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Growth in leisure expenditure for holidays, but shrinking spend in drinking out sector

According to recent findings from the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, international tourism arrivals grew by an impressive 7% in 2017, with Africa and Europe seeing the highest growth at 8% each. Industry analysis suggests that international tourism numbers will continue to increase in 2018, but at a slightly reduced rate of around 4% to 5%.

With the first half of the year now in the books, what does current consumer sentiment look like for holidays and leisure experiences?

STR’s tourism research team, Tourism Consumer Insights, set out to gauge appetite for international travel and assess leisure expenditure among STR’s Traveller Panel – a proprietary research community of engaged global travellers.

The research evaluated spending habits across five key leisure categories:

  • Holidays
  • Pub & bar drinking out
  • Café/coffee shop drinking out
  • Eating out
  • Culture & entertainment

The overall results tell a story of changing preferences among consumers when asked about their leisure activities in 2016 and 2017. Delving deeper, the analysis also reveals varying investment in leisure experiences among travellers from different corners of the globe.

Leisure Expenditure

Encouragingly for the leisure and tourism industry, four of the five categories showed growth between 2016 and 2017 as more travellers increased their spending on holidays, eating out, culture and entertainment, and café engagement.

Holidays showed the steepest increase in expenditure. This finding highlights a growing demand for short-break and longer-stay holidays among global travellers.

Meanwhile, there was an overall reduction in pub and bar drinking out expenditure as more consumers decreased their spending in this category. This trend was especially pronounced in the U.K., highlighting particularly challenging headwinds for U.K. bar operators as the sector continues to adapt to changed drink-driving legislation implemented at the end of 2014.

Leisure Expenditure (2017 vs. 2016)

Spotlight on Holiday Expenditure

As shown below, there was higher growth in longer-stay holiday expenditure compared to short-breaks in 2017.

Holiday Expenditure (2017 vs. 2016)

Longer-stay holiday expenditure growth was highest among travellers from South America and Asia Pacific, which includes Australian travellers. More than half of travellers from these regions increased their longer-stay holiday expenditure in 2017 compared to 2016. A broad range of factors likely contributed to this growth, including increased disposable income, improved tourism connectivity (e.g. the development of new air routes) and other tourism infrastructure and product developments in these regions as well as in neighbouring regions.


Longer-Stay Expenditure (2017 vs 2016)

Meanwhile, it was interesting to see a reverse of the above findings in short-breaks behaviour. South American and Asia Pacific travellers were generally less likely than travellers from elsewhere to increase their short-break expenditure.

European travellers showed the steepest uptake in these types of trips. Favourable exchange rates to the U.K. – in a year when the U.K. achieved record-high international visitor numbers – along with expanding air routes, among other factors, likely influenced this growth.

Short-Break Expenditure (2017 vs 2016)


This research has highlighted an overall trend of increased leisure expenditure in 2017 compared with 2016. This is a positive and encouraging finding for the industry and bodes well for global tourism performance in 2018.

Whilst the overall landscape looks positive, there are challenges in the drinking out sector as declines were recorded for pub and bar expenditure. However, leisure expenditure trends vary greatly among different audiences. Millennials, broadly those aged 18-34, bucked the trend as they demonstrated similar engagement with pubs and bars in both 2017 and 2016. These findings highlight opportunities to grow turnover through product development and effective marketing strategies targeted to more engaged audiences.


Background to Research


This survey was undertaken by STR’s Tourism Consumer Insights team through the STR Traveller Panel in June 2018. The survey achieved over 4,000 responses from individuals across 99 countries. If you’d like to find out more about this research, please get in touch.