U.S. traveler sentiment above pre-recession high

Americans’ attitudes toward travel are now more positive than the benchmark score recorded just prior to the Great Recession, according to the latest travelhorizons survey of 2,300 active travelers conducted in early February by marketing services firm MMGY Global.

The Traveler Sentiment Index (TSI), tracked every calendar quarter since March 2007, is a derivative of six factors that measure Americans’ attitudes toward travel and serves as a predictor of travel behavior during the coming six months. While the overall TSI has been declining since last April, February marked the first time the TSI surpassed the benchmark score of 100 established in pre-recession March 2007.

All six components of the TSI revealed gains in February 2013, with the overall index increasing 10 points in February 2013 (100.8) compared to October 2012 (90.4). The perceived “affordability of travel” powered the score forward, having grown from 102.6 in October 2012 to 114.5 in February 2013. The six TSI factors include interest in travel, time for travel, personal finances available for travel, affordability of travel, quality of travel services and safety of travel.

An estimated 57% of all U.S. adults, or 136 million people, plan to take at least one leisure trip during the next six months. The February report revealed a significant improvement in their sentiment across the board, including:

FINANCES NOT A FACTOR: Among the 27 financial factors that influence demand for leisure travel services, 25 either declined or remained unchanged from February 2012. Of note, 51% of all respondents cited high gasoline prices as the top financial factor influencing their future travel plans, an eight-point decline from the level recorded in February 2012. Several other important financial factors also declined, including the price of air travel, the meltdown of U.S. economy, high level of personal debt, declining value of the dollar, and the expectation of job loss or making less money.

SATISFACTION SOARING: The survey also tracks changes in customer satisfaction with the services provided by four category suppliers: airlines, lodging companies, rental car companies and cruise lines. Satisfaction with rental car companies (116.1), airlines (95.5) and lodging companies (110.1) all reached record highs, according to the February survey, with the rental car industry enjoying the highest satisfaction score ever measured since these questions were added to the survey in April 2011.

BOOST IN BUSINESS TRAVEL: Business travel intentions also displayed a five-point jump in February, with 20% of all respondents intending to take at least one overnight business trip during the next six months – up from 15% in February 2012, and fully seven points from the 13% incidence first recorded in February 2009.