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Domestic Tourism at a Glance: A Q3 2023 Roundup

by 
Lila Margalit
 on 
December 20, 2023
Domestic Tourism at a Glance: A Q3 2023 Roundup

As if the COVID setback wasn’t enough, economic headwinds have also left their mark on domestic tourism. Over the past year, discretionary spending cutbacks led many Americans to postpone trips and embrace “staycations” instead – substituting getaways with time off at home. But many people are still traveling, whether for business or pleasure.

So with the year drawing to a close, we dove into the data to see how some top domestic tourism destinations nationwide fared in Q3 2023.

Longer, Fewer Trips?

To explore the current state of domestic tourism, we looked at Q3 2023 visitation patterns to six major U.S. travel hubs: Miami, FL; Houston, TX; Las Vegas, NV; Los Angeles, CA; Chicago, IL; and New York, NY. These cities, ranked by Booking.com as top domestic business travel destinations, also draw millions of vacationers each year. And the analysis, comparing Q3 2023 to Q3 2019, looked both at the total number of visitors making overnight trips to these urban centers,* and at the total number of visit nights spent in each city. (Overnight visits up to seven nights were included in the analysis).

The results reveal significant differences between cities. In Miami, domestic tourism appears to be positively booming – with the number of overnight visitors up a remarkable 30.5% in Q3 2023 compared to Q3 2019. In Houston and Las Vegas, too, overnight visitor counts have rebounded to, and even slightly exceeded, pre-COVID levels. New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, on the other hand, drew somewhat fewer overnight visitors than they did four years ago.

But interestingly, in all six destinations, the average visitor appears to be spending more nights per trip in the city. In areas with positive year-over-four-year (Yo4Y) visitor numbers, the Yo4Y increase in visit nights was even larger. And where Yo4Y visitors were down, the Yo4Y gap in visit nights was significantly smaller – sometimes even nonexistent. In Los Angeles, for example, where the total number of overnight visitors was down 5.5% in Q3 2023 compared to Q3 2019 – the total number of visit nights spent in the city increased very slightly.  In Chicago, too, visitors remained down 7.5%, but the year-over-four-year (Yo4Y) visit night gap narrowed to just 1.0%.

*Visitors are counted as separate if their visits to the city took place more than one month apart.

This data suggests that people are taking longer trips than they did in 2019. And even in cities that are attracting fewer domestic tourists than they did before COVID, more extended stays may serve to partially compensate for the drop in visitors.

Extended Vacay Vibes

And drilling down deeper into the data sheds light on just how shifting travel patterns are driving this visit night recovery. Nearly across the board, major tourist hubs are seeing Yo4Y increases in the number of visitors staying 3-7 nights, even as some of them continue to see drops in the number of visitors staying just 1-2 days.

Both Los Angeles and Chicago, for example, drew more 3-7-night visitors in Q3 2023 than they did in Q3 2019 – despite maintaining overall Yo4Y visitor gaps. Houston, which saw an overall Yo4Y increase in overnight visitors – driven by a remarkable 20.8% increase in 3-7 night visitors – drew fewer 1-2 night visitors in Q3 2023 than in Q3 2019. In Miami, too, visitors making extended trips increased more than those making quick getaways. Of all the cities analyzed, only New York maintained a (very slight) Yo4Y 3-7-night visitor gap.

This shift – away from shorter trips and in favor of longer ones – may be due to a convergence of several factors. The rise of Zoom, which makes holding long-distance meetings as easy as firing up a laptop, has eliminated the need for many quick business trips. At the same time, WFH has freed people up to work from anywhere – making it easier than ever to take an extended trip and spend part of it plugged in. People traveling for work may also be more likely than in the past to lean into “bleisure” (think “business” and “leisure”) – taking the opportunity presented by a paid-for journey to get away from the daily grind and tour the sights. And vacationers, too, may be taking fewer quick getaways and making those trips they do take count – by staying longer at their destinations.

Whatever the reasons behind this change, the increase in longer visits is good news for local businesses. After all, even cities that are seeing fewer travelers than they did before COVID can reap the benefits of more visit nights spent in town.

Strong Year-Over-Year Performance Across the Board

In addition, all of the analyzed cities saw an uptick in overnight visitors in Q3 2023 compared to the equivalent period of 2022. So even if tourism hasn’t yet bounced back to pre-COVID levels everywhere, steady progress continues to be made nationwide.

Key Takeaways

As inflation continues to wane and consumer confidence inevitably improves, tourism will likely continue to flourish. Will the trend of fewer, longer trips persist into the new year? And how will major domestic travel destinations fare this holiday season?

Follow Placer.ai’s data-driven location intelligence analyses to find out.

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