenario is, you win a customer once, and you win a lifetime customer. But that doesn’t always apply in travel.” This is perhaps the most true when it comes to destinations. Many destination marketing organizations (DMOs) and tourist-focused travel marketers understand that repeat visitors are a vital part of their tourist population, in some cases making up the majority and contributing more to the local economy. Yet, there is still work to be done to understand the behaviors and needs of repeat visitors and to market and deliver programs to them accordingly.

In this report, we discuss and analyze the findings of our first U.S. Repeat Visitation Survey. This survey collected responses from travelers who have returned to vacation destinations in the last five years, as well as from a smaller comparison group of those who have not done so. Using the results of the survey, this report presents profiles of repeat and non-repeat travelers. We then look deeper at factors that drive repeat visitation, activities that tourists do more or less of upon returning to a destination and the impacts of repeat visitation on travelers’ attitudes about a destination. We break down findings by age and gender for more detailed insight. Next, we provide a side-by-side comparison of repeat and non-repeat travelers’ travel attitudes and behaviors. Finally, we examine how the number of destinations repeat travelers have returned to in the last five years provides a more nuanced view of repeat travelers. Together, the results of our survey demonstrate that repeat travelers have unique attitudes and values that set them apart, which renders necessary different marketing methods and messages than those aimed at first-time visitors.

Profile of Repeat Travelers

This report focuses on understanding travelers who have returned to vacation destinations more than one time. We call this group “repeat travelers.” From a demographic perspective, our survey shows that repeat travelers tend to be well distributed between ages 25 and 64. They are also fairly evenly split when it comes to gender and whether they have children at home, with just slightly more reporting they currently have none at home. When it comes to combined household income, over one-third (36%) make over $100,000 per year.

 

Repeat Visitation: Why, What, and How

We asked our repeat traveler group in-depth questions to better understand their travel behaviors that are related to repeat visitation. In this section, we will look at what makes them return to a destination, what kinds of activities they do the first visit versus during return visits, their accommodation preferences, how they feel about the destination, and more.

Please note, after splitting respondents according to whether they have returned to a vacation destination or not in the last five years, we asked how many destinations they had returned to in that period. If they indicated more than one, they were asked the same questions about their two most recent repeat destinations. For this reason, the bulk of the following data has been calculated from a total of 1,714 return trips that were reported by the 951 repeat travelers.

Frequency and Geography

We asked repeat travelers how many times they have returned to each repeat destination they were questioned about. Interestingly, only 10% returned to a same destination only once in the past five years. More than half of the repeat travelers returned to a same destination at least three times in that time period. This indicates that repeat travel to a destination is often a habitual occurrence.

 

One possible explanation for this habitual return is timeshare ownership and vacation rental use. Cree Lawson, founder and CEO of Arrivalist illustrated this with the example of Gulf Shores, Alabama, the main beach destination for Alabamians, and an Arrivalist client. He explained that there are only six hotels in the destination and “The rest is vacation rentals.” He went on to say “the people who stay there don’t even use Airbnb or VRBO, they just come back to the same place every year […] These condos, these timeshares, are literally passed down from generation to generation.”

In other destinations, especially beach destinations, habitual vacation rental use and timeshare stays are very common among repeat visitors. Skift Research spoke to Melanie Kelly, manager of strategy, research, and planning for Aruba Tourism Authority. Aruba focuses highly on repeat visitors, as they make up about 50% of the island’s total visitor population. Kelly explained that 35% of the island’s room inventory is attributed to timeshares, and 41% of repeat visitors on average in 2018 so far stayed in timeshare accommodations. This is up from 38.5% in 2017 and 35% in 2016.

Another possible factor of this high frequency is convenience. Our survey revealed that the great majority of destinations that U.S. travelers return to more than one time are within the U.S. and 65% of the domestic repeat travelers return to these destinations by car. For repeat visits outside the U.S., the top destinations are the popular tourist destinations that are easy to fly to: our North American neighbors, western Europe, and the Caribbean. Mexico, the top international repeat destination among our respondents, is a prime example of a repeat destination. In Los Cabos alone, 70% of visitors have traveled there before, and 20% have been to the destination four or more times. Fascinatingly, more than half of the repeat travelers we surveyed who returned to a destination outside of the U.S. returned to the same cities as well, with just 8% having gone to entirely new cities in the same country.

