Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
top of page

Understanding the US traveler - only 36 % of Americans hold a valid passport

U.S. travel to international destinations increased 9% in 2015 over all, but rose more than 18% to Portugal.

American travel to Portugal hit record numbers last year, with an 18.1% increase in overnight stays, becoming one of Portugal’s fastest growing inbound markets in what was a record year overall.

The U.S. resident outbound market totaled 74.0 million in 2015 over all, up 9 % from 2014. In an era where Americans seem to be afraid of overseas vacation travel, these numbers are encouraging. Other studies and statistics point to even more growth in 2016. The US expects to issue more than 17 million new passports and renewals in 2016, which is 1.5 million more than in 2015.

Contrary to popular belief, Americans are the second most well traveled people after Finns. In fact, it’s the only non-Scandinavian nation to be in the top five.

Still, only 36 % of Americans hold a valid passport, according to the US State Department, compared to 60 % of passport-holding Canadians and 75 % for Brits and Aussies. That means almost 70 % of us are unqualified for international travel. And in actuality, only one in five Americans travels abroad with regularity, according to a recent survey.

The top five destination countries visited by US residents in 2015 were: Mexico (28.7 million) and Canada (12.5 million), followed by the overseas countries of the United Kingdom (2.9 million), Dominican Republic (2.8 million) and France (2.4 million). Nine of the top 10 destinations visited by US travelers saw increases in 2015.

The top origin regions/states from which U.S. residents traveled to overseas destinations were:

• Middle Atlantic States (New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania), w/ a 20 % share of all US regions, was down 8 % from 2014.

• South Atlantic States (primarily Florida, Georgia, Virginia, Washington, D.C.,

  • Maryland and North Carolina) accounted for 23 % and travel was up 25 %.

• Pacific States (California and Washington) generated 15 % of outbound travel was down 4 % from 2014.

• West South Central States (mainly Texas) registered a 12 % share and travel was up 18 %.

• Travel from East North Central (primarily Illinois, Ohio and Michigan) accounted for 10 % and was up 7 %.

U.S. Overseas Traveler and Trip Info

Main trip purpose:

Vacation/holiday estimated at 53 % of U.S. overseas travelers was up 11 % in volume from 2014. Visiting friends and relatives (VFR) was the second-highest main trip purpose, at 27 %, and was up 6v%in volume from 2014.

Business travel, as the main purpose of trip, composed 10 % of outbound travel; yet volume was down 5 % from 2014. Convention/congress travel was 3 % of travel and the number of convention travelers decreased 9 % in 2015.

The top ten ports of departure for U.S. citizens (which accounted for 76 % of U.S. departures.)

  1. New York (JFK), *

  2. Miami (MIA), *

  3. Atlanta (ATL),

  4. Los Angeles (LAX),

  5. Newark (EWR), *

  6. Chicago (ORD),

  7. San Francisco (SFO),

  8. Washington (IAD), *

  9. Houston (IAH) and

  10. Boston (BOS). *

* Has non-stop to Portugal


Advance trip decision time and airline reservation time increased to an average of 102 days and 70 days prior to departure, respectively, in 2015 compared to 2014.

Of the 308 million-plus citizens in the United States, 30% have passports. Despite the climbing number of American passports in circulation, 30% is still low compared to Canada's 60% and the United Kingdom's 75%.

The percentage of Americans with passports -- a number that was in the teens just a few years ago -- has spiked since the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative was adopted. It requires American and Canadian travelers to present documents showing citizenship when entering the United States.

Tourism experts and frequent travelers attribute Americans' lack of interest in international travel to a few key factors, including: the United States' own rich cultural and geographic diversity, an American skepticism and/or ignorance about international destinations, a work culture that prevents Americans from taking long vacations abroad and the prohibitive cost and logistics of going overseas.

Cost and logistics

The 30.3 million Americans who traveled overseas for vacation in 2009 spent an average of $2,708 each -- including airfare, lodging and other expenditures, according to the Office of Travel and Tourism Industries. It seems that getting there is about half the battle: Average airfare per person was $1,177.

The United States is so big that a flight from one state to another could take just as much time as a flight to Europe. Americans are more likely to do the former.

