Skift Take

National parks won't disappear from summer road trip itineraries any time soon but the type of routes being planned and other pit stops travelers are planning for this summer show the local discovery trend touches drive travel too.

The calendar says it’s only two months until summer in the U.S. but passengers in the stream of cars hitting American interstates this year already want something different from the standard routes.

National parks still maintain their perch as the most popular stops along road trip itineraries but it’s which routes travelers plan to take and the alternative stops they make that’s changing the face of road trips in 2015. Rather than making the famed cross-country trip, most travelers will opt for shorter, regional routes closer to home this summer or fly to a city and make a round-trip within the same state.

Cheaper gas prices this year encourage more road travel but could also encourage other kinds of travel or spending.

“We don’t currently have data that shows that people driver more when gas prices are lower, but lower gas prices does put more money in household budgets that can be used for travel,” said Heather Hunter, a spokesperson for AAA.

Like other kinds of trips, travelers now use their smartphones to make discoveries while they’re in a destination and find local hidden gems not on tourist maps. Roadtrippers, a road trip planning company, found that during the past year travelers have accessed its site more often on the road and they read destination-specific content to fuel inspiration. The site’s second most popular kind of content for road trips is its “Offbeat Attractions” section for each destination.

Roadtrippers says travelers planning their upcoming summer trips rely on their smartphones to discover local accommodations on the road rather than booking in advance. For road trips planned and booked on Roadtrippers for this summer during the past 30 days, 76% of travelers booked only one night in a hotel versus the 15% who booked two or more nights. For this summer, the average U.S. traveler is planning five or more one-day road trips, four weekend trips and one week-long trip, Roadtrippers found.

Four of the top 10 road trips travelers planned for summer 2015 are roundtrips starting and ending in the same city, meaning these are either people traveling close to home or travelers flying into a city, renting a car and then flying home. And like last summer, much of the planned road travel skews towards West Coast cities and sites.

“Site behavior skews more towards local travel and discovery on mobile rather than the epic road trip these days although Boston to Portland is still amongst the top 10,” said Natalie Akers, a spokesperson for Roadtrippers.

Most Popular Road Trip Routes Planned on Roadtrippers for Summer 2015

Rank Route
1 San Francisco to San Francisco
2 Los Angeles to Los Angeles
3 Seattle to Seattle
4 Chicago to Las Vegas
5 New York to Chicago
6 Las Vegas to New York
7 Portland, Oregon to Nashville
8 Denver to New Orleans
9 San Diego to San Diego
10 Boston to Portland, Oregon

Source: Roadtrippers

California: The King of Road Trips

California’s Pacific Coast Highway naturally lends itself to road trip itineraries and it’s no surprise road travel has the largest showing in California than anywhere else in the U.S. Road trip travel within the state grew 16% between 2012 and 2014, outpacing the growth of air travel during the same period (5%), the U.S. Department of Commerce found.

The Commerce Department estimates 82% of all travel to and within California is done by car and 85% of that number includes California residents. These numbers aren’t specific to leisure road trips but still provide an idea of road travel’s popularity in the state. In fact, 77% of all U.S. road travel is done by California residents and so is 24% of U.S. air travel.

Last year non-resident drive travelers spent nearly twice as much time in the state as residents on trips (6.3 nights versus 3.5 nights, respectively) and only 20% of drive parties in California included children under age 18.

Although more than half of road trip travelers making trips within California (58% California residents, 53% non-residents) stayed in paid accommodations in 2014 such as a hotel, B&B or home share like Airbnb, 37% of California residents and 42% of non-residents stay in a private home with friends or relatives, the Commerce Department found.

Visit California said these numbers aren’t independent in that a traveler could stay in a hotel and private home, for example, during the same trip.

The Commerce Department also found one in five non-residents and one in three residents reported visiting an area outside of California’s 12 largest destinations in 2014.

“While drive travel growth has outpaced air travel over the last two years, air actually slightly outpaced drive in 2014,” said Dan Mishell, director of research for Visit California. “This trend has to do with the continuing economic recovery and very high consumer sentiment related to travel, including more interest in traveling longer distances and less financial restrictions than in the past six years.”

Video Campaigns Promoting Road Trips

With these data points and local discovery’s popularity in mind Visit California made road trips a centerpiece of its editorial content on its relaunched site. The organization also plans to deploy more road trip-themed video content for its site and has some offline marketing elements in the works.

“Due to consumer demand for content, we have also started actively curating road trip themed video content to serve as a foundational pillar of our video content strategy, which is quickly becoming a central component of our overall marketing strategy,” said Traci Ward, director of consumer marketing at Visit California. “Highlighting this video content will be a major part of our campaign activity over the next few months.”

“More recently, we have worked to make a stronger connection between the printed guides and our online content offerings. Leading into the peak summer travel season, we release a printed ‘Road Trips’ guide. The guide, released in the June issue of Sunset magazine, covers 12 marquee California drives and provides consumers with interesting insights to make the most of their California road trips. While this publication is not new, we have refined it over time to increase its usefulness to consumers.”

Utah’s Office of Tourism ran a video campaign in 2014 called “The Mighty 5: Utah’s National Parks” which the office considers a success. Emily Moench, a spokesperson for the office, said the office received 400 queries about Utah road trips each day during the campaign. Utah spent $4 million on Mighty 5 and it returned $126 in visitor spending per dollar spent on the campaign, an impressive $504 million.

Last year Utah built off the warm reception of The Mighty 5 campaign and ran its “7 Must Do Road Trips” campaign from September 1 to November 30. The campaign featured written content and itineraries of the state’s seven most popular road trip routes. Utah worked with ADARA Media and Sojern, spending $10,000 and $17,000 respectively, on the campaign and ADARA found an ROI of $145,000 on hotels for road trip travel for travelers exposed to the campaign. Sojern tracked 622 flights and 434 hotel room nights booked by campaign-exposed travelers.

“The ‘7 Must Do Road Trips’ campaign helped us have a better understanding of how a campaign for one part of the state helps stimulate travel statewide,” said Moench. “The ADARA report shows many bookings in areas that were not the focus of the campaign. Being able to tie marketing efforts to booking data is more compelling than simply measuring the effectiveness in terms of awareness.”

Moench added Utah’s top visitor markets are Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Denver, Phoenix, Portland, and Seattle. The Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle markets typically fly to Utah for road trips and the Las Vegas, Denver, and Phoenix markets tend to drive to the state.

“We’re known for our national parks but we’ve noticed our state parks are becoming more popular as people are really looking for something different and want to get away from the crowds at the national parks,” said Moench. “And our state parks offer the same if not more beautiful views, scenery and adventure.”


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Tags: road trips, utah, visitcalifornia

Photo credit: Highway 1 at Big Sur, California. Daniel Peckham / Flickr

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