WHISTLER, B.C.Tour operators, like travel agents, are
confronting a sluggish economy and an apprehensive traveling
public, but with a new year looming, optimism seems to reign,
according to participants at the 24th annual U.S. Tour Operators
Association conference here last week.
In his opening remarks, Ed Jackson, serving a second consecutive
term as USTOA chairman, said, “To quote a travel industry
executive, ‘This has been the year from hell.’ Or, as Alan
Greenspan, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board, recently
said, ‘While the economy is softening, there is no evidence that it
is accelerating on the down side.’
“Put in real terms, the economy is still sluggish, but the worst
may be over,” Jackson continued.
“Those of us who are veterans of the industry, know that ups and
downs are a reality of our business, and that the industry will
recover. In fact, some sectors have already shown improvement,” he
“Destinations closer to home, family travel and even luxury
travel have shown growth. The long-term potential for vacation
travel is strong.”
At a tour operator panel, 11 executives pondered a war with Iraq
and repercussions it might bring.
“Let’s face it, we’re in a business that people don’t actually
need it’s their choice to travel or not,” said Brian Stack of CIE
Tours International. And, right now, with U.S. troops mobilizing in
the Mideast and the White House issuing daily warnings of impending
conflict, Stack said he just wants to “get it over with and, if the
war is successful, I think you’ll see people willing to travel
again, and rather quickly.”
Stack and other company officials agreed that, since Sept. 11,
contingency plans are more important than ever. And they are more
distressing to formulate, too.
“I have two doomsday plans in my office,” Stack said. “One
covers drastic cost-cutting and the other, a maintenance mode.”
Arthur Tauck of Tauck World Discovery said that he honestly
doesn’t know what would happen following an invasion of Iraq. “But
I do know that this is a different situation than 1991 terrorism
has changed all that.”
Tauck said that the potential aftermath of a war “frightens me.
Why would an American travel abroad, leaving loved ones behind, and
become a target of terrorists just because he or she is an
Arthur Tauck’s son, Peter, president of Tauck World Discovery,
said his family’s company has two contingency plans a war plan and
what he called a “lethargy” plan.
“In this economic climate,” he said, “we have a difficult
decision to make: Should we be conservative in our promotions or
From the audience, Patrick O’Shea of Far & Wide commented,
“Consumers are tougher than you realize. Our job is to regain their
And Philip Gordon of Globus & Cosmos said the tourism
industry’s greatest challenge is countering media distortion.
“All of us tour operators, tourism boards, hotels, airlines
should get together and send a positive message. For example,
airport security has been improved is a positive, not a negative,”
Most panel participants agreed that, as the Baby Boomers age,
escorted tours will flourish. “As you grow older, you tend to get
grouchy and impatient. Escorted tours can eliminate the hassles of
travel,” Arthur Tauck said.
“Besides, if something bad happens abroad, wouldn’t you rather
be with a group?”