 

Why Do They Go Back?

First impressions are important
We asked how repeat travelers felt when they decided to return to a destination. Nearly 80% said that they had a wonderful experience the first time and wanted to experience that again. By contrast, only 38% said they wanted to explore new things there and only 25% said it was a convenient choice. Clearly, whether it was a great experience or not the first time is the biggest indicator of the decision to go back.

Activities and food are among the top motivators
We then asked respondents what specific factors made them want to return to the same destination. Much in line with the responses indicated above, familiarity/comfort level with the destination came out on top, with 43% of repeat travelers selecting that as one of their top three factors.

The second and the third most important factors are the variety of activities available and food and drink, each with 38% of respondents selecting them among their top three factors.

 

What Do They Do When They Go Back?

They try new activities
When returning to destination, people tend to expand the activities they participate in. Only 27% of repeat tourists said they did the same activities as they did the first time. The other 73% incorporated at least some different activities into their vacations when they returned to a destination.

 

When it comes to specific activities, trying new food and drinks and shopping are the two activities the most repeat travelers report doing more of when they return to a destination.

 

These particular activities are key because they directly impact the local destination economy by benefiting businesses that aren’t necessarily travel or tourism specific, but are part of the local way of life. A number of studies by travel and tourism organizations, as well as academic studies, have found this trend in activities among repeat travelers as well. A study by Chinese internet giant Baidu found that Chinese tourists who have traveled to Japan more than one time tend to spend more money there. They posit that when they become more familiar with the country, they in turn gain more confidence in the products produced and/or sold there.

Doing new activities in repeat destinations might substitute for a desire to go to new places
Our survey also reveals that more repeat travelers venture further outside of popular areas and attractions in a destination when they return compared to their first visit. Fifty-eight percent of respondents ventured out of the popular areas when then went back, compared to 42% who said they stayed mostly in the main attraction areas.

What’s interesting is that this inclination to try new things in repeat destinations does not translate to a preference to visit new destinations. In fact, 38% indicated that they prefer to return to destinations they’ve already visited, 35% don’t have a preference, and just 27% prefer visiting new destinations. These responses present a stark contrast to other groups of U.S. travelers to whom we have asked similar questions. For example, in our U.S. Affluent Traveler Trends 2018 survey, 77% of affluent travelers would prefer to go to a new destination for their next vacation, and 60% of respondents to our U.S. Experiential Traveler Trends 2018 survey say they are more likely to go to a new destination than one they’ve already been to for their next vacation. This indicates that travelers who have returned to vacation destinations have some attributes that make them more inclined to go back to same destinations.

 

Their accommodation preferences show a prioritization of comfort
Repeat visitors are more likely to be interested in trying new things and integrating themselves into the local community when they return to a destination. This is reflected in the higher usage of vacation rentals of repeat visits. Forty percent of repeat travelers indicated they stayed at a vacation rental during the first visit. The number jumped to 49% in returning visits.

Yet, interestingly, nearly 60% also stayed in the same hotel that they stayed in during their first visit during at least one subsequent visit. This is a very high number and is very encouraging for hoteliers who are trying to get repeat loyal guests. As indicated earlier, a majority of repeat travelers go back because they had a wonderful experience during the first visit. It is likely that the hotel stay is part of that satisfying experience, and providing a great guest experience is crucial for generating repeat guests.

Staying in vacation rentals and staying in the same hotel might be very different experiences from one another, but they both show a preference for comfort and familiarity that we have seen are paramount for repeat visitors. Staying in a home-like vacation rental is likely to help foster these feelings in a similar way that staying a familiar hotel would.

 

How Do They Feel After Going Back?

They are more satisfied
Overall, revisiting a destination tends to have a positive impact on a visitor’s satisfaction with the destination. More than half of surveyed repeat travelers reported that they were more satisfied with their return visit(s) vacation destinations than they were with their first visit. Just 2% reported being less satisfied.

