Weak dollar driving US travelers to Canada and Mexico, study shows

A survey conducted by credit card giant Visa has found that the dollar’s decline hasn’t dampened enthusiasm for travel abroad among large numbers of Americans – but it has shortened the distance they are willing to travel.

According to Visa, the survey, which polled only US payment cardholders who had traveled outside the US in the past three years, found that two out of three respondents (63 percent) are equally or more willing to travel compared with one year ago. And half said they are likely to take a trip abroad in the next 12 months. For those travelers, Canada and Mexico are their most likely destinations outside the 50 states.

That is not to say the interest in traveling among US travelers is waning, however. According to Visa, 74 percent of respondents who said they are not traveling internationally in the next year are interested in traveling overseas in the future.

“Americans love to travel; it’s hard to keep them at home,” said Vicente Echeveste, Global Travel and Tourism Lead at Visa Inc. “Even though Americans aren’t going as far this year, the fact that they continue to exhibit a strong willingness to travel overseas reinforces international tourism as a strong driver of global economic growth.”

In its 2008 US International Travel Outlook, which was based on phone interviews with 1,000 adult Americans who hold a credit card or a debit card and have traveled outside the US in the past three years, San Francisco-based financial giant found that those who are not likely to travel internationally this year cited cost of travel (54 percent) and the current state of the economy (49 percent) as deterrents. However, Americans are not confining themselves to backyard barbecues and block parties – they are planning trips within the 50 states to satisfy their wanderlust. In fact, one of the top three reasons respondents gave for not traveling overseas was that they were planning to travel in the US this year (49 percent).

Distance appears to rule travel decisions for Americans this year, with Western Europe and the Caribbean rounding out the list of the most popular foreign destinations for American travelers in 2008, Visa’s survey found.

Visa added that top anticipated trip destinations among cardholders who traveled internationally in the past three years and are likely to travel internationally in 2008 include Canada (46 percent), Mexico (45 percent), United Kingdom (28 percent), Italy (27 percent), France (24 percent) and Bahamas (24 percent).

Where will American tourists be spending their money overseas? According to the survey, respondents plan to spend the most money on accommodations (60 percent), followed by food (12 percent) and entertainment (12 percent).

”Understanding where and how visitors are spending their money is of significant value to governments and the global tourism industry. Visa is committed to providing tourism data to help drive sustainable global tourism and a safe, reliable and global payment acceptance network for Visa cardholders,” Echeveste added.

Cash over plastic?
According to Visa, the majority of respondents cited credit and debit cards as their preferred payment method when making purchases overseas (73 percent), ahead of cash (18 percent) and travelers checks (7 percent). Travelers are opting for electronic payment based on its convenience (94 percent), ease of accessing funds (87 percent) and security (78 percent).