Favorite US cities for travel ranked in J.D. Power study

If you thought you knew what U.S. cities people like to visit the most, the results of a study by global marketing research firm J.D. Power could surprise you.

The firm on Oct. 19 released its inaugural 2016 Destination Experience Satisfaction Study, in which it measured overall visitor satisfaction to the top 50 U.S. travel destinations for business or leisure.

The study, which polled 26,000 travelers who visited a U.S. metropolitan area between Dec. 2015 and July 2016, separated the country into five regions. It then assessed the customer experience in major cities within those regions on six factors: activities; cost and fees; food and beverage; infrastructure; lodging; and travel/arrival.

Columbus, Ohio Skyline, Photo Credit: Rod Berry/Ohio Stock Photography DOWNLOAD
Columbus, Ohio Skyline
Highest-ranked cities include several one might expect, including New York City in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic region; Orlando in the south; and Las Vegas in the west. Somewhat, though not completely, surprising was Austin, Texas in the Southwest region. Very surprising to me, even though I have visited several times and enjoyed the city, was Columbus, Ohio in the Midwest region.

While interesting, the survey's results provide more than bragging rights.

“Just as people in love are more willing to open their pocketbooks, the same can be said about visitors in cities that capture their hearts,” the company said in a statement announcing the results. “When visitors are delighted with their travel experience in a particular city, they spend considerably more during their stay than the average traveler.”

The study found that, on average, visitors spent $1,169 on a trip, or $301 per day. However, visitors who were especially delighted with their experience (those rating their overall satisfaction a 10 out of 10) spent, on average, $1,446, or 24 percent more than the overall average. Those who were either indifferent (rating their overall experience a 6 or 7) or who were disappointed (ratings of 5 or lower) spent nearly $250 less per trip than average. That translates to a full 37 percent difference in spending between “delighted” and “disappointed.”

A facet of those spending figures is counterintuitive, but important for hospitality providers.

“While visitors spend more when they have a great experience, they’re also more satisfied with the value they receive for their expenditure,” Rick Garlick, global travel and hospitality practice lead at J.D. Power, said.

The take-away is that, especially for cities that are not often thought of as tourist destinations, the investment necessary to create a superb visitor experience can reap significant dividends, Garlick added.

Each destination was ranked on a 1,000-point scale across the six ranking factors. The regions with the highest average scores were the south and southwest regions, with cities that scored 802 points. They are followed closely by the west region, with a score of 801.

The top 10 cities overall were Las Vegas with 827 points, Austin (818), Orlando (815), Miami and New Orleans (each with 814), the island of Oahu and Charleston, S.C. (each with 813), San Diego (812), Dallas (811), Myrtle Beach, S.C. (809) , and San Antonio (807).

New York, the top-ranked city in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic region earned 805 points while Columbus in the Midwest garnered 799 points.

Top-ranked cities in the West region
Some survey results that I found interesting were that the New Mexico city of Santa Fe, a popular tourist destination, did not make the list of cities in the Southwest region. I was also surprised that Chicago, which I have visited several times for both business and personal reasons, ranked lower than Columbus, Kansas City and Indianapolis in the Midwest region. Perhaps that "Chicago swagger" is a bit off-putting to some travelers.

The survey included several other key findings, including that visitors often view cities as more than just a place to visit and develop a strong emotional connection to the destination. Examples of that phenomenon include Austin, the Hawaiian island of Oahu, Orlando, Miami and San Diego.

Another key finding is that great weather doesn’t guarantee visitor satisfaction. The Northeast/Mid-Atlantic region had the highest proportion of visitors who were most likely to return, at 73 percent, and who would recommend their destinations to others, at 65 percent.

Most travel continues to be booked online, with only seven percent of travelers using a traditional travel agent. However, satisfaction with their destination was significantly higher – 845 points v. 805 points – among those who used a traditional travel agent.

Overwhelmingly, travelers said the U.S. is a safe place to travel. Fully 95 percent of respondents said they feel safe traveling in the country, underscoring the efforts of the travel industry as well as federal and local leaders and law enforcement agencies, in keeping travelers feeling secure, the survey company said.

Complete survey results are available here.

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.

Graphic from the J.D. Power 2016 Destination Experience Satisfaction StudySM
Photo by Rod Berry/Ohio Stock Photography
Click on images to view larger size