Austin Tourism and Transportation Growth

How Austin’s increase in tourism demands better transportation options

By Anna Daugherty

            Flying or driving, from near or far, people are coming to see what all the excitement is about in Austin. The increasing attention has the city racing to keep pace.

            Fodor’s listed Austin as one of the top ten places to travel in 2012. That same year, TripAdvisor ranked Austin as second in a list of the top 15 rising vacation destinations in America. As interest in the city grows, so does the demand for quality transportation.

             Jason Zielinski, public information specialist at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, said passenger traffic at the airport has increased for four years in a row. The airport now has several construction projects going on to be able to handle the current and the future demand.

            “As Austin and central Texas continue to grow, so does the airport,” Zielinski said. “We have to increase our infrastructure, improve it, and stay ahead of the game. In 2008 we set a record with 9 million passengers, and at that point we started to look forward at possibly doing a lot of the construction projects we’re doing currently.”

          Construction projects at Austin-Bergstrom include expanding the current terminal, adding a new terminal, and adding a new car rental facility and parking lot. The airport also recently added a non-stop flight to London on British Airways – the airport’s first trans-Atlantic flight.

            “All of our expansion and construction is dependent on passenger traffic,” Zielinski said. “We just hit the 10 million (passengers) mark for the first time. And the airport infrastructure, when it was first built, the terminal was predicted to be able to handle about 11 million passengers a year.”

           Predictions by the airport’s Department of Aviation are based on a standard 3 percent to 4 percent increase in passenger traffic every year. The current passenger forecast for the airport is to reach 11.5 million passengers by the year 2017 and 13.1 million by 2023.

            The airport is mostly self-sustaining, according to Zielinski. The funding for maintenance and construction comes from money spent at the airport. Some construction projects receive additional aid from the Federal Aviation Administration. None of the airport’s budget comes from city citizens’ taxes.

            Airport travel is not the only concern for the growing city. While flying makes up 19.6 percent of transportation, the other 80 percent is automobile travel. The increase in vehicle travel has been a challenge for Austin government and citizens facing crammed streets and highways.

            Chris Bishop, public information officer for the Texas Department of Transportation, said Interstate 35 is the most heavily traveled roadway in Texas, all the way from the north side of Dallas down through Laredo. He also said this area is one of the most densely populated in the state.

           “The goal is to find what’s going to work best for I-35 as a transportation corridor, not just to handle any one event but to handle all the demands that are put on it to allow people to move safely and efficiently,” Bishop said. “It’s not just because we have Formula 1 that we have to do this, or we can’t do that. At some point, the work just has to get done.”

            Bishop said they do take special events, like Formula 1 races or South by Southwest, into consideration when planning work on highways in Austin.

            “That’s all part of what makes Austin the popular place that it is and obviously the heavily traveled and trafficked place that it is,” Bishop said.

            The challenges of growing population and tourism are not without their rewards though, according to Shilpa Bakre, senior communications manager at the Austin Convention & Visitor’s Bureau.

            “Locally, travel supports an estimated 50,000 jobs and pumps more than $6 billion into Austin’s economy,” Bakre said. “It’s a tremendous economic impact and benefit for the city.”

            Bakre said tourists love to visit the city for its authentic experience that can be very different than in other cities. She said the city has more than 250 live music venues to support its nickname as “the live music capital of the world,” but there are other important aspects of the city as well.

            “We’ve obviously got an incredibly burgeoning food scene, great festivals, great outdoors, and 300 days of sunshine a year,” Bakre said. “There are a lot of things that attract both leisure and business travelers to the city year-round.”

            Bakre said every growing city faces challenges, much like “growing pains” as it struggles to find its own identity as a large city. She said she hopes that Austin will continue to maintain the authenticity it has because of the people who live here.

This is the static version of the infographic, for the interactive, click on the infographic itself to open it up in its own window.

This is the static version of the infographic, for the interactive, click on the infographic itself to open it up in its own window.

