USTOA Survey Shows Positive Outlook for 2017

Members share business predictions, risks and hot destinations By: Kenneth Shapiro
Most USTOA members predict growth in 2017. // © 2016 iStock
Most USTOA members predict growth in 2017. // © 2016 iStock

The Details

U.S. Tour Operators Association

A biennial economic impact study by PriceWaterhouseCoopers LLP found that 82 percent of active members of the U.S. Tour Operators Association (USTOA) anticipate growth in sales in 2017. USTOA operators also addressed the global risks that could impact growth in the coming year, citing terrorism as the biggest threat, with 85 percent extremely or very concerned.

Additional risks identified by members include political instability (59%) and pandemics/health crises (56%).

Why It Matters:
Tours are a major part of travel agents’ businesses: According to USTOA, 62 percent of tour packages in 2016 were sold through travel agencies. This is good news for agents because in the survey, which was released earlier this month at USTOA’s Annual Conference & Marketplace, members projected that they would end 2016 with sales reaching close to $15 billion.

Fast Facts:
- The research was released at USTOA’s Annual Conference & Marketplace, held at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Ariz., Dec. 6-9, 2016.

- According to the study, the active members of USTOA contributed $14.3 billion to the U.S. tour operator industry in 2015, representing 8.5 million individual travelers.

- On the jobs front, active members report employing 12,610 people within the U.S in 2015. Total wages paid by members in 2015 amounted to $934 million. In 2016, members project an increase of 3.4 percent, or 13,030 jobs, and an increase of wages to $950 million. About half (47%) of Active Members plan to increase staff in 2017.

- Cuba was named the most popular destination for travelers in 2017. The top 10 “hot” destinations for next year also included Italy, which ranked second, followed by Iceland, United Kingdom, Spain, Ireland, Australia, South Africa, China and Vietnam.

- Active members identified their top 10 off-the-beaten path or emerging destinations that they see gaining popularity in 2017: Cuba ranked first, Iceland ranked second, followed by Croatia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Myanmar, Iran, Africa (South Africa and Morocco), Cambodia and India.

- The tour operator members of USTOA offer a variety of culturally immersive, experiential and themed programs for travelers. Family/multigenerational programs are offered by a majority of tour operator members (81%), with three fourths (77%) of membership providing honeymoon/romance experiences. Around half of the Active Members offer the following categories: adventure (55%), art and culture (53%), culinary (49%) and safari/nature (49%).

- When asked who’s traveling, tour operator members responded that about half their customer base are 51 years of age and older. The next largest group was 36 to 50 years old representing 24 percent.

- Two thirds of business booked was by U.S. residents traveling internationally, with 20 percent by U.S. customers traveling domestically.

What They Are Saying:
“USTOA active members are projecting a nearly 4 percent increase in total packages sold in 2016 over 2015 to approach $15 billion in revenue, showing remarkable resilience in a challenging year for travel,” said Terry Dale, president and CEO of USTOA. “And, our active members cited further optimism for the year ahead, with 82 percent anticipating growth in sales in 2017.”

“It’s interesting to see Cuba grab the top spot from Italy on the hot destinations list for the coming year, as it also clinched number one on the top emerging destinations list for 2017,” said Dale. “This only validates Cuba’s popularity and the growing demand among U.S. travelers. Nearly a third (29%) of our members anticipates that the easing of U.S.-Cuba sanctions will help increase their annual revenue.”

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