Tour Operators Discuss Top Trends in Business

USTOA board members reflect on an optimistic 2018, endangered destinations, threats to travel and the future of Cuba tourism By: Mindy Poder
From left to right: Harry Dalgaard, Dana Santucci, Charlie Ball, Terry Dale, Scott Wiseman, and Paula Twidale of the 2018 USTOA Executive Committee //...
From left to right: Harry Dalgaard, Dana Santucci, Charlie Ball