Sunday, April 03, 2011

The Mystery of Travel Statistics

Ever wonder what would happen if we privatized our demographic and economic data collection systems? To find out, take a look at the sorry state of travel statistics. You would think an industry of such importance to the U.S. economy would have a readily accessible trove of numbers, trends, and insights available to reporters, researchers, entrepreneurs, and armchair pundits. Instead, the statistics are locked up in organizations run by lobbyists for the travel industry, which charge hundreds of dollars for research publications on top of hefty membership fees. Google the government agency in charge of travel information, and you will click upon the Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, self-described as "an official U.S. Government site produced and maintained by the Office of Travel and Tourism Industries." Except for summary statistics, the annual reports go for $1,000 and up. Chilling.


Nancy McGuckin said...

The Bureau of Labor Statistics and Federal Highway Administration last collected information on long distance data in the 2001 National Household Travel Survey. Before that was the 1995 American Travel Survey.

Long distance travel data is difficult to collect because it is a rare occurrence—perhaps 15 percent of households account for 85 percent of travel--so the sample sizes have to be large to make inferences about the population. In addition to a large sample, the survey methods required to have full confidence that the data represents each state, the travel between states, and between major metro areas, is complicated.

For everyday travel the Federal Highway Administration has conducted the National Household Travel Survey since 1969, and the most recent is the 2009 NHTS available at the website:

Hope that helps!

Nancy McGuckin

Cheryl Russell said...

Very helpful and informative. Thank you!