Mark Dolliver: Bent on Travel

It takes more than the threat of recession to keep Americans at home. In a Deloitte & Touche poll, 75 percent said they plan to spend “at least as much on leisure travel in the coming year as they did in the past year.” Vacationing is increasingly a self-expressive activity, as opposed to a merely recreational one. Thus, 26 percent said they’d like to (or already do) engage in “volunteer travel,” in which they “would do good while being away.” Even more, 49 percent, would like to (or already do) take “adventure travel” jaunts. While that category skews young, Deloitte notes that 32 percent of respondents age 75-plus said they’re interested in trying adventure travel. (Of course, you might say almost any travel qualifies as an adventure at that age.) Business continues to encroach on leisure travel, with 33 percent of respondents saying they check on work-related e-mail and voicemail while on vacation. But vacationing is “seeping into” business travel as well, with 46 percent of respondents saying they had a friend or family member join them on at least one business trip in the past year.

Trust is in shorter supply

Americans trust the corporate sector about as far as they could throw it. In the latest edition of an annual Harris Poll on whether various sectors are honest and trustworthy—”so that you normally believe a statement by a company in that industry”—distrust was more the rule than the exception (see the chart). And it has worsened in the past few years, as most of the industries covered in the poll saw declines in their honest-and-trustworthy numbers. The packaged-foods sector has seen its positive tally tumble by 11 percentage points since 2003. For whatever reason, computer hardware companies have suffered a steeper decline than software companies over that period (9 percentage points vs. 5 points). Despite ranking as the most-trusted sector in the poll, the supermarket category saw its trustworthy vote drop by 8 percentage points.

Some assembly required

Given the volume of high-tech devices they buy, it’s clear that Americans en masse aren’t Luddites. But that doesn’t stop them from dreading the complication entailed in using new bits of consumer electronics. An Opinion Research Corp. survey asked consumers to cite the biggest frustrations they endure when they buy a new item in that broad category. About one-third mentioned either “difficulty using the product without constantly referring to directions” (17 percent) or “difficulty setting up or assembling the product” (15 percent). Other leading sources of angst included “difficulty returning or getting warranty service on a defective product” (15 percent) and “opening or removing the product from the package” (12 percent). People in the 18-24 age bracket were especially likely to mention the difficulty of returning or getting warranty service for a dud, with 41 percent of them making this complaint. Tellingly, four in 10 of all respondents said they are less likely to buy more goods from the same company if they have trouble during the setup process with a newly purchased electronics item.

Not learning from mistakes

If there’s now a credit squeeze in the U.S., you wouldn’t know it from rifling through Americans’ mail. A report by Synovate’s Mail Monitor service says the number of credit-card offers mailed to U.S. households rose a shade in the third quarter, reaching 1.29 billion, vs. 1.27 billion in the previous quarter. Nor were the card issuers making the offers only to the most creditworthy prospects. “Approximately 363 million of the total offers mailed in the third quarter were sent to potentially high-risk households,” defined as those already using more than 30 percent of the credit available to them. These households received an average of 6.4 credit-card offers per month in the third quarter.

Who speaks what where

In the debate over immigration, one of the common fears is that an influx of Spanish speakers will leave the U.S. with large enclaves in which lack of fluency in English is the accepted norm. A report by the Pew Hispanic Center gives reason to think that won’t be the case over the long haul. Analyzing data collected during this decade, Pew found just 23 percent of adult Hispanic immigrants saying they speak English very well. “However, fully 88 percent of their U.S.-born adult children report that they speak English very well.” As you’d expect, a propensity to use English at home and at work rises along with fluency in it. “For most immigrants, English is not the primary language they use in either setting. But for their grown children, it is.”