 

They are more attached to the local culture and people
Large majorities of repeat travelers also reported feeling more familiar and connected with the local people and culture of the destination after returning to it, and nearly 80% say returning makes them like the destination more. If returning to a destination makes them feel more like they are a part of the community, it is likely that they will be motivated to return in order to maintain and strengthen these ties. These are all important foundations for building loyalty and encouraging more return visits in the future.

Repeat Travelers: Differences by Age and Income

Looking at repeat travelers as a whole offers important insights into their motivations, habits, and behaviors. However, for DMOs and other travel marketers, it’s important to delve deeper into demographic nuances in order to reach their specific audiences more appropriately. In this section, we will highlight key points of differences by age group and income bracket.

Differences Among Repeat Travelers by Age

Reasons for returning

  • Across age groups, repeat travelers are most likely to return to a vacation destination because they had a wonderful time the first visit and wanted to experience that again.
  • Younger travelers age 18–34 are most likely to go back because they want to explore new things they didn’t get to during their first visit.

 

 

Doing new activities during return visits

  • The majority of travelers across age groups did at least some different activities during their return visit(s) than they did during their first visit.
  • Younger travelers, especially those age 25–44 are most likely to do all different activities when returning to a destination compared to their first visit.

 

 

Where they stay when they return

  • While repeat travelers across age groups are more likely to have stayed in a vacation rental when they returned to a destination, repeat travelers are nearly twice as likely to have stayed in a vacation rental at any point compared to those over 45.
  • The 25–34 year old group has especially high vacation rental usage, and members of this group are also more likely to have stayed at the same hotel during their return visit(s) that they stayed in during their first visit.

 

 

Satisfaction with return destination

  • Very few repeat travelers, regardless of age are less satisfied with a vacation destination after their return visit.
  • The younger half of the age groups, those 18–44, are 20 percentage points more likely to be more satisfied with their return visit(s) than their first visit compared to repeat travelers 45 and older.

 

 

Connection with local culture and people

  • Repeat travelers age 25–44 feel most familiar with, connected to, and fond of the destination(s) they’ve visited more than one time.

 

 

Differences Among Repeat Travelers by Income

Reasons for returning

  • Across income brackets, repeat travelers are most likely to be motivated to return to a vacation destination because they had a wonderful time the first visit and wanted to experience that again.
  • Repeat travelers with combined household incomes between $50,000 and $99,999 are slightly more likely to also be motivated because they want to explore new things they didn’t get to during their first visit.

 

 

Doing new activities during return visits

  • The majority of travelers across income brackets did at least some different activities during their return visit(s) than they did during their first visit.
  • The highest income group of repeat travelers, $200,000 and above, are more likely to do all the same activities when returning to a destinations compared to their first visit, with 32% reporting this.

 

 

Satisfaction with return destination

  • Very few repeat travelers across income brackets are less satisfied with their return visit(s) than their first.
  • Repeat travelers in the middle-income brackets, $75,000–$149,999, are more likely than the other brackets to be more satisfied with their return visit(s) than their first visit to a destination compared to the other brackets.

 

 

Where they stay when they return

  • We see an upward trends in vacation rental use as income increases, and across all income brackets the likelihood that repeat travelers have stayed in a vacation rental higher is for return visit(s) than it is for first visits to a destination. The biggest variation between first-visit and return-visit vacation rental use is seen among the highest income bracket, where there is an 8-percentage-point increase.
  • Looking at hotels, repeat travelers with incomes between $75,000 and $199,999 are most likely to have stayed at the same hotel during return visit(s) that they stayed in during their first visit.

 

 

Connection with local culture and people

  • Repeat travelers with combined household incomes between $150,000 and $199,999 feel most familiar with, connected to, and fond of the destination(s) they’ve visited more than one time.

 

 

Comparison with Non-Repeat Travelers

In this section, we will compare repeat travelers to non-repeat travelers. We begin with a brief profile of non-repeat travelers and follow with direct comparisons highlighting the differences in their travel behaviors, preferences, attitudes, and more.

Profile of Non-Repeat Travelers

Our sample of non-repeat travelers is more likely to be older. They are also more likely to be female and nearly three-quarters have no children currently at home. They also have lower combined household incomes on average, with 43% under $50,000.

 

Although non-repeat travelers have never returned to a vacation destination, nearly all of them would consider doing so in the future. Among those who would consider it, they are most likely to return to a multifaceted destination that includes multiple types of landscapes and attractions, followed closely by a beach destination. The most common reason non-repeat travelers would not return to a destination is that they like exploring new places.

 

Demographic Comparison of Repeat and Non-Repeat Travelers

Looking at repeat and non-repeat travelers side by side, we see some key demographic differences. With regard to age, our non-repeat traveler respondents tend to be on the extreme ends of the spectrum compared to repeat travelers. Thirty-nine percent of repeat travelers are from the 25–44 age group, while only 23% of the non-repeat travelers are from this age group On the other hand, 44% of non-repeat travelers are age 55 and over, compared to 35% of our repeat traveler respondents; and 7% of non-repeat travelers are 28–24, versus 13% of repeat travelers

It should be noted that different destinations appeal to different demographic groups, and the findings from our research don’t necessarily apply to all scenarios. For instance, Aruba’s repeat travelers tend to be members of the baby boomer generation, while its first-time visitors tend to be millennials and Gen Xers. According to Jacob Pewitt Yancey, Director of Consumer Insights and Analytics for VISIT FLORIDA, Florida’s repeaters are 45.3 years old on average, while first-timers are slightly younger on average at 39 years old. Florida’s repeat visitors are also more likely to be retired (17.8% of repeat visitors) compared to its first-time visitors (11%). Individual destinations need to do their own due diligence to profile and cater to their specific repeat visitors.

 

Non-repeat travelers are more likely to have no children at home, which is likely tied to the fact that more of this group fall into the youngest and oldest age groups. When it comes to combined household income, we see that repeat travelers have higher incomes overall. Over 40% of non-repeat travelers have combined household incomes under $50,000, compared to just 29% of repeat travelers. Data on repeat visitation by a number of destinations have also found that repeat visitors tend to have higher incomes than first-time visitors. Aruba and Australia’s Lord Howe Island have both found this about their repeater visitors, for example. This is an indication that repeat travelers are likely avid travelers who simply vacation a lot more than non-repeat travelers.

Comparison of Travel Behavior and Preferences

Accommodation Choices

Repeat travelers are more likely to have stayed in an apartment or home rental while on vacation than non-repeat travelers, with 41% of repeat travelers doing so versus 29% of non-repeat travelers. As we discussed at the beginning of this report, return visits are often driven by timeshare or repeat vacation rentals, which is likely a big contributor to this difference.

Furthermore, while both repeat and non-repeat travelers who have stayed in an apartment or home rental while on vacation prefer that experience over the traditional hotel experience, repeat travelers are slightly more likely to express this preference. Interestingly, more repeat travelers than non-repeat travelers also prefer the traditional hotel experience. Non-repeat travelers, on the other hand, are more likely to not have an opinion either way.

 

In-Destination Activities

In the previous section profiling repeat travelers, we discussed the findings that show this group is most likely to do more shopping and trying new food and drinks when they return to a destination than during their first visit. When repeat and non-repeat travelers were asked which activities are their favorite to partake in while on vacation, repeat travelers also selected these two activities as their top two. We also see that these activities have among the largest disparities between the two groups, with an 8-percentage-point greater share of repeat travelers selecting “trying new food and drinks” as one of their three favorite activities, and a 14-percentage-point greater share of this group selecting “shopping.”

 

As we mentioned before, high participation in activities like this by repeat travelers is important to note, since they are beneficial to non-tourism-specific businesses that are also more enmeshed in the local way of life. In addition to the Baidu study mentioned earlier, a number of other studies have made similar findings with regard to repeat visitors to specific destinations.

A study in the 2017 Journal of Vacation Marketing called, “Tourists’ spatial behaviour in urban destinations: The effect of prior destination experience” tracked the behaviors and activities of repeat and first-time visitors to Lisbon using GPS data and a post-visit survey. This study found that repeat travelers tend to have a narrower scope of activities that they partake in in-destination and one of the most common activities among this group was shopping.

