Return to Blog

On the Road Again: Viewing American Business Travel through a Mobile Lens

We are a truly mobile society. In 2013, Americans traveled nearly 600 billion passenger miles domestically by air alone1. Wherever we go, we take our mobile devices with us. Factual’s Geopulse Audience uses location data from mobile devices to develop insight about users’ behavior. I analyzed data from our partner, Smaato, to examine the behavioral patterns of some of the most mobile people around: business travelers2. The map below shows MSAs that are frequently visited by US business travelers (the larger the circle, the more unique travelers visit that MSA).

Map 1

Looking at the map, there are clear hot spots. In fact, 25% of these business travelers originate from 11 “Top Home MSAs3.” To get a more detailed view of the travel patterns for individuals hailing from these areas, click on any of them on the interactive map below4.

Interactive Travel Map

Click on any MSA to see where its business travelers visit

msa map

From this view, it is evident that while many business travelers originate in the same set of MSAs, most of their actual travel is regional. For example, if you click on the Chicago map, you will see that most of the travel activity is scattered throughout the Midwest. To demonstrate this idea more clearly, I found the percent of visits from each of the top 11 home MSAs that were to one of the other top 11 (home MSA excluded), and the percent that were to any other MSAs. On average, just over 80% of visits from travelers from one of the top 11 home MSAs are not to another top 11 MSA.

Table 1

Since it is somewhat difficult to think in terms of percent of visits (especially because most business travelers visit more than one destination), I broke down the percent of travelers who originate from each of the top 11 home MSAs and travel to the remaining ones.

Table 2</centeR>

A few trends stand out to me here. The first is that it appears that the percent of business travelers from elsewhere that tend to visit the New York MSA is much larger than that of travelers from New York who tend to visit elsewhere. This is most clearly demonstrated in the patterns of travel between Philadelphia-New York and Washington DC-New York. While 8.7% of business travelers from Philadelphia visit New York, only 3.4% of business travelers from New York visit Philadelphia. From Washington DC, 5.2% visit New York. From New York however, only 1.8% visit Washington DC.

In comparison, the portion of the Philadelphia business traveler population that visits Washington DC is pretty close to the portion of the DC population that visits Philadelphia (3.3% from Philadelphia visit DC and 3.7% the other way around).

This type of uneven travel exchange also exists with Los Angeles and San Francisco/Phoenix.

Some explanation for this lies in the relative size of New York and LA compared to the other 9 MSAs. The New York-Newark-Jersey City MSA was estimated to have nearly 20 million residents in 20135. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim was estimated at around 13 million, almost 40% more than the next most populous MSA. Being larger MSAs, in some cases they are likely to have larger offices than in other places. In that vein, in 2013 New York City was home to the headquarters of 43 Fortune 500 companies, far more the next city on the list (Houston at 24)6. Some portion of this may also be attributable to their role as major transit hubs, where it is likely that some travelers simply pass through on their way to other places (this trend is also apparent for Atlanta and Chicago, home to some of the busiest airports in the world, albeit on a smaller scale). While none of these factors independently describes the trends, combined they pose a reasonable argument.

When you look through the data what conclusions do you draw? Do you see your own commute, or perhaps that of a friend or colleague? Maybe you and your associates don’t travel for work. Take a minute and instead think about all of the places you do go with your mobile devices, and the story these places tell about you.

– Julie Levine, Marketing Associate

About Smaato
Smaato is the leading global mobile Real-Time Bidding ad exchange (SMX) and Supply Side Platform. Factual’s Geopulse Audience analyzes the location data running through Smaato’s RTB exchange and enhances Smaato’s mobile ad inventory by providing over 40 audience segments (such as “business traveler”) that advertisers can use to deliver more relevant advertising.



2. Factual’s Geopulse Audience generates anonymous user profiles with geographic, demographic, and behavioral characteristics for mobile device users based on their location histories (provided by our partners, such as Smaato). “Business travelers” are users who display the behaviors typical of business travelers such as frequent short trips that start and end on weekdays.

3. The “Top MSAs” abbreviated in the charts in this post are: Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA; Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, IL-IN-WI; Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX;
Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX; Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA; Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL; New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA; Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD; Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ; San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA; Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV.

4. The maps for individual MSAs are all on the same scale. However, the main map is on a much larger scale, as so not of obfuscate the information. On individual MSA maps, the home MSA is ignored.