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The 2018 holiday season is officially here, and you can bet your bottom dollar that consumers everywhere are preparing for it.

The question is: are you?

Whether you're in the business of customer loyalty, employee engagement, or member retention, the holidays represent a major opportunity to strengthen the relationships you value most.

Here at Access, we want to help you get ready. After all, 91% of consumers say they plan to "celebrate the season" this year, giving you a chance to fill a stocking with goodwill. Read on to learn more about how (and why) a little extra care and consideration can go a long way during the holidays.

Holiday Spending: Bigger Than Ever

With Thanksgiving and Christmas just around the corner, people are feeling pressure to stay on top of their holiday shopping. 18% of U.S. consumers started their yuletide spending as early as September, with another 21% beginning before November and 60% before Thanksgiving.

There's no intention of slowing down the festive spending this year as retail holiday sales in the U.S. are predicted to grow between 4.3% and 4.8% over 2017, with Americans projected to spend up to $720.89 billion this year. Last year, 58 of the 60 shopping days in November and December resulted in over $1 billion sales ALONE.

It's no secret people are spending larger-than-usual sums of money to get ready for the holidays. So what exactly are they spending their hard earned dollars on this time of year?

Consumers plan to spend a total of $1,007 on average for items like decorations, candy and gifts. When buying gifts for others, the most popular purchases are gift cards/certificates (54%), clothing (53%), toys/games (46%), books (43%) and food/liquor (39%). And many consumers, 78% to be exact, are looking simply to shop for themselves. When they do treat themselves, 42% say they'll choose food/liquor, 40% clothing, 26% shoes, 22% books and 21% cosmetics/fragrances/health & beauty.

Ray Bradbury – author of the space travel and colonization classic The Martian Chronicles – once wrote, “Half of the fun of travel is the aesthetic of lostness.”

What did Mr. Bradbury mean when he penned this now famous quote? We may never know.

Don’t get the wrong idea, of course. We totally get the part about travel being extra rewarding when people get far off the beaten path into new places they didn't even know existed. (Duh.)

What civilization will always wonder is this. Did he mean “half” in the general sense, as in give or take a third? Or “half” in the 50% sense, where if he’d meant 51 percent, he’d have said 51 percent?

Whatever the math behind Ray’s statistical calculations, one thing we know for sure…

People looooooove to travel.

Families and individuals of all ages, sizes and incomes. To faraway lands. For weekend getaways. To pursue new business deals. With kids. Without kids. On planes, trains, automobiles, boats and buses.

And when it comes to customer loyalty programs and member benefits, discounted travel is often among the most hotly pursued additions to the mix. Why? Because lots of money AND emotional expectation are wrapped up in most of our travel purchase decisions.

So to better understand today’s traveler, we at Access have compiled what we believe is a comprehensive “ultimate collection” of statistics having to do with the travel and tourism industry. We've tried to make this list as relevant as possible, which means we combed through recent research from travel and tourism related sources.

Most of these stats are focused on Americans who travel – though other nationalities may creep into the mix from time to time. We've provided source links for each statistic. Sometimes you’ll find the data conflicts with other sources - so we’ll leave it up to you to decipher which is most accurate.

We'll keep this list updated regularly with the latest and greatest. If you know of a stat we're missing, or want your own research included in our collection, leave us a note in the comments. Enjoy!

Humans are complex beings, with billions of cells, neurons, synapses, and other mysterious matter working in collusion to form our being. Every decision we make is informed by that vast network of senses as well as snap judgments, memories, unconscious and conscious biases, habits, and outside influences.

There are literally billions of variables that go into every decision we make during the day, from our first actions upon awakening to when to turn off the lights and go to sleep. For the most part, we’re all thoughtful and rational and attempt to make informed decisions as often as possible.

But then someone offers us something for free.

We love free! Where do we sign up?!

It’s holiday shopping season. People have abandoned their families to shop on Thanksgiving, then stood outside in the wee hours of the morning on Black Friday waiting for doors to open.

They’ve dutifully ignored work (on occasion) to browse online retailers. They’ve sharpened their elbows and mobilized through intense crowds at malls, warehouse stores, and big box retailers.

People will go to great lengths to get a great deal. They’ll do things outside their normal scope of behavior, especially this time of year.

In fact, if you browse through our collection of coupon statistics, you’ll see that valuable merchant content inspires people to try a lot of new things.

Even mobile payments.

Over the course of my years working with merchants on coupon campaigns, I’ve found one common, recurring question: How can a coupon can help me connect with the right person at the right time?

In other words, the merchant wants to know how to connect to people who aren’t a current customer, at a time when that person is looking to make a purchase.

That isn’t just an issue with coupons, it’s really the key to overall business success, right? If we had a formula to get in front of the right person at the right time we’d all be billionaires.

Are we heading into the most competitive holiday shopping season ever?

We know last year was a little intense, beginning with a Black Friday/Cyber Monday full of deep discounts and winding up with a large percentage of consumers holding out for last second deals. The result was a bloodbath on price tags, as retailers had no choice but to cut prices to keep up.

Deloitte predicts 2014 holiday shopping will increase by 13% over last year, up to around $1300 per household. That’s a good sign for everyone – namely, more money to go around for every business, right? No more deep discounts or fire sales, right?