USTOA Surveys Travel Trends

*Cancun Cleanup
*Hawaiia's Lava Flow
*And more

The United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) recently revealed 2005’s top destinations and trends for packaged travel.

“In the face of rising costs Americans have continued to travel,” said USTOA chairman Brian Stack. “Sales of packages and tours in almost every area have increased over last year. In an informal survey, more than 90 percent of our members said sales of independent packages grew, and 80 percent saw an increase in escorted package sales.”

Despite the high euro, Italy once again ranked number one as this year’s most popular international destination for tours and packages with France coming in a distant second. Colorado and California tied with Alaska as most popular U.S. destinations.

China and South America were cited as the hottest up-and-coming destinations for packages and tours with Croatia a close second. However, when asked what will be hot for 2006, Croatia led the way, followed by China.

Greece came in first place for country and area representing the best value for the dollar, followed closely by Eastern Europe, Mexico, the U.S. and China.

As for top trends in vacation packages and tours, three major areas were cited: inclusive resorts and vacations combining multiple elements, such as meals and activities into one package; multiple destination itineraries that visit several countries, especially in Asia; and family vacations.

Adventure travel is also on the rise with nearly 80 percent of responding USTOA members offering adventure components with more to be added for 2006, including explorations of Ethiopia, Aboriginal Australia, the Himalayas and Mongolia.

In an effort to target families, nearly 65 percent of respondents said they offer family-oriented tours and packages. About 40 percent of tour operators offer adults-only vacations, and 25 percent of members reported offering senior discounts.

Survey respondents represented 75 of the top brand names in packaged travel or an estimated 60 percent of USTOA’s membership, according to officials.

USTOA is a professional association representing the tour operator industry.

Cancun Cleanup

The governor of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, Felix Gonzalez Canto, recently held a press conference at the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles to address the progress of the region’s recovery in the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma. Quintana Roo is home to several of the country’s most popular tourism destinations, including Cancun, the Riviera Maya, Isla Mujeres and Cozumel.

Canto and members of the Mexican Tourism Board said they wanted to assure all travelers that Cancun and much of the rest of the region is already well on the way to recovery. Canto said that most of the damage to the resorts was cosmetic, and that by peak tourist season (February-April) they should be operating at 90 to 100 percent capacity.

The governor said that Cancun has about 25 percent of its rooms ready now, with roughly 50 percent projected to be ready by mid-December and 75 percent by February. Cozumel is running at about the same rate as Cancun, and Isla Mujeres has about half of its 1,000 rooms back online with all expected to be ready by Dec. 15.

The Riviera Maya is operating normally already. In addition to hotel rooms, all attendant attractions, such as tours, theme parks and scuba diving, are expected to be fully recovered by February, if not sooner.

In addition, Canto said returning tourists may actually find a pleasant surprise or two, as the beaches in Cancun have doubled in size to about 125 feet. Eventually, the beaches will be approximately 250 to 300 feet with new reefs to help prevent damage from future hurricanes.

Canto also announced plans for a second airport in the region, in Tulum, about 70 miles to the south of the one already in Cancun.

This, he said, will help prevent a repeat of the evacuation difficulties after Wilma, as “it will be impossible for a hurricane to affect both” airports at the same time.

While Mexico tourism has suffered at the rate of about $10 million per day in losses, Canto said he hopes the region stands to be even more enjoyable and safer in the future.

“The point is our state is fine,” said Canto.

Harold Rhosen

Hawaii's Lava Flow Show

Last month, nearly 45 acres of coastline at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park collapsed into the ocean, releasing a stream of lava from the newly exposed cliffside 45 feet above the water, The Associated Press reported.

The downfall which took about 4½ hours put on quite a show, freeing sheets of volcanic gas, lava and head-size boulders, according to reports. Officials released a warning about a possible collapse last summer because the shelf had become large and cracks had formed.

HAL’s Home Makeover

Holland America Line will ring in the New Year by offering cruise guests upgrades a value of up to $300 per person and travel agents a chance to win a $20,000 home makeover.

“Our travel-selling partners rave about the Signature of Excellence refinements found throughout our fleet so this year we’re giving them the chance to win a Signature of Excellence home makeover during our View & Verandah promotion,” said Richard D. Meadows, CTC, senior vice president, marketing and sales.

Through Feb. 28, agents can offer clients up to a seven-category upgrade on select sailings, and with each booking, will be entered into a contest to win up to $45,000 in prizes.

The grand prize, the Signature of Excellence Home Makeover, features some of HAL’s signature amenities, including a flat-screen TV; Sealy Posturpedic Euro-top Mariner’s Dream Bed; a Dell notebook computer; $5,000 in cash toward a kitchen remodel; a Wolf range, SubZero refrigerator and Starbucks espresso machine; one-year subscription to The New York Times; one-year subscription to Food & Wine magazine; and housekeeping service for one year.

Additional weekly drawings will feature flat-screen TVs, computers, $1,000 Spa Finder certificates, fam tours to Alaska and housekeeping services for six months.

Each week through the end of February, HAL will update the list of applicable sailings for stateroom upgrades on its Web site. The first 1,000 agents to register for the promotion will receive an apron from the line’s new Culinary Arts Center presented by Food & Wine magazine.

Commission Cuts

The move of some British tour operators to cut commissions is seen as a precursor to cuts in the North American market, officials say.

Thompson Tours, First Choice and Thomas Cook have cut commissions to 7 percent, according to reports.

While North American tour operators haven’t moved in that direction, TravelMole reported that companies could follow suit to reduce distribution costs.

Westin Guests Breathe Easier

Come January, guests at the Westin Hotels & Resorts may be breathing a little easier. The hotel chain will launch a “100 percent smoke-free” initiative for all hotels and resorts in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean.

The policy, the first of its kind for a major hotel chain, is based on customer data and guests’ feedback. According to research, more than 90 percent of Westin guests request a non-smoking room and do not smoke in any part of the hotel. Other hotel chains, including Marriott International, will be watching the chain closely to see if they should follow Westin’s lead.