Planning and motivators

As an information source for trip planning, airlines were most used (52 %), along with online travel agencies (OTA) (32 %) and conventional travel agencies (17 %). More than a third of travelers booked directly through the airlines (39 %), a majority booked indirectly via either an Internet booking service (31 %) and/or a travel agency (18 %).

• Pre-paid package usage decreased slightly to 13 % of U.S. travelers.

• The average length of stay (number of nights) outside the United States was 17.2 nights in 2015, down 1⁄2 day from 2014.

• Seven % of travelers were on their first international trip, down from 2014. The number of repeat travelers increased. The average number of international trips taken by US travelers in the last 12 months was 2.6, about the same as in 2014.

• The number of destinations visited averaged 1.8 in 2015. The percentage visiting only one destination was again 57 %. Those visiting three or more destinations were also 20 % as in 2014.

• Travel party size held at 1.6. • The modes of inter-city transportation used by U.S. travelers between destinations overseas were airline (65 %, down from 66 % in 2014), bus (20 %), and railroad (14 %). The top modes of intra-city transit were taxicab/limo (30 %) and subway/tram/bus (20 %). The use of private and/or rented autos was 39 % and 12 %, respectively. Five % traveled on cruise/river boat for overnight trips. Seven % took short scenic cruises or used a ferry/river taxi.

• Top leisure activities for U.S. travelers were sightseeing, shopping, visiting small town/countryside, experiencing ‘fine dining’ (gastronomy), visiting historical locations, taking guided tours, visiting art galleries/museums, experiencing cultural/ethnic heritage sites, visiting national parks/monuments and ‘nightclubbing.’

• Average international airfare per visitor, per trip, was $1,237 USD, down 8 % from 2014, and average expenditures (travel payments) per visitor, per trip, while overseas were $1,487, flat from 2014. The usage of credit cards increased slightly to 56 %. Cash brought from home and cash withdrawn from an ATM using credit/debit cards and purchases using debit cards accounted for 44 %.

• Airfare and convenient schedules were main factors in airline choice. Over 81 % ‘paid’ for the ticket without the use of awards, upgrades or deeply discounted fares. Seventy eight % flew in coach or economy class.

• Travel insurance was purchased for the trip by 30 % of respondents, up from 28 % in 2014.

• Twelve % visited a health care provider in advance of their trip, the same as in 2014.

Demographic Data

• Fifteen % of respondents identified themselves as Hispanic. Sixteen % identified as Asian, 8 % as Black, and 2 %as American Indian/Alaskan Native or Hawaiian Islander. Fifty-nine % of US citizens who visited Asia in 2014 identified themselves as Asian. Fifty-two % of those visiting South America had identified as Hispanic.

• Females composed slightly over half (50.3%) of US travelers to overseas. The number of women travelers continues to increase. (In 2000 women were 39 % of US outbound.) The average age of male travelers was 45.0, slightly down from 2014; female travelers averaged 43.5 years, also slightly down from 2014.

• Average household income was $125,000, up from 2014. First time traveler households reported $83,000 and repeat traveler households reported $129,000 annual income. Seven % of traveler households earned $300,000 or more. Business and convention travelers earned an average $153,000.

So what about Portugal?

Recent figures also show that the American boom has spread around the whole country, not only Lisbon. The southern region of the Alentejo was up 44%, the Azores 30.8%, the North 25.4% and Lisbon 16.8%. Not only is the US one of Portugal’s fastest growing markets, but American visitors’ spending, per capita, far outpaced other foreign visitors.

New numbers for the three months of this year, and in comparison with the same period in 2015, show that American visitors went up 23% and overnights almost 30%. As for the US visitors’ spending, the increase was 11.8% over the previous year.

At the same time, there are now seven US cities with direct non-stop service to Portugal, an all time high. TAP and Turismo de Portugal are positioning Portugal as a unique, authentic international destination.

TAP, which has long had service from Newark to Porto and Lisbon as well as Miami to Lisbon, is adding New York JFK and Boston, with a commitment to more gateways in the coming years. TAP has added two new Airbus A330’s to its long haul fleet of 20 aircraft to serve the US market.

Recent media coverage introduced many Americans to Portugal with major articles in Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, NY Times, AFAR and other outlets.

29 views0 comments
bottom of page