Every day in my mail or computer monitor, I receive invitations to purchase luxury-priced travel. This cruise for $6,000. That African safari for $8,000. This or that tour of the mountain villages of Bulgaria for only $5,500 per person (based on double occupancy).
Though all of us have only the highest regard for the long-established travel companies that operate and offer such fine adventures, and while no objective observer denies that a great many affluent Americans respond to such trips, the fact remains that the overwhelming majority of the American public are extremely cost-conscious in their travel decisions, that they respond best to bargain-priced travel, that they look for "deals". And those members of the travel industry who respond to such needs, enjoy vast popularity and prosperity.
Take the matter of car rentals. At this very moment, the elegant Hertz organization--certainly no bargain specialist--is rolling out a new subsidiary called "FireFly" that will rent cars at half price, provided the renter is willing to accept a car that has more than an awesome number of miles aleady driven (125,000 miles?). In effect, it is emulating the approach of that bargain specialist known as Rent-a-Wreck. The single most substantial and quality-conscious car rental company in America is, in effect, admitting defeat. It is recognizing that Americans are digging in their heels and refusing to pay the outlandish charges that so many car rental companies are now asking.
Hertz' FireFly will soon be in 40 major cities or airports of the United States. it is already in six major European countries.
Take the matter of accommodations. The single strongest trend in travel today is the decision made by growing numbers of Americans to substitute vacation homes and vacation apartments for standard hotel rooms. They have learned that a home or apartment can usually cost much less for their vacation stays. And the companies that cater to such a realization--like Homeaway.com or AirBnB.com--have become giant enterprises with valuations in the billions of dollars. Again, the public has clearly indicated its desire for low-cost vacations.
Cruises? The largest cruise brokers are now VacationsToGo.com and CruisesOnly.com, both of them featuring substantial discounts off the normal published price of a cruise. And both of them have achieved mighty size by clearly and emphatically pointing out how Americans can save money when they book a cruise.
Airfares? The so-called "aggregators" that search all the airfares out there and then direct you to the airline with the lowest price, have achieved remarkable size and popularity, and such companies as Kayak.com, Momondo.com, Do-Hop.com, Hipmunk.com, are beginning to approach the standard airfare search engines in size.
So I'll leave luxury and stratospheric prices to that small segment of Americans able to consider them. Budget is the name of the game in travel. And it is those aggressive marketers of low-cost vacations who continue to account for the greater number of leisure-time trips.
Copyright (c) 2013 by Arthur Frommer