To put the potential economic impact of repeat visitors into perspective, consider a study of repeat visitors to western Australia by Tourism Research Australia. This study estimated that if just 10% of the 1.86 million one-time visitors who visited this region of the country in the past decade are converted into ongoing repeat visitors, it “would yield an estimated $35.2m of direct spend per year.”

Kelly of Aruba Tourism Authority pointed out that according to findings of the DMO’s post-trip survey of visitors, repeat travelers to Aruba tend to spend about 15% more than first-time visitors when they visit the island. VISIT FLORIDA’s Pewitt Yancey shared similar data: After excluding Florida visitors whose primary visit purpose was to see family and friends, travelers who have vacationed in Florida more than once in the last three years tend to spend around $150 more per trip than those who have not returned to the state in this time period.

Comparison of Activities and Attitudes

You might remember that 58% of repeat travelers said that they venture further outside of popular areas and attractions when they return to a destination than they did during their first visit. Now, however, we see that in comparison to non-repeat travelers, repeat travelers express more preferences that indicate a slightly less adventurous travel spirit, with far more in this group saying they prefer to spend more on nicer accommodations rather than better activities, keep to popular areas rather than go off the beaten path, and prioritize returning from a vacation feeling rested rather than having experienced something new.

Pewitt Yancey of VISIT FLORIDA shared information with us that seconds our findings. Florida’s first-time visitors “are more likely to seek out destinations … with adventure opportunities, unique local cuisine, and rich local culture.” In other words, all things that indicate an initial desire for experience and novelty. By comparison, repeat travelers are not the the most adventurous wanderlusters by nature. As we saw in our previous repeat traveler profile, repeaters often need to return to a destination more than one time in order to have the confidence to venture into the more local and adventurous activities that non-repeat visitors feel comfortable jumping right into.

 

Other data sources have found this as well. The Lisbon study mentioned above found that repeat visitors tended to go on more day trips further outside of the city center and further from their hotels. They also tended to spend more time at these peripheral areas and attractions than first-time visitors to the city. Baidu’s survey of repeat Chinese travelers to Japan also found that with more frequent returns to the country, the repeat travelers are more likely to visit rural areas or at least to express the intention of doing so.

Kelly of Aruba Tourism Authority echoed these findings in describing Aruba’s repeat visitors, “Our repeaters tend to do less conventional activities than first-timers. For example, repeaters tend to visit less touristic sites and attractions compared to first-timers,” she said. She also explained that the island’s repeat visitors tend to participate in more cultural activities, like Carnival celebrations, and they participate in more adventurous activities like deep-sea fishing, while first-time visitors tend to stick to more traditional land- and water-based tours and activities. In general, she says, repeat visitors tend to “roam the island more because they’ve been to the island, they know it more. So they will roam the island more and try out more of the local cultural things.”

For this reason, focusing on attracting repeat visitors more so than new visitors can be a useful, long-term strategy for destinations looking to ease overtourism in highly congested areas and extremely popular attractions.

Activities aside, another key differentiator between repeat travelers and non-repeat travelers is how they value local experience and local connection. As mentioned earlier, return visits make travelers feel more connected to local culture and local people. A further comparison of repeat travelers and non-repeat travelers show that this might be because repeat travelers place higher value on having a local experience to begin with. Fifty-five percent of repeat travelers in our survey said it’s important to live like a local while on vacation, compared to 41% of non-repeat travelers who said so. Furthermore, 64% of repeat travelers feel it’s important to connect with locals while on vacation, while only 50% of non-repeat travelers feel this way.

Kelly of Aruba Tourism Authority agrees, saying that repeat travelers to Aruba tend to participate more in cultural events that are popular among locals, rather than activities designed specifically for tourists.

This community-centric focus of repeat travelers is great news for destinations that less typical vacation destinations than Florida and Aruba. In our report from earlier this year, Destination Marketing Trends 2018, we discussed how destinations like this can promote the variety of interesting experiences available to visitors to attract repeat visitors. Visit Seattle, for example, focuses on communicating the vastly different activities and attractions tourists can partake in during the city’s unique seasons.

 

Comparison of Travel Motivations

We also see this preference for being part of a community when we look at the things that most motivate repeat travelers to travel compared to non-repeaters. Both groups selected “getting away from home” and “relaxation” most often among their top two motivators, but some other differences stand out. For example, an 8-percentage-point greater share of non-repeat travelers are motivated by wanting to experience new cultures. For this group, it’s the novelty of experiencing a culture that is prioritized, rather than being a part of this culture, as we saw in the charts above.

On the other hand, a 5-percentage-point greater share of repeat travelers are motivated to travel by a desire to meet new people and a 7-percentage-point greater share of this group is motivated by wanting to enhance their relationships with their travel companions. As we previously noted, repeat travelers prioritize living like a local and connecting with locals more. The differences in motivation that we see in the chart below help us understand that this group doesn’t prioritize these things because of the novelty of unfamiliar cultures as non-repeat travelers do, but rather because of how they facilitate forming and fostering relationships that can last in the long term. Repeat travelers are motivated to travel so that they can become part of a new community and also strengthen the communities they’re already part of. As we saw previously, returning to destinations helps them to accomplish this.

 

Comparison of Travel Planning

Although repeat travelers are sometimes planning trips to places they’ve already been, this doesn’t seem to impact their ability to enjoy the trip planning process. In fact, a 14-percentage-point greater share of repeat travelers say they enjoy it than of non-repeat travelers. First-hand familiarity with some destinations could make the process quicker and easier, and therefore more enjoyable. When it comes to the sources they turn to when planning trips, however, there aren’t any huge differences between those that repeat and non-repeat travelers prefer. Those differences that do exist include a 6-percentage-point greater share of repeat travelers selecting “online travel agencies” as one of their top two sources, and a 4-percentage-point greater share of non-repeat travelers selecting “advice from family/friends” and “social media” among their top choices.

 

Pewitt Yancey of VISIT FLORIDA shared pre-trip behavioral data that echoes these findings and adds additional insight. For example, first-time visitors to Florida are more likely to select destinations where minimal planning is required, which is logical given our finding that non-repeat travelers tend to dislike the trip planning process more than repeaters.

First-time visitors to Florida are also more likely to use social media for travel planning purposes, especially to seek out recommendations from friends and family. Overall, these first-time visitors are likely to consult a wider variety of resources when looking for a vacation destination than repeat visitors. They are also more likely to consult printed publications, travel agents, and travel guide websites, like Lonely Planet. VISIT FLORIDA has found that first-time visitors are much more likely to be influenced by marketing when deciding to visit Florida. First-time visitors are 30–40% more likely to have been influenced by all types of marketing than repeat visitors.

Comparison of General Values

Our previous analysis concludes that both repeat and non-repeat travelers value exploring new places and trying new things, albeit in different ways. This is further evidenced by the very high and nearly exact same percentages of the two groups who said they “see value in products and services that enable me to learn new things.”

Interestingly, the propensity of connecting with locals while traveling among repeat travelers is reflected in their general behavior and attitude about their own community as well. Compared to non-repeat travelers, repeat travelers are more involved in their own communities. More than half of repeat travelers said that they are involved in their own communities through things like volunteering, 8 percentage points more than non-repeat travelers.

 

The Impact of the Number of Return Destinations Visited on Travel Behaviors and Habits

In addition to finding out whether our survey respondents had returned to a vacation destination at all in the last five years, we also asked how many destinations they’ve returned to in this period. In general, we find that once a traveler goes back to one destination, she or he tends to go back to other destinations as well. They might be overall avid travelers. About 80% of repeat travelers in our survey said they’d been back to more than one destination in the last five years (“multi-destination repeat travelers”) and only 20% of them had been back to only one destination (“one-destination repeat travelers”).

In this section, we explore how the number of destinations repeat travelers have returned to in recent years impacts their travel behaviors, habits, and attitudes. We find that multi-destination repeaters are often the group that defines the repeat visitor behavior and attitude while the one-destination repeaters show more similarities with the non-repeater group.

