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When Vacation is an Obligation: The Oblication

Lucas Cobb

Some personal experiences of mine so far this summer have given me pause to reconsider the way we categorize certain types of trips. For years, our Portrait of American Travelers® study has asked about the incidence and recentness of “celebration vacations.” These are trips to celebrate life’s milestones like anniversaries, birthdays, honeymoons, etc. We also ask about weddings, reunions, and graduations.

What is an Oblication?

As someone who has traveled for the latter three in the past two years (including two reunions), I believe a new classification should be created: the “oblication” (an obligation and a vacation at the same time).

This is not meant to disparage the joy and satisfaction my family and I took away from these trips, but just to say if we could, we may have gone elsewhere. These trips weren’t what I would call “celebrations” for us; they were just things we needed, and of course wanted, to do in order to fulfill the requests of our loved ones. Trekking to Houston in August for a wedding; roadtripping to Wichita, KS for a graduation; and venturing to Bixby, OK for a family reunion were not the ideal getaways for spending our vacation budget, but we made the best of it.

Of course, our oblications were of a significant distance away, and if they were in town, maybe I’d coin them a bit differently. But when a majority of your annual vacation budget is spent on oblications, sometimes you have to turn an obligation into a vacation.

What Does an Oblicationer Look Like?

This is the case for 15% of our Portrait of American Travelers® sample set. With more than half of those having taken an oblication (trip for a reunion, wedding, graduation, etc.) in the past twelve months.

Not surprisingly, this segment consists primarily of travelers from the famed millennial generation (38%), overindexing the 31% of all travelers who are the same. Incomes skew higher as well. The oblicationer’s mean income is $128,000, which is $8,000 more than non-oblicationers. Most are married (72%) and almost half have little ones at home (45%).

Oblicationers took 4 trips in the past year (one more than the average). And 36% are planning to take more trips this year and spend an average of $6,200 ($1,800 more than non-oblicationers).

Oblicationers and Staycations

Oblicationers are 19% more likely to have taken one or more “staycations” in the past 12 months than non-oblicationers (63% vs. 44%). The top reason to staycation was because they wanted to spend time with friends and family locally (43%). Sounds like a family reunion to me…

Even though they stayed local, more than half of oblicationers chose to shack up in a hotel vs. staying in their own home. This is 20% higher than non-oblicationers (53% vs. 33%). The American traveler average for hotel stays during staycation is 37%.

Preferences of Oblicationers: Airlines, Hotels, Reviews and Booking

When going further from home, oblicationers prefer to fly a full-service airline (54%) and see Marriott as the most appealing hotel brand (84%). One in 3 have utilized the services of a travel agent (32%) for 3 of their 4 trips. This usage is twice the overall average of all travelers (16%).

When it comes to other sources of information, the Oblicationer leans on a broad number of online sources: 68% rely on OTAs, 35% on meta/aggregators, and 22% on Facebook. These travelers overindex against almost all sources. They are information hungry.

The same is true when asked about review sites and the value of reviews. 44% say they trust the online reviews of others more than those of their own friends and family! Only 28% of all travelers say this. They also don’t rely solely on TripAdvisor or Yelp; 71% cite they find other travel advisory sites of value vs. 58% of all travelers.


Overall, oblicationers are a very interesting subset of travelers. They, like myself, make the most of any trip they take whether it’s an obligation or not. They are researching and digging for information more than the average traveler and when they can’t do it themselves, they turn to the experts and others who have gone before them.

What should marketers, destinations and brands take away from this? When it comes to mandatory travel, oblicationers don’t have a choice on where or when they go. What we do need to further understand is what they can do when they get to their destination before or after their obligation has been fulfilled. We can and should provide more information, compelling content, and sample itineraries for the oblicationer throughout future marketing messages.

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