Despite the magic of the summer vacation season - rooms filled to capacity, restaurants bustling with activity, and downtowns swarming with friendly tourists, now is the time to put the pieces in place to extend your visitor capacity and tourism revenue deep into autumn. Autumn offers an opportunity to fill rooms, restaurants, and downtowns with those willing to drive towards a nearby and short-term adventure. As summer unwinds, reach out to families longing for one more trip.
Now is the time to target the drive market.
The drive market is different. While the planning horizon for summer air travel is measured in months, planning for driving vacations during autumn may be tackled in weeks or even days. Driving travelers are ready to pounce on a good journey. A survey of over 2,000 employees for “The Power of Vacation Planning” found 48% of respondents plan such vacations less than six weeks in advance.
Quick targeting of the drive market builds upon your existing brand and plays to travelers’ preferences, needs, and desires. Your local drive market is ripe for engagement with a branded focus on quick quality time, in which driving to the destination is part of the adventure.
In terms of preferences, 62% of travelers prefer to drive to a destination, positioning driving as the most popular mode of transportation.
And Americans planning a road trip are willing to put their miles where their mouths are, with distances easily encompassing up to 500 miles from their desired destination. In terms of where to focus your geo-fenced digital media dollars, take a look at the responses to “How far you are you planning to travel via car?”: 
- Within 100 miles of home: 18.70%
- Within 250 miles of home: 21.35%
- Within 500 miles of home: 21.53%
- Within 1,000 miles of home: 11.59%
- More than 1,000 miles from home: 6.75%
With a radius of up to 500 miles, you as the destination marketing leader have a well-defined space in which to place your media chips.
And, once you get the drive market groove going, you have ample opportunity to apply your lessons learned year after year. This is not an aberration or a one-off effort in which you wind down unspent digital budget. With global driving vacation marketing predicted to grow at a 15.7% annual rate from now to 2031, creating a recurring drive market campaign strategy will pay you dividends for years to come.
In addition to preferences, our target domestic travelers have needs. What tops those needs? Living within a budget. In fact, 85% of American travelers are most concerned about inflation and rising costs when planning a trip.
There’s good news on this front. With gas prices dropping, the time is ripe to focus on drive vacations as travel by car is now far more affordable. The U.S Energy Information Administration’s 2023 forecast of $3.36 per gallon is 60 cents lower than last year’s average cost of $4.11 per gallon. More money in the pocket means more options and greater range of travel from home to your destination.
Yet, as marketers we seem to focus on preferences. And aspirations. And dreams.
Preferences may get an audience’s attention, however, needs fuel decisions. As marketers, we seem to miss the needs boat – or the car as the case may be – when considering the importance of budget on travel plans. Financial needs matter.
As noted in a recent Expedia study, 27% of those planning to travel indicate low travel prices as their top travel criteria. Yet, only 15% of destination marketers selected low travel prices as top criteria. To underscore the influence of budget, the same study noted, low cost is among the top three priorities across all travel expense categories. Value and budget matter.
Let’s think affordable brand, not just brand.
Today’s travelers also desire an experience.
Our target road trippers are in search of unique and meaningful excursions. Consider how travel outlays for experiences (such as amusements, nightclubs, events) have increased at a rate of 65% since 2019. That’s a giant leap over the increase of a modest 12% for travel products (such as apparel or lodging) during the same time period. Consumers seek moments in which memories are forged and they are willing to pay for it.
Sell the experience; the affordable opportunity to set off on a quick journey.
And there’s more to driving than saving money on airfare. In opting to drive rather than fly to a destination, a survey of 2,000 travelers found that 69% select driving to enjoy scenic views and 69% (the same percentage; not a typo!) seek the flexibility to change course, stop, and explore.
It’s quickly planned and it’s flexible as travelers seek to write their own story across all generations.
That being said, it’s also a family story.
In fact, 85% of parents prefer to drive to a vacation destination and 78% of those parents believe their children prefer the car over plane. Why? Perhaps because 73% of those surveyed felt their vehicle is an extension of home; the hub of family time. Add in the recent influx of issues surrounding air travel and you have the perfect drive market recipe.
Travelers seek to create their own journey, within a budget, with less stress, together as a family in their home away from home: their car.
Knowing your travelers’ preferences, needs, and desires, let’s consider how best to leverage your existing brand and position to engage those in a targeted area spanning 100 to 500 miles drive time from your destination. Let’s consider how to engage all travelers with a focus on a cost-effective experience, engage families seeking time together, and capture the imagination of those seeking to write the next great adventure together on the way to your destination.
Let’s hit the road.
The journey is up to you.
 “Stats: Less Than Half of Americans Take Time to Plan Vacation Days”, Travel Agent Central, January 29, 2018, https://www.travelagentcentral.com/running-your-business/stats-less-than-half-americans-take-time-to-plan-vacation-days
 “2023 Traveler Value Index”, Expedia Group, no date, https://welcome.expediagroup.com/en/research-and-insights/traveler-value-index-2023
 “Summer Travel Survey 2022…” Eric Jones, The Vacationer, June 11, 2023, https://thevacationer.com/summer-travel-survey-2022/#Will_you_take_a_road_trip_this_summer
 “Driving Vacation Market by Tour Type”, Allied Market Research, 2022, https://www.alliedmarketresearch.com/driving-vacation-market-A17517
 “The IRF 2023 Trends Report”, Incentive Research Foundation, no date, https://theirf.org/research_post/the-irf-2023-trends-report/
 “Driving vs. Flying…” Noah Holtgraves, Trips Discover, April 19, 2023, https://www.tripstodiscover.com/driving-vs-flying-trends-impact-2023-travel/
 “Inflation Isn’t Dampening People’s Desire to Travel…”, Karen Gilchirst, CNBC, March 11, 2023, https://www.cnbc.com/2023/03/11/inflation-and-cost-of-living-crisis-are-not-stopping-people-from-traveling.html
 “Travel Industry Trends 2023” Mastercard Economics Institute, no date, https://www.mastercardservices.com/en/reports-insights/economics-institute/travel-industry-trends-2023
 “Americans Prefer Road Trips Over Flying…”, Celia Fernandez, May 22, 2019, https://www.oprahdaily.com/life/a27555453/americans-prefer-road-trip-over-flying-travel/