Tour Operator 12-15-2006

USTOA Says Future Looks Bright

The outlook for the travel industry in 2007 is very strong according to speakers at the U.S. Tour Operators Association Annual Conference & Marketplace, held Dec. 9-11 in Scottsdale, Ariz. The conference, with a record number of delegates estimates put the total number of attendees at over 700 brought players from nearly every corner of the industry to the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa for workshops, receptions, one-on-one appointments and plenty of behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing.

Robert Whitely, USTOA president, along with other association board members, said repeatedly that they expected 2007 would be even bigger for travel than 2000, making it one of the all-time best years for the industry.

Driving this industry optimism are a number of factors. The new passport requirements for Americans, for instance, have some operators predicting a spike in international travel, while others feel the increases will be negligible. Incoming USTOA chairperson Nikos Tsakanikas, president and CEO of Homeric Tours, Inc., said that the number of Americans with passports could reach 80 million next year, blowing past the current all-time high of 70 million. This increase, he said, would be “very good news for the international travel industry.”

In terms of markets, probably the single biggest growth market tour operators were talking about was river cruising, and nearly every company seemed to be looking at new ways to tap into this niche.

Other hot topics at the conference included sustainable tourism, volunteerism and expanded international air service.

Also, according to members, destinations to watch for next year include Peru, the Galapagos, India and Africa.

Finally, as part of the conference, there was a silent auction sponsored by Accor Hotels Worldwide to benefit the Tourism Cares nonprofit foundation.