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Auto Club Summer Travel Poll: Southlanders Plan Trips, But on Tighter Budgets

Southern Californians who plan to travel this summer will take a greater number of summer trips than two years ago when the recession was starting to take full effect, but they are tightening their budgets and seeking out vacation deals and discounts, according to the third annual summer travel poll conducted by the Automobile Club of Southern California.
On their first trip of the summer, local travelers are more likely to drive to their destinations than during the past two years (63 percent this year vs. 58 percent in 2009 and 52 percent in 2008), and more likely to be visiting family or friends as a primary purpose for their trips (63 percent this year vs. 57 percent in 2009 and 35 percent in 2008), according to the survey.
In all, 87 percent of the Auto Club members who participated in the poll said they plan to take at least one overnight trip this summer, down from 88 percent last year and 89 percent in 2008.
Two years ago, just 20 percent of Southern California travelers surveyed said they intended to take three or more summer trips. Last year and this year, that number increased to 31 percent.
However, the planned expense for surveyed travelers’ first trip of the summer has declined. In 2008, 56 percent of those in the poll planned to spend more than $1,000 on their first summer trip. Last year, that number dropped to 43 percent and this year it dropped again to 37 percent.
“Travelers who are visiting us right now to plan future vacations are more willing to book ‘dream trips’ to foreign countries or luxury destinations compared to what we saw in 2008 and 2009,” said Pamela Shepherd, the Auto Club’s vice president of branch operations. “However, people who have already booked their vacations for this summer have tended to focus on discounts, specials and getting the best possible value for their money.”
The top method cited by survey takers for saving money this summer on travel and other entertainment was searching for specials and discounts (51 percent), followed by choosing less expensive entertainment options (43 percent) and staying closer to home (35 percent).* The top method among those polled for seeking out discounts for vacation trips was using AAA discount tools such as the website, Westways magazine, or the AAA Discounts iPhone app (62 percent), followed by using coupons (60 percent), looking in local area guides and magazines (59 percent), and discount websites (48 percent).*
“This survey revealed that 73 percent of polled travelers seek out coupons or discounts at least sometimes as a factor in deciding which attractions, restaurants, and/or retailers to visit while on vacation,” said Denise Bialek, the Auto Club’s AAA Discounts program manager. “Because of this increased consumer interest, we have seen more visits to the discount portion of our website, and the AAA Discounts free iPhone app is one of the most popular ‘lifestyle’ apps out there, with more than 814,000 downloads nationwide to date.”
This summer, 38 percent of those polled planned to take their first summer vacation trip somewhere in California, compared to 40 percent in 2009 and 24 percent in 2008. Within California, the top city destinations for the first trip of the summer were San Diego (7 percent vs. 7.2 percent in 2009), Palm Springs (3.4 percent vs. 2.5 percent in 2009) and San Francisco (2.9 percent vs. 3.2 percent in 2009). Las Vegas continues to be a top first summer destination of the year for many travelers, with 7 percent planning to head there this year compared to 11.2 percent in 2009 and 6.3 percent in 2008.
In choosing and planning their trip, 50 percent of those surveyed relied on recommendations from friends and family, followed by 47 percent who looked at AAA Diamond, star or online ratings for hotels, and 24 percent who researched travel guide books such as AAA TourBooks.*
The Internet was cited as the top method to choose which attractions, restaurants and/or retailers to visit while on vacation (80 percent), followed by family/friend recommendations (59 percent), guide books (41 percent) and local area magazines at the destination (38 percent).*
For all those polled, whether they planned to take a vacation or not, the most popular entertainment activity cited for spending money this summer was dining out and nightlife (73 percent), followed by going to the movies (64 percent), visiting attractions (42 percent), attending live shows (40 percent), pursuing a hobby (35 percent), visiting a museum (34 percent), going to a fair (34 percent), attending live sports events (26 percent) and doing a family activity like miniature golf or laser tag (22 percent).*
The Auto Club’s summer travel survey was conducted online from April 27 to May 3 by the Auto Club’s Marketing Research Department, and was taken by more than 600 members in Southern California and a total of 2,300 AAA members around the country. It has a margin of error of +/- 3.6 percent.
*This was the first year this question was asked in the summer travel poll, so there are no comparisons available for 2008 and 2009.
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The Automobile Club of Southern California is a member club affiliated with the American Automobile Association (AAA) national federation and serves members in the following California counties: Inyo, Imperial, Kern, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura.