Nation's Vacation Market Research

Part
01
of three
Part
01

US National Park Visitor Demographics & Psychographics

Studies commissioned by the National Park Service suggest that most of the United States's national park visitors are in the 35-54 age range, non-Hispanic, and white. They travel with family, belong to households with income ranging from $35,000 to $74,999, and have either a bachelor's degree or a graduate degree. The activities they are most interested in are day hiking, sightseeing, visiting the audiovisual or visitor center, and water activities, while the top reasons they visit national parks are to experience the national parks, see other attractions in the area, visit friends or relatives in the area, and attend to business. Visitors are almost equally split between men and women.

METHODOLOGY

Since the National Park Service (NPS) is the government agency responsible for preserving the National Park System of the United States, our first strategy involved scouring the website of the NPS for demographic and psychographic information on national park visitors. Several national park visitor studies were published in the past as part of the agency's Visitor Services Project, but nearly all these studies were conducted on a per-national-park basis. The only visitor study that we found, whose sample was representative of the visitors of the whole National Park System, was a study published in 2014. As it was infeasible for us to look at each of the country's national parks, we focused on the national parks with the highest number of visitors. According to the NPS, the national parks in the country with the highest number of visitors in 2018 were Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Zion National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, Acadia National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Olympic National Park, and Glacier National Park.

Checking if these national parks have visitor studies in the public domain, we found that eight out of these ten national parks do have them. In the public domain, there are visitor studies specific to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Zion National Park, Yosemite National Park, Acadia National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and Olympic National Park, but unfortunately, they were all published several years ago. We typically use recently published information, released no more than two years ago, but the authoritativeness of these studies prompted us to include them in this brief. The studies, after all, were commissioned by the NPS, the most credible source of information on the country's national parks. They also provide the needed demographic and psychographic information.

To determine if up-to-date information is truly unavailable, we proceeded to search beyond the NPS. Our review of recently published reports, studies, and surveys on national parks and their visitors revealed that only a few relevant materials have been published recently and these materials cover only a segment of the country's national park visitor population. For example, a related thesis published by the University of Southern Mississippi in 2017 covers only the country's millennial population. The other recently published materials that we found were a family travel survey, a report on reconnecting Americans with nature, a study covering campsite reservations in national parks, a paper discussing the constraints that people of color face when it comes to visiting national parks, and a study covering backcountry campers at Yellowstone National Park.

Our attempt to use tools that analyze traffic or followers, such as SimilarWeb and Followerwonk, proved futile as the results did not appear reliable. Also, it does not seem wise to assume that the profile of social media followers or website visitors is indicative of the profile of the people who actually visit the national parks. People who visit the NPS website or follow a national park's Twitter account, for example, are not necessarily the same people who visit national parks. As a result, we decided to use the aforementioned visitor studies in answering this request and to supplement them with information from the recently published but less relevant sources that we found. Given that the National Park Service has not commissioned more recent visitor studies, we assume that the results of these studies more or less remain true up to this day.

DEMOGRAPHIC PROFILE

During the period 2001-2011, the period when 128 Visitor Services Project studies were conducted by the NPS, the following demographic characteristics were observed:

AGE


GENDER


ETHNICITY


RACE

  • Ninety-five percent of national park visitors were white.
  • Two percent of national park visitors were Alaska Native or American Indian.
  • Two percent of national park visitors were Asian.
  • One percent of national park visitors were Black or African American.
  • Less than one percent of national park visitors were Native Hawaiian or some other Pacific Islander.

HOUSEHOLD INCOME


EDUCATION

  • Thirty-two percent of national park visitors had at most a graduate degree.
    • Thirty-two percent of national park visitors had at most a bachelor's degree.
    • Twenty-four percent of national park visitors had some college education.
    • Eleven percent of national park visitors had at most a high school diploma or a general education diploma.
    • Two percent had some high school education.

    GROUP SIZE AND TYPE

    • Thirty-seven percent of Acadia National Park visitors were in groups of two, 22% were in groups of four, 17% were in groups of six or more, 11% were in groups of three, 10% were in groups of five, and 3% were alone.
    • Seventy-three percent of Acadia National Park visitors were with family, 14% were with family and friends, 9% were with friends, 4% were alone, and less than 1% were with others.
    • Fifty-nine percent of Zion National Park fall visitors were in groups of two, 11% were alone, 10% were in groups of five or more, 10% were in groups of four, and 10% were in groups of three.
    • Thirty-seven percent of Zion National Park summer visitors were in groups of two, 25% were in groups of four, 23% were in groups of five or more, 12% were in groups of three, and 2% were alone.
    • Sixty percent of Zion National Park fall visitors were with family, 17% were with friends, 11% were alone, 7% were with others, and 5% were with family and friends.
    • Seventy-four percent of Zion National park summer visitors were with family, 11% were with friends, 8% were with family and friends, 4% were with others, and 2% were alone.

    These observations appear to remain true to this day, as a thesis published by The University of Southern Mississippi indicates that most national park visitors are "older and white." A paper published in 2018 also indicates that "people of color visit national parks far less than whites." Moreover, a report published in 2018 also shows that "higher-income individuals tend to camp in national parks with greater frequency."

    PSYCHOGRAPHIC PROFILE

    During the period 2001-2011, the period when 128 Visitor Services Project studies were conducted by the NPS, the following demographic characteristics were observed:

    INTERESTS

    • The top five activities local national park visitors participated in were day hiking (51%), sightseeing (48%), visiting the audiovisual or visitor center (40%), water activities (33%), and bicycling (22%).
    • The top five activities non-local national park visitors participated in were sightseeing (79%), visiting the audiovisual or visitor center (55%), day hiking (54%), creative arts (43%), and water activities (37%).

    SOURCES OF INFORMATION

    • The top five sources of information of local national park visitors were previous visit or experience (70%), word of mouth (43%), NPS park brochure or map (19%), newspaper or magazine articles (17%), and NPS website (16%).
    • The top five sources of information of non-local national park visitors were previous visit or experience (42%), word of mouth (41%), NPS park brochure or map (37%), travel guide or tour book (33%), and NPS website (30%).

    MOTIVATIONS

    • The top five primary reasons people visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park were to view the mountain scenery (35%), visit the national park (34%), visit other attractions in the area (10%), participate in area recreation (7%), and visit friends or relatives in the area (3%).
    • The top four primary reasons people visited Grand Canyon National Park were to visit the national park (73%), visit other attractions in the area (11%), visit friends or relatives in the area (9%), and attend to business or other reasons (7%).
    • The top five primary reasons people visited Rocky Mountain National Park were to visit the national park (73%), visit other attractions in the area (8%), visit friends or relatives in the area (7%), travel through (2%), and attend to business (2%).
    • The top five primary reasons people visited Yosemite National Park were to visit the national park (79%), travel through (7%), visit other attractions in the area (5%), visit friends or relatives in the area (4%), and attend to business (1%).
    • The top four primary reasons people visited Grand Teton National Park were to visit Yellowstone National Park (48%), visit Grand Teton National Park (28%), visit other attractions in the area (12%), and attend to business (3%).
    • The top four primary reasons people visited Olympic National Park were to visit the national park (78%), visit other attractions in the area (9%), visit friends or relatives in the area (9%), and attend to business or other reasons (4%).


    Part
    02
    of three
    Part
    02

    US National Parks, Travel Distance & Visit Length

    Only 9.5% of all visits to the National Parks in the US are overnight visits. This goes along with the data that shows that the average hours spent in all National Parks in the US is 8.75 per visit. People are willing to drive different hours to reach different National Parks with visitors reaching Grand Canyon willing drive between 4 and 12 hours to get to the park.

    AVERAGE VISIT LENGTH

    According to US National Park Service, the total number of stays in US National Parks is currently at 69.5 million. Out of that, the overnight stays amounted to 6.7 million. A simple calculation therefore shows:
    6.7 million / 69.5 million = 9.5%
    9.5% of all visits to the National Parks in the US are overnight visits. This means that 90.5% of all visits are one-day visits (100%-9.5%).

    National Park Service allows for public consumption of its visitors data and logs all recreational visits and recreational hours in their database. Therefore, we accessed the database and looked into the total recreational visits and recreational hours spent for all National Parks. In case the database doesn’t load via the link, we compiled screenshots in the attached document.

    In order to get an average length of visit for each park, we extrapolated the data into a spreadsheet and divided the number of total hours spent with the number of total visits for the park. Therefore, column D of the spreadsheet sums up the average hours spent in each National Park in 2018. As seen in the spreadsheet, the average hours spent in all National Parks in the US is 8.75 per visit. Moreover, the longest average time spent in a National Park is at the Isle Royale NP with a total of 48.65 hours. On the other hand, the shortest average time spent in a National Park is at the Hot Springs NP with 0.89 hours.

    AVERAGE TIME TRAVEL

    National Park Service, which is the only institution in the US that has the authority and access to report on national park visits, does not include average travel time in their reports. The reports are available for the following statistics:
    Each of the statistics is then available on a more granular level, for example by National Parks only, or categorized to show data for each park. However, time spent travelling is not examinated at all.

    As data overall wasn't available, we looked into five different National Parks that had their average travel time reported by either media or park authorities:
    • The average travel time to reach the Petrified Forest National Park is 4 hours, with some people willing to travel 8-9 hours.
    • Great Smoky Mountains National Park is reached within a day’s drive for 50% of the visitors.
    • Rocky Mountain National Park’s average travel time recorded is between 1.5 and 4 hours, according to 2018 data.
    • People are travelling on average between 4 and 6 hours to visit the Yosemite National Park.
    • Grand Canyon, the most famous US National Park, attracts the visitors willing to drive the longest. On average, visitors drive between 4 and 12 hours to reach the park.

    CONCLUSION

    The time spent in US National parks ranges from 0.89 to 48.65 hours on average. The average travel time is also vastly different depending on the park, with many people travelling around 4 hours to reach their preferred NP.
    Part
    03
    of three
    Part
    03

    Impact of Social Media Influencers, Outdoor Attractions

    The impact that social media influencers have on people's desire to visit outdoor attractions is very strong and can be a powerful promotional tool. Social media users, especially millennials have a strong attachment to the information presented by influencers. Social media influencers have the power to drive people to visit outdoor destinations. Successful influencer campaigns have seen visits to natural attractions increase a hundredfold. Social media influencers give an outdoor attraction so much popularity that sometimes brings negative ecological effects to the outdoor attractions. The once pristine natural attractions get an influx of visitors and this may put a strain on the natural environment, on local governments, and on the infrastructure.

    EFFECTIVENESS OF SOCIAL MEDIA INFLUENCERS ON VISITATIONS TO OUTOODR ATTRACTIONS

    Social media influencers have massive followings on social media platforms. They have the ability to convince their followers to visit a particular location if they geotag the location or share photos of them enjoying nature's pristine offerings. A case in point is the increase of visitors to the Delta Lake in Grand Teton National Park. In 2018, there were about 145 hikers each day compared to a few years back where only 2 hikers would want to go hiking up the Delta Lake. This impressive increase in visitations can be attributed to social media influencers. They'd take photos on the lake, geotag them, and share them to their followers. In 2010, Norway's Trolltunga viewpoint received only 800 visitors but the number skyrocketed to 80,000 just six years later, thanks to social media influencers. Social media travel and tourism influencers were invited by the town of Wanaka in New Zealand to go visiting. This increased tourism to Wanaka by 14% after the influencers shared their experiences and travel photos with their followers. Through the use of geotagging and social media influencers, once untouched natural wonders of the world are receiving frequent visitors. According to nature experts, geotagging by social media influencers has proven to be useful since it sets the earth's beautiful wonders before thousands of people in an instant and may inspire some of them to protect nature for the benefit of future generations. Social media influencers will play a huge role in the increase of the number of tourist travelers from 1.3 billion to 1.8 billion within a period of 12 years, with 72% of millennials saying that they are planning to travel more.

    Social media influencing is effective because, marketing and promotional messages shared by a person are well-received than those shared by a brand and have greater impact. As a matter of fact, 92% of people trust a product, service, or place recommended by family, friends, and influencers, and 76% of people trust messages shared by a real person than those shared by a brand. Social media posts and recommendations from people's social connections get two times more attention than posts from people not within the social media user's connections. Individual social media influencers work through a number of platforms, but they mostly use through Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. With 59% of all millennials actively using Instagram, influencer marketing can be effective if the influencer is on Instagram since the platform has a strong pull with the millennial generation’s penchant for travel and experience. Facebook is also an important platform for social media influencers. A case in point is the Biaggi Luggage influencer marketing campaign that used Rachel Grant, a travel blogger and a social media influencer. One particular video from the campaign was so popular that it had 9.3 million views. The following stats show how important and effective social media influencer marketing can be:

    • according to a 2016 study by TapInfluence and Nielsen Cataline Solutions, social media influencer marketing can generate eleven times the return-on-investments that traditional digital marketing generates.
    • according to research by Forrester, three quarters of marketers surveyed indicated that they were portioning off pieces of their budgets for influencers
    • according to an AdWeek survey, 94% of the respondents got positive results from influencer marketing

