The Rise of the Independent Affluent Traveler

Earlier this year, Skift published an interesting research paper on US Affluent Traveler trends.

Affluent Americans, defined as household income greater than $100,000, make up 20% of the US population but account for 51% of travel spend.

That affluent Americans comprise the most important segment of travelers isn’t surprising. What is a little more surprising is just how much of this travel is trending toward more independent vs packaged options. Thanks to offerings like Uber, HotelTonight, & Airbnb, affluent travel is becoming much more unbundled & spontaneous. As the need for logistical coordination subsides, the destination management company’s stronghold on in-destination travel is also weakening for this segment.

Additional information about the affluent traveler:

  • Affluent travelers are self-sufficient planners and bookers

  • They prioritize experiences that can teach them new things  

  • They would rather spend money on travel than on other things or possessions at home (81%), but they don’t think that spending more makes a trip more meaningful

Perhaps most interesting is the growth of the alternative accommodation segment within these higher end travelers. In 2018, 50% have stayed in a short-term vacation rental at least once, compared to 38% in 2017. This number rises to 56% for family travelers.

There’s a movement happening between the traditionally defined categories of budget and luxury travel. The independent affluent traveler is a mega segment that’s trading the airport transfer for Uber, the 4 or 5* hotel for an Airbnb, & stitching together itineraries of local restaurants & activities based on their own research or agent recommendations. Within the travel agent industry, this segment is booking hotels & activities while eschewing integrated packages. Some agents report 75% of their business is now independent vs packaged options, particularly in Europe.

The independent affluent traveler will define much of the travel industry in the coming decades. It’s exciting to be a part of it.