How does AAA calculate travel projections?
MINNEAPOLIS – Millions of Americans will hit the road for the upcoming, unofficial start to summer.
AAA projects that 42.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles over Memorial Day weekend. That's a very specific number that left us wondering: How does AAA calculate travel projections? And what factors impact those numbers?
As America approaches its holiday weekends that are known for travel, TV news stations sound something like this:
"AAA expects nearly 55 million Americans to be traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday," said a CBS News reporter last fall.
"AAA predicts near 48 million people are traveling 50 or more miles from home this holiday weekend," said another CBS News reporter ahead of 2022's Independence Day.
How does AAA calculate these travel estimations?
"AAA partners with a couple of organizations, one of them is S&P Global," said Meredith Mitts, public affairs specialist with AAA. "Together we study a variety of economic and industry factors that have been proven to predict what our travel and leisure travel is gonna look like as Americans."
Some of those factors are "big picture" like employment, economic growth, consumer spending. Then there are the obvious ones like gas prices and airline capacity.
While the cost of gas or a plane ticket and sometimes create sticker shock, Mitts said it doesn't have as large of an impact as people think.
"Last year when we saw those gas prices spike to the record-breaking numbers last summer, we didn't see that people were choosing not to travel. It just shifted how are we budgeting, how are we planning to travel, what are we doing around town to help make up for those cost differences," she said.
This Memorial Day weekend is expected to be busier than the last. AAA expects a 7% increase in travelers.
"Every year when we're saying we're at 11% higher, we're projecting 7% higher than last year in whatever category it is, we're looking at the actual numbers that were that previous cycle," said Mitts.
AAA gets those "actual numbers" from MMGY Travel Intelligence, specifically the DK Shifflet Travel Performance Monitor. DK Shifflet will contact 14,000-17,000 a month and conduct surveys. About 5,800 travelers complete the survey response, explaining what they did over those holiday weekends. Questions include: Where did you go? How did you travel? Where did you stay? How much did you spend? Who did you go with?
"We capture in total about 300 variables," said Sindy Diab, VP of Travel Performance Data for MMGY.
What can be gleaned from the data that is gathered about future travel?
"It's giving you a trend line over time. So what you could do then is continue that trend line and just forecast information," she said. "We use the smaller sample size to then populate and extrapolate, basically estimate these larger volumes."
Taking the historic travel numbers from MMGY and adding the current economic trends equals AAA's projections.
"The numbers aren't always exactly spot on, but they're pretty close because history repeats itself and trend repeats itself," said Mitts.
Memorial Day weekend travel can also paint a picture of how the rest of the summer will go, especially on key weekends like Independence Day and Labor Day.
"It's usually a pretty good indicator barring a major event we can't necessarily predict, things like civil unrest or pandemics or a market crash or something like that," she said.
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