Millennials and their technology – changing the way we travel

Anna Daugherty

Monday, Sept. 30, 2013

Friday, Sept. 27, was the 33rd World Tourism Day, and the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) celebrated their  recently published report stating that international tourists in 2012 numbered over one billion for the first time.

This report marks some of the many changes happening in the tourism industry. As the industry grows, new travelers are bringing with them new trends and technology.

Teresa Y. Lee, consulting and hospitality valuation analyst, studies emerging travel trends – especially the differences between the trends of the millennial generation and baby boomers.

Lee is a millennial business traveler herself and has noticed differences between her preferences and those of baby boomer business travelers.

“I remember my first business trip – I looked around the airport and saw people my parents’ age in suits, with leather briefcases,” Lee said. “There I was in jeans and Converse thinking ‘why would I travel in a suit?’”

Lee said many of the differences between millennials and baby boomers come from different priorities.

“I could stay in a hostel with free Wi-Fi for $10 a night,” she said. “But then I had to pay $15 a day for Wi-Fi at a luxury Marriott. That was crazy to me.”

Technology is not only something millennials want while traveling. Lee said the access to information is also changing what tourists hope to gain from their travels overall.

“You used to only hear of the Eiffel Tower and see a few pictures in a book – in black and white,” Lee said. “But now you see it all over the internet, on videos, or pictures of friends by it. When you go see it, it’s still cool and beautiful, but you expected that.”

Lee said millennials don’t want to only take a picture of the Eiffel Tower; they want to meet new friends, try out a new bar, and “experience the Eiffel Tower”. They want to come home with more memories than simply taking a picture.

Travel behavior analyst Nancy McGuckin has a different view.

McGuckin said technology may be changing things about travel, but it is not substituting travel basics.

“A person’s wants, needs, habits and desires don’t change,” McGuckin said. “But the way they go about fulfilling those things – that’s what changes.”

McGuckin said everyone is doing more leisure travel, but baby boomers are leading the way because they are now “empty-nesters and retirees” with more time and money.

“The difference between the baby boomers and millennials lies in the amount of income they each have,” McGuckin said. “And the amount they are willing to spend on accommodation and at destinations.”

While technology is obviously affecting the travel industry, McGuckin said the data on it is lacking.

“We’re missing the mobile technology data, and I can’t imagine it not having an effect,” McGuckin said. “I think the travel industry will be blindsided by mobile technology if we aren’t prepared for the changes it will bring.”

McGuckin said baby boomers should not be left out of the technology data as they are frequently web users themselves and fueled the growth of tourism technology before millennials were even traveling.

Keith Waldon, founder and director of Departure Lounge in Austin, has been traveling for 25 years and said he has personally seen technology change travel.

“I’ve seen the traditional travel agency become less relevant and less visible,” Waldon said. “But travel agencies have made up some ground online with their websites.”

Waldon said he believes technology will actually drive people back to travel agents and advisors.

“You can do a Google search for Bali and four million links come up…you need someone to help you curate those options and make the right decision,” he said.

Technology is also a powerful tool for making human connections that “span the geographic spread.” The internet allows travel agents to expand their market by connecting them with people anywhere in the world.

“Technology is allowing smaller, specialty travel agents to emerge,” Waldon said. “Boutique travel companies are offering more unique travel experiences so [millennials] have more options than their parents did.”

Waldon said the travel preferences of baby boomers may differ because of age more than technology. After years of work, baby boomers want to pamper themselves and may need to because of declining health.

Baby boomer travel habits might also originate in what they learned about travel from their parents – “the World War II generation”.

“They were very matter-of-fact, and happy to take a tour bus around town, seeing it from a window,” Waldon said.

Baby boomers started out differently, but now that they are traveling more, their habits are like their parents. It is the millennials who are taking the step away from this standard.

“Millennials are definitely seeking the authentic,” he said. “They want the non-tourist experience – the insider view.”

Lee said the focus for the travel industry should be to keep up with the changes.

“What it really comes down to is that we are a much more aware generation,” she said. “And that can be a challenge for the industry.”