A Sorry Outlook for 2009 Travel

Pity the poor travel market. Earlier this year, it suffered when high fuel prices kept people at home. Now, gasoline is suddenly cheaper on an inflation-adjusted basis than it was 30 years ago. But with economic conditions inhospitable in almost every other respect, an Ipsos study (based on polling conducted in November) finds Americans still averse to spending on travel.

On the leisure-travel front, 10 percent of the respondents said they’ve already cancelled a trip they’d been planning to make by year’s end, and another 4 percent are considering such a step. Seven percent said they’ve pushed a scheduled leisure trip back into the new year. But that doesn’t mean 2009 will prosper due to 2008’s economizing. Thirty-seven percent of respondents expect to do less leisure travel next year, easily outnumbering the 20 percent who expect to do more.

There’s a similar tendency when it comes to business travel. Eight percent of business travelers said they’ve already cancelled a trip they’d planned to make by year’s end; another 6 percent may still do so. Ten percent have postponed a planned trip to the new year (shifting it to their 2009 T&E budget). More strikingly, 40 percent expect to do less business travel in 2009 than in 2008. Technology plays a role, as 13 percent plan to use conference calls and webinars as a substitute for in-the-flesh trips “where appropriate.”