    NEGATIVE IMPACTS OF SOCIAL MEDIA INLUENCERS ON OUTDOOR ATTRACTIONS

    Since social media influencing is a powerful tool, lots of tourists have been flocking once untouched natural wonders leading to overtourism. With so many people visiting the attractions, the once pristine areas are becoming eroded and the natural environment is being taxed. The once untouched Delta Lake received so many visitors as a direct result of social media influencers that the authorities asked visitors to stop geotagging photographs on social media since the landscape was threatened. Overtourism as a result of influencer marketing also seems to be a nuisance in Iceland as the many visitors have strained the environment and the infrastructure. A sun flower farm in Canada received lots of visitors after an Instagram promotion and the police had to shut down the roads to protect the farm.

    Sources
    Sources

    From Part 01
    From Part 03
    Quotes
    • "A few years ago, one or two hikers a day would make the nine-mile trek up to Delta Lake. Now, he said, as many as 145 people are hiking there each day to shoot engagement photos and hawk health supplements. Little-known trails are heavily trafficked and eroding in some places, taxing park resources."
    • "One of the places she and her friend, Brittany Turner, visited was Jenny Lake, an alpine spot Mr. Modena said saw an overwhelming increase in traffic after it was discovered on social media. Ms. Turner tagged a photograph of herself there, wearing snake-print boots and modeling a sweater that was for sale in her online boutique."
    Quotes
    • "Stunning images, daily Instagram stories, and short Facebook videos drove 200,000+ article views of three minutes or more, creating massive interest in Sun Peaks’ target market. Much of the campaign’s content positioned the resort as an “insider secret” for escaping the crowds associated with competitive destinations like Whistler. Influencer marketing can be a great way for smaller brands to use their size as a competitive advantage."
    Quotes
    • "While there is much work that needs to be done to better the process of environmental education, social media and geotagging are not killing the environment. By reaching thousands of people in an instant, social media is putting the Earth’s natural wonders right in front of them, and hopefully inspiring some to protect it for future generations to enjoy."
    Quotes
    • "TapInfluence partnered with Nielsen Catalina Solutions on a 2016 study that revealed that influencer marketing generates 11 times the ROI of traditional digital marketing."
    • "another TapInfluence study determined that nearly 75 percent of active influencers feel that influencer marketing works best. Influencers feel comfortable collaborating with brands on user-generated content, which can result in a more profitable and more enjoyable working relationship."
    • "According to Business2Community, Forrester’s research discovered that nearly 75 percent of marketers have allocated part of their marketing budget to influencer marketing. "
    • "Reporting on Linqia’s The State of Influencer Marketing Survey, AdWeek reveals that 94 percent of survey respondents felt that their influencer marketing campaigns yielded positive results. In other words, other entrepreneurs who have tried influencer marketing enjoy the benefits they’ve derived from their campaigns"
    Quotes
    • "In addition to traditional snaps, Snapchat stories is an important tool for influencer marketing. Influencers are able to convey quick and witty messages in short increments. "
    Quotes
    • "A majority of travelers (70%) head to a relatively small number of countries (20%), cities and natural parks (source: WTTC & McKinsey report). And within those places they are often visiting a limited number of sights or “top ten list” items. "
    • "the blogger and influencer campaign focused on the new tours and tourism products offered by local community Destination Management Organizations (DMOs) in Karakol, Osh, South Shore of Lake Issyk-Kul and Jyrgalan. The tours featured were created and run by local families and organizations and benefitted them directly. They also offered new ways for travelers to connect easily with locals and learn about their cuisine, culture, history and environment."
    Quotes
    • "Just 800 people visited Norway’s picturesque Trolltunga “Troll’s Tongue” viewpoint in 2010, while 80,000 people made the hike in 2016. This massive surge of tourism (and rescue missions for those unprepared for the 10 hour trek) was fueled in a large part by social media."
    • "Studies have shown that Millennials prioritize experiences over possessions, and 72% of millennials say they are planning to travel more, compared with 59% of Gen Xers and 40% of Baby Boomers."
    • "While the world saw 500 million international travelers in 1995, it has swelled to a massive 1.3 billion tourists in 2017 — and is growing even faster."
    • "The town of Wanaka, New Zealand saw a massive 14% increase in tourism to its region when it focused on inviting social media influencers to visit, far surpassing traditional marketing methods."
    • "Back in 2014 I traveled to Iceland for the first time, renting a campervan and driving the country’s Ring Road. I wrote an article about my experience, which has been read 750,000 times by other travelers."