USTOA: Slower Business Is a Boon to Travelers

Travelers can profit from the current economic environment by seeking out value-added incentives offered by tour operators to help stimulate business.


Travelers can profit from the current economic environment by seeking out value-added incentives offered by tour operators to help stimulate business.

This is one conclusion from an informal membership survey recently conducted by the United States Tour Operators Association, whose member companies provide vacations for nearly 10 million travelers yearly.

More than 80% of responding USTOA members said that 2002 bookings were lower or the same as last year, with nearly 20% reporting an increase. Overall, bookings were down slightly, by an average 8.5% over 2001. As for sales growth, more than 45% said sales were on a par with 2001, while nearly 40% cited lower sales. Fifteen percent said sales had increased over 2001.

To spur business, tour operators are adding incentives, which spells good news for travelers who will get more for their money. Forty-two percent of USTOA respondents cited value-added offerings as their number one marketing strategy this year, throwing in such features as extra nights (four nights for the price of three, etc.), meals, sightseeing and other activities included in the price that normally would cost extra. The survey also found that cruise tours and domestic tours and packages are among top products being marketed this year.

“The good news is that, even though business is relatively flat, we are doing much better than expected,” said Bob Whitley, USTOA president. “At the beginning of the year predictions called for business to drop by far higher levels.

“Nearly 60% of our members who responded to the survey said that family travel was more popular this year. There are good values, and by visiting a knowledgeable travel agent, families can find attractive packages.”

Reflecting a long-term trend, nearly half of respondents said that independent packages represent more than 50% of their business, while escorted tours represented the majority of sales at nearly 45% of members. Slightly more than 5% of members reported business evenly split between both categories.

Tour operators responded optimistically regarding international tourism, with nearly 60% who market both international and domestic programs saying they are not emphasizing domestic over international travel. One reason for optimism is the introduction of the euro. Sixty-five percent of respondents saw the euro, which simplifies currency for travelers, as having a positive impact.

>