Comparing the American and European Styles of Travel

July 1, 2010
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Expensive. Fast-paced. Visiting rather than relaxing. Sounds about right to me.

A large international survey of 16 nations conducted for the European Wall Street Journal charts significant differences in the way Americans travel from the way Europeans do. Americans are less interested in resting and relaxing on vacation and much prefer to visit friends and relatives. The Dutch travel for the longest period of time while the Americans spend the most. Because of the economy, Bulgarians and most Eastern Europeans hardly travel at all.

Americans are the among the least likely to travel to foreign countries — favoring nearby Central and Latin America — compared to Europeans who have so many foreign countries within easier reach. Forty percent of those polled said that they won’t be traveling this year but Swedes (87 percent) Dutch (85 percent) and Belgians (77 percent) plan to travel somewhere, compared to 69 percent of Americans.

According to the poll: “People from the Southern European countries are particularly keen on staying in their home country: almost 70 percent of Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian citizens and 60 percent of the French enjoy spending their time off at home. Most Brazilians (90 percent) also do not travel abroad, and this percentage increases to 95 percent among Turkish people. In the U.S., 80 percent of citizens spend their vacation on home turf. A very small percentage of Americans travel abroad compared to other countries (17 percent), with the most popular vacation spot being South and Central America at 5 percent.”

The preferred vacation pursuit?

“When asked what they prefer to do on their vacation (respondents named a maximum of two activities), 37 percent said that they want to relax by reading a book, simply resting or playing games. Relaxation is particularly high on the list of priorities among Europeans (58 percent), but not for Americans. Just 10 percent of Americans appreciate ‘dolce far niente’ (pleasant idleness), preferring to visit friends and relatives when on vacation (25 percent), enjoy playing sports (16 percent) or have fun in bars, clubs and discos (15 percent). The American’s preferred vacation pursuit, visiting friends and relatives, is the European’s fourth most popular activity (17 percent). However, Europeans enjoy going to bars, clubs and discos (16 percent) about the same amount as Americans (15 percent).

“Discovery of new countries and cultures and visiting friends and family both come second in the rankings of all respondent’s favorite vacation activities (22 percent). Furthermore, almost half of Belgian and Dutch respondents prefer sightseeing. Turks (43 percent) and Czechs (37 percent) particularly enjoy playing sports on vacation, while doing sports is favored by 19 percent of respondents worldwide. However, only 8 percent of all respondents prefer to explore foreign cuisine.”

That last statistic gives the lie to the obsession in travel pages and travel television with food. It only shows that the food writers and their editors are too hungry. I’m not sure what to make of the stats about “discos.”

Anyway, here’s the release/extract of the survey itself:

National survey by the GfK Association reveals travel/vacation behavior in 16 countries

According to a global GfK Association study, sixty percent of respondents will take a vacation this year. The study further reveals that citizens of the Netherlands travel for the longest periods of time and, correspondingly, spend more money. The travel behavior of Americans more or less corresponds to that of the average world citizen. However, Americans are willing to spend more money than any other country and they visit friends and relatives while the majority of other respondents vacation to relax.

Respondents included 16,364 citizens in 16 countries who were asked travel-related questions. Almost 40% of all respondents stated that they are not traveling in their leisure time this year. This figure increases to 42% in Europe and falls to 38% in Germany. Swedes (87%), Dutch (85%) and Belgians (77%) are most likely to travel while the likelihood for Americans to travel corresponds with the worldwide average (32% of Americans and 39% of travelers worldwide are forgoing a vacation this year). Bulgarians travel the least and 70% will spend their vacation at home.

In almost all countries, young people are most likely to travel in their leisure time. Germany is the only country in which there is no discrepancy in age. “The Trend Sensor of the GfK Association shows us that older German citizens are in a better financial situation compared to other countries. They like to take advantage of this by traveling, provided that their health is good,” explains Dr. Raimund Wildner, Managing Director of the GfK Association.

How much do vacationers spend per year on their travels?

Over a third of respondents will be spending a maximum of $1236.20 (EUR 1000)[1] per person per year on vacations in 2010, and 21% of this group will be spending up to $618.10 (EUR 500). Around one in ten will be investing between $1236.20 (EUR 1000) and $2472.40 (EUR 2000). This figure more than doubles in Sweden, and approximately 20% of the Dutch and Belgians are also prepared to pay between $1236.20 and $2472.40 for a vacation break. On average across all the countries, 9% will be spending more than $2472.40. Among the British this percentage rises to as much as 16%, followed by the Dutch and Swedes (13% and 11% respectively). The U.S. remains around the average of all countries in terms of expenditure: 33% will be paying up to $1236.20 per person per year on their vacations and 15% between $1235.20 and $2472.40. Overwhelmingly, 18%, of Americans are willing to spend more than $2472.40 per year.

For how long do people go on vacation each year?

Almost 30% of respondents go on vacation for two weeks every year, about the same percentage take a week off, while 13% go on vacation for less than seven days. One in five respondents travels for three or four weeks each year: the Dutch, British and Belgians are particularly well represented in this group. In the Netherlands, 17% of citizens take a vacation for five weeks or longer (all countries: 7%), which – taking into account expenditure – makes the Dutch the number one travelers.

Among Americans, about the same percentage travel one week and two weeks every year (27% and 26% respectively), 17% travel for three or four weeks, and 8% travel for longer than five weeks per annum.

What is the preferred travel destination?

Of all respondents, two thirds prefer to stay in their own country. This proportion falls to about 50% in Europe. People from the Southern European countries are particularly keen on staying in their home country: almost 70% of Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian citizens and 60% of the French enjoy spending their time off at home. Most Brazilians (90%) also do not travel abroad, and this percentage increases to 95% among Turkish people. In the U.S., 80% of citizens spend their vacation on home turf. A very small percentage of Americans travel abroad compared to other countries (17%), with the most popular vacation spot being South and Central America at 5%.

What are the most popular vacation pursuits?

When asked what they prefer to do on their vacation (respondents named a maximum of two activities), 37% said that they want to relax by reading a book, simply resting or playing games. Relaxation is particularly high on the list of priorities among Europeans (58%), but not for Americans. Just 10% of Americans appreciate “dolce far niente” (pleasant idleness), preferring to visit friends and relatives when on vacation (25%), enjoy playing sports (16%) or have fun in bars, clubs and discos (15%). The American’s preferred vacation pursuit, visiting friends and relatives, is the European’s fourth most popular activity (17%). However, Europeans enjoy going to bars, clubs and discos (16%) about the same amount as Americans (15%).

Discovery of new countries and cultures and visiting friends and family both come second in the rankings of all respondent’s favorite vacation activities (22%). Furthermore, almost half of Belgian and Dutch respondents prefer sightseeing. Turks (43%) and Czechs (37%) particularly enjoy playing sports on vacation, while doing sports is favored by 19% of respondents worldwide. However, only 8% of all respondents prefer to explore foreign cuisine.

The survey: For the international “vacation” survey, which was commissioned by The Wall Street Journal Europe and financially subsidized by the GfK Association, GfK Custom Research surveyed a total of 16,364 people over the age of 15 in 16 countries in the spring of 2010. The survey investigated whether world citizens go on vacation, and if so, for how long, what activities they prefer (respondents named a maximum of two activities), where they go and how much they are spending on vacations this year per person.

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2 Responses to Comparing the American and European Styles of Travel

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sheila Ward-Shaw. Sheila Ward-Shaw said: Comparing the American and European Styles of Travel http://bit.ly/aXE442 [...]

  2. Nature Guy on July 1, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    As Robert Louis Stevenson said : “We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend.

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