Who are Michigan’s international air travelers and what do they do after they arrive?

A survey analysis of Detroit Metropolitan Airport's international air travelers between 2014-2016.

January 22, 2018 - Author: Andy Northrop, Michigan State University Extension

Have you wondered where Michigan’s international visitors come from? What their interests are or why they came here in the first place? Or what do they do after arriving in the Great Lakes State.

From 2014 to 2016, the U.S. Department of Commerce conducted the Survey of International Air Travelers (SIAT) across 14 U.S. international gateway airports in partnership with 70 airlines. Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DMA) was one of the airports where SIAT was conducted. Approximately 1300 travelers were surveyed at airport gate areas and/or on-board aircraft. Participants in the survey responded to over 30 questions designed to measure attractions visited, length and purpose of trip, trip decision making, interests, and demographic information, such as residency, gender, age, and income. The results of that survey were made available in October 2017. Other than a brief section on the background of the study, the survey results were divided into four categories:

  1. Trip Planning
  2. Travel Patterns
  3. Travel Spending and Accommodations
  4. Traveler Demographics

The SIAT DMA determined the “Main Purpose” of each traveler’s trip to Detroit and MI (not including Detroit). Regardless of entry point into the USA, the main purpose of travelers to Detroit and/or MI were Business, Visiting Friends/Relatives, Vacation/Holiday, and Other. 37 percent of travelers to Detroit were on business, where as 18 percent traveling to MI (not including Detroit) were on business too.

  • 30 percent of travelers to Detroit were Visiting Friends/Relatives, whereas 44 percent engaging in the same activity were traveling to MI (not including Detroit)
  • 20 percent were on Vacation/Holiday while visiting only Detroit and only Michigan. These categories were equal.
  • 13 percent and 18 percent had a main purpose of “Other” when visiting only Detroit and visiting MI (not including Detroit).

Visitors in the SIAT DMA study were asked if they engaged in recreational activities while visiting MI, only Detroit, and MI (not including Detroit). The research shared here will only discuss the percentages of visitors engaging in activities across Michigan. (Please refer to the document attached to this article for additional information on activities for Detroit visitors and MI visitors (not including Detroit).

According to SIAT DMA, the top leisure activities of visitors to all of Michigan include:

  • Shopping – 89 percent
  • Sightseeing - 67 percent
  • Small towns/countryside – 49 percent
  • Fine Dining – 36 percent
  • Art gallery/museum – 30 percent
  • Historical locations – 28 percent
  • Sporting event -21 percent
  • Amusement parks – 20 percent
  • Concert play/musical – 15 percent
  • Cultural/heritage sights – 15 percent
  • Nightclub/dancing – 13 percent

Traveler demographics were also measured. Of those surveyed visiting all of Michigan, 58 percent were Male and 42 percent were Female. The largest age range for international visitors visiting all of MI was 18-24 and 30-24 year olds. Each of those age range groups represented 14 percent (or 28 percent combined) of international travelers visiting all of MI. The next largest age range groups visiting all of Michigan was 25-29 year olds and 50-54 year olds. These groups represented 24 percent of the population surveyed (or 12 percent for each group). The smallest group of international visitors to all of Michigan were 65 years old; they represent only 5 percent of the population surveyed in the SIAT DMA study.

SIAT DMA also measured whether or not international travelers to Michigan and the Detroit region were repeat visitors. 80 percent of those surveyed responded to being repeat visitors.

Tourism is a major industry for Michigan, one that contributes significantly to the State’s economy and number of jobs. In fact, Michigan generated about 2.4 billion dollars in taxes from tourism in 2014. Michigan State University Extension works with local communities throughout the state to identify strengths and assets to leverage for tourism.

Tags: business, economic development, livable communities, msu extension, tourism


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