Road Warrior

Spas to shopping, more women travel in high style

Harriet Baskas, Special to
Image Source | Getty Images

There are more affluent travelers than ever before. More of them are women, and they're ready to spend more on their vacations.

Those are some of the key findings of new analysis of the 2013 Portrait of American Travelers report by travel marketing firm MMGY Global and marketing research firm the Harrison Group.

The study found that 6 percent of leisure travelers now have an annual household income of $250,000 (compared to 4 percent in 2010), and that women now make up the majority (54 percent) of those affluent travelers (up from 42 percent in 2010.)

"Women traditionally make the decisions on travel, and there are now more affluent women making those decisions," said Steve Cohen, vice president of Insights for MMGY Global.

More affluent, female travelers, of course, is good news for related businesses.

For example, at upscale luggage and travel accessory-company Tumi, about 40 percent of their customers are women. "We are staying abreast of the modern female traveler's concerns, and today that means premium, highly versatile, lightweight products that are also stylish and beautiful," said Tumi CEO Jerome Griffith. "But women also continue to buy many of our men's products for themselves, which speaks to the opportunity we have to grow and expand our women's collections through new merchandise offerings."

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Affluent travelers and those with more modest incomes said they plan on taking more trips in the year ahead. But, not surprisingly, those with more cash on hand planned to hit the road more often and spend more money doing it.

The report also found nearly three out of 10 (28 percent) of affluent travelers—a group that took an average of five leisure trips during the past twelve months—plan to take more trips next year. Just two out of 10 (18 percent) of the leisure travelers in the general population said additional trips were on their calendar. Of the affluent travelers who aren't planning to travel more, 60 percent said they're planning to travel just as much as they did the year prior, while only 12 percent planned to cut back.

Overall, affluent travelers also are expecting to raise their vacation budgets by 8.4 percent, said Cohen. "But among affluent women that number is closer to 11 percent," with spa treatments, dining, shopping and local excursions among the likely expenses, he said.

Hotels and other travel-industry providers should take note, said Katie Davin, associate professor at Johnson & Wales University. "Affluent travelers have more choices than other travelers, and their expectations are generally higher. So hotels that can provide the affluent traveler with an effortless arrival and a trouble-free stay will be rewarded with more of these high-end guests," Davin said.

The report also found affluent travelers are more likely to be married, older, retired and active online compared with 2010.

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At the beginning of 2013, 82 percent of affluent travelers were married (compared with 77 percent in 2010), with an average age of 49 (compared with an average age of 43 in 2010), according to the study. About 14 percent reported being retired, which was a significant uptick from the 1 percent, who described themselves as retired in 2010.

"That makes sense," said Cohen of MMGY Global. "The boomers are retiring. In 2010, they were 64, now they're 67. Among the affluent demographic, they don't feel the need to continue working as do those in the lower income categories."

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The report also found this group spends an average of 3.2 hours a day on the Internet, with at least 40 minutes per day spent on social media platforms such as Facebook (69 percent) and LinkedIn (45 percent). Of those, 50 percent—up from 40 percent in 2010—visit travel-related sites, including airline websites (53 percent), Expedia (46 percent), TripAdvisor (46 percent) and hotel branded sites (45 percent) among others.

The survey found of those who visit travel-related social media sites, 29 percent of affluent travelers make themselves known by authoring, making comments and/or posting other content. That's up from 17 percent in 2010, and represents a much higher percentage of posters than those in lower-income categories who regularly visit such sites, Cohen said.

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But, again, Cohen added that's really no surprise. "If I'm traveling once a year, I probably don't have a lot to post," said Cohen. "But if I'm traveling more, I may have more to say and be more inspired to write something."

As for how these trends might affect the experiences of travelers on more modest incomes, Davin says it's all positive. "As hotels and resorts make improvements to compete for affluent travelers, we all benefit," she said.

The national Portrait of American Travelers was originally conducted in February 2013 and surveyed 2,511 active leisure travelers with annual incomes $50,000 or more.

—By Harriet Baskas, special to Baskas is the author of seven books, including "Hidden Treasures: What Museums Can't or Won't Show You," and the Stuck at the Airport blog. Follow her on Twitter at @hbaskas.