What Is a Travel Survey?

K. Kinsella

A travel survey contains statistical data related to travel activities. Typically, they are conducted by government agencies and the results of these surveys have an influence on government policies and planning. A travel survey may track the travel habits of commuters, the methods of transportation used by consumers on a daily basis or the travel arrangements of people who are planning vacations or long trips.

Travel survey data is sometimes taken into account when airlines calculate ticket prices.
Travel survey data is sometimes taken into account when airlines calculate ticket prices.

Government surveys are normally conducted by government employees or by private survey firms. In some instances, consumers are contacted by telephone, email or mail and are asked to respond to a series of travel related questions. On other occasions, travelers at airports, train stations or parking lots are asked travel questions by survey takers who conduct face-to-face interviews. A survey normally relates to travel data during a particular point in time such as a specific month of the year or a particular time frame within a certain day. Consequently, survey takers either gather data during these time periods or contact survey participants at a later date but ask for information that pertains to the time period being tracked.

Travel surveys may be conducted to evaluate different accommodations.
Travel surveys may be conducted to evaluate different accommodations.

Town planners use travel survey data to determine the number of commuters who use particular modes of transportation on a daily basis. Government agencies may decide to add additional train tracks, increase municipal bus services or build new roads if travel survey data shows that excessive numbers of people are using limited travel routes on a regular basis. In some instances, government agencies opt to introduce new modes of transportation such as high-speed rail links into the equation rather than just expanding the existing road and rail networks.

Travel surveys might focus on whether hotels offer guests basic necessities.
Travel surveys might focus on whether hotels offer guests basic necessities.

Many nations have laws that limit pollution and harmful emissions. Traffic congestion can contribute to pollution so some environmental groups conduct travel surveys to draw attention to the level of traffic and pollution in certain areas. These groups sometimes use the travel data as the basis for campaigning for government agencies and private companies to offer commuters alternative types of transportation that produce lower levels of emissions.

Travel surveys often play a role in creating a high speed railway linking urban areas.
Travel surveys often play a role in creating a high speed railway linking urban areas.

Aside from using travel data to monitor and improve the efficiency of transportation systems, government agencies and economists also use travel survey data to gauge the state of the economy. During periods or recession, people often eliminate discretionary expenses such as vacations and road trips. If travel survey data reveals that airlines ticket sales or fuel purchases have dropped then economists can take that data into account when making forecasts about the future performance of the economy as a whole.

Travel companies also conduct surveys to find out about consumer behavior and the preferences of travelers. Many firms ask survey questions that compare the services available through different airlines and tour companies. Typically, travel firms take this data into account when establishing pricing for vacation deals and airline tickets. Many firms also take action to resolve issues that are uncovered during surveys such as high levels of customer dissatisfaction.

Newer forms of high-speed rail may be needed to serve travel needs in some regions.
Newer forms of high-speed rail may be needed to serve travel needs in some regions.

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