Travel Preferences

One area that we see variation among these groups is in vacation rental use. Multi-destination repeat travelers are over 10 percentage points more likely to have stayed in this accommodation type in the past, at 43%. Enjoying trip planning shows a similar level of difference, with nearly three-quarters of multi-destination repeaters expressing that they enjoy the process.

 

As we discussed previously, repeat travelers overall tend to prefer shopping while on vacation more than their non-repeat traveler peers. When we look at this preference divided by the number of destinations repeat travelers have returned to, we see that this preference is especially strong among multi-destination repeat travelers. Compared to one-destination repeaters and non-repeaters, a 10-percentage-point greater share and 16-percentage-point greater share of multi-destination repeaters selected shopping, respectively, as one of their favorite travel activities.

Multi-destination repeat travelers also express a much stronger preference for staying in popular areas or near popular attractions while traveling compared to the other two groups. In this instance, one-destination repeat travelers and non-repeat travelers show more similar preferences.

 

Travel Attitudes

In many ways, multi-destination repeat travelers more fully exemplify the previous finding that repeat travelers are more community minded and perhaps less inclined to strive for adventure and novelty (at least right away) when traveling. Multi-destination repeat travelers are the most split in their preference for spending more money on a nicer hotel room versus better activities, while the other two groups show a much stronger preference for investing in activities.

Multi-destination repeat travelers are also the outlying group when it comes to putting high value on “living like a local” while traveling. This subgroup of repeat travelers is clearly responsible for variation we observed between the general repeat traveler group and non-repeat travelers previously. An almost 20-percentage-point greater share of multi-destination repeaters say it’s important or very important for them to live like locals when traveling compared to the other two groups, who place the same level of value on this.

 

This pattern continues when we look at the data regarding the importance of meeting and connecting with locals while on vacation. Just around half of non-repeat travelers and one-destination repeat travelers say this is somewhat or very important to them, while a full two-thirds of multi-destination repeaters say the same.

Finally, breaking repeat travelers into two subgroups shows us that multi-destination repeat travelers drive the variation we observed in community involvement between repeat and non-repeat travelers earlier. One-destination repeaters and non-repeaters indicate the same level of agreement with the statement “I am involved in my community through things like volunteering.” Multi-destination repeaters stand apart, with a 10-percentage-point greater share of this group indicating they agree with this statement.

 

Clearly, these comparisons show that multi-destination repeat travelers have unique attributes that set them apart from other travelers. It’s likely that these unique attributes are the results of them traveling more in general and being more inclined to go back to the same place compared to the others. Each destination has its own local appeal to different people for different reasons. A key first step in any efforts of attracting new or repeat tourists is to understand them and segment better.

Key Takeaways

  • Repeat travelers are motivated to return to vacation destinations largely by their familiarity and comfort level with the destination.
  • This preference for familiarity is seen in the accommodation preferences of repeat travelers, as they are more likely to prefer the homey atmosphere of vacation rentals and are also likely to stay in the same hotel when they return to a destination as they did during their first visit.
  • Repeat travelers engage in more activities when they go back to a destination. Trying new food and drinks and shopping are among the top activities that they do more of during their returning visit.
  • Returning to a destination allows travelers to know a place at a deeper level, explore it more thoroughly, and become part of the local community. Because of this, returning to a destination almost always makes repeat travelers like the destination more than they did after just one visit.
  • This community mindedness isn’t limited to only when repeat travelers are traveling. They are also more likely to be involved in their own communities at home.
  • Most of the characteristics that repeat travelers show collectively are reflected in the travelers who have made return trips to more than one destination in the last five years. The repeat travelers who have only returned to one destination share similar traits with non-repeat travelers.
  • Non-repeat travelers are more driven by novelty and experiencing new things across destinations, rather than within one or a few. They prefer to seek adventure through novelty across a wider scope, and are less concerned with feeling a sense of belonging in the places they travel. They like experiencing new cultures, but don’t feel as strong a need to integrate themselves into the culture.

Icon Credits:

  • Car: Adrien Coquet from Noun Project
  • Plane: bmijnlieff from Noun Project
  • Bus/Train: AIGA, US from Noun Project
  • Cruise ship: Manop Leklai from Noun Project

Endnotes and Further Reading