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This summer, big events are driving destination decisions

While road trips and beach getaways are drawing travelers as always, more travelers are planning their destinations around major concerts and sporting events this summer
Graphic conveying trends in the travel & hospitality industry.
Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Kelly Rice
May 16, 2024 at 5:00 am UTC

Key Takeaways

  • Nearly three-quarters (72%) of U.S. adults say they will or may travel for leisure this summer.

  • Event travel is a growing booking driver: the share of U.S. adults who say they’ll travel for an event is up 5 percentage points since October 2021.

  • There’s still time for travel brands to encourage bookings — a plurality of those with travel plans haven’t yet finished making their reservations.

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The days are getting longer, the air is getting warmer and another school year is drawing to a close which can only mean one thing: summer vacation season is almost here. Often summer trips are guided by tradition — an annual family trip to the beach, a yearly visit with friends, a regular getaway to the mountains to escape the summer heat. But travel motivators are evolving and influencing trip plans this year. 

Event travel is on the rise among all U.S. adults

Summer vacations are spurred by many things, but the primary drivers — escape, relaxation, visiting friends and family — haven’t changed much in their influence over time. But there are other secondary motivators like the desire to redeem points, to utilize banked vacation time, or to take advantage of a great deal, that are also at play. Among those motivators, traveling for a specific event is the only one that has grown in resonance since tracking began in October 2021. It’s up 5 percentage points since then — now, 1 in 5 U.S. adults say they’ll be traveling for an event in the coming year.

Event travel is on the rise

Share of U.S. adults who say the following prompted an upcoming leisure trip:
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Surveys conducted Oct. 22, 2021, to April 3, 2024, among samples of roughly 2,200 U.S. adults each, with unweighted margins of error of +/-2 percentage points.

Unlike some other motivators, event travel is similarly relevant across the generations. While millennials are the most likely to be traveling for an event (22%), Gen Zers and baby boomers are just 3 percentage points less likely (19%), and Gen Xers only a point behind them (18%) — notably, all of these variations fall within the margin of error. 

Also noteworthy: there is little difference in intent between income groups suggesting big-ticket, expensive to-dos are not the only events that are motivating trips. Despite these similarities, not all demographics are equally likely to be planning event travel. One of the biggest gaps is in gender — while 23% of women say they’ll travel for an event, 17% of men say the same. 

The events of the summer? Olympics and Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour.

While the events that spur travel can vary in type and scale, some clues to the biggest drivers can be found in consumers’ open-ended responses to a question asking where they plan to travel this summer. Unsurprisingly, perennial favorites were the most mentioned by respondents: Florida, New York and California dominated responses, as well as the generic “beach” when consumers reported which domestic destinations they planned to visit. Old habits die hard — in fact, 77% of adults say their summer travels will take them somewhere they’ve been to before, while 45% plan to visit a destination that’s new to them.

Many of the top vacation destinations are influenced by big events

The most frequently mentioned destinations by U.S. leisure travelers when asked where they plan to visit over the summer
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Survey conducted May 4-5 2024, among a sample of 1,591 U.S. adults with plans to travel for leisure this summer, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.

That said, responses to the same open-ended question related to international travel reveal the lure of events. The most frequently-cited location was Paris, France, suggesting that Americans are gearing up to support their country’s athletes at the 2024 Olympic Games. Other European destinations also hint at transatlantic “gig-tripping” — Italy, Spain, the UK, Portugal, and Germany, all stops on Taylor Swift’s smash Eras Tour, each garnered multiple mentions. But it’s not just Swifties booking their tickets abroad, as one respondent mentioned planning a possible trip to “...Budapest, Paris, Edinburgh - anywhere The Cure might announce a concert.” Perhaps wishful thinking on their part, as the band has yet to announce any 2024 concert dates. But the mere mention shows that superfans are willing to shell out big bucks to see their favorite acts, even if it means traveling overseas.

Many travelers haven’t yet booked their tickets

Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer, is just over a week away. But while nearly three-quarters of Americans say they will or might travel for leisure this summer season (41% say they will and 31% say they might), a plurality have not yet finalized their reservations. Travelers are most likely to have completed their hotel bookings, but even then, only 16% say they have done so — 11% have booked some but not all, and 45% plan to, but haven’t yet started. Slightly fewer travelers have booked all of their airfare (13%) and vacation rentals (10%), with pluralities still having outstanding reservations to make.

Most summer travelers haven’t completed their bookings yet

Share of U.S. adults who say the following about their summer travel reservations:
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Survey conducted May 4-5 2024, among a sample of 1,591 U.S. adults with plans to travel for leisure this summer, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.

All this means that despite the high season being just around the corner, there’s still plenty of time for travel brands to grab customers’ attention. This is especially true as the majority of adults report planning multiple trips during the summer: 36% say they’ll travel twice, 17% will travel three or four times and 4% will take five or more trips. So perhaps some of those trips are annual family getaways in big beach houses and others are friend group jaunts to see a favorite band — companies can tap into the variety of motivators to connect with this summer’s travelers.    

Lindsey Roeschke is a travel & hospitality analyst. Lindsey’s work focuses on behavior and expectations in travel (among other categories), particularly through a generational and cultural lens. In addition to her research and advisory background, Lindsey has more than a decade of experience in the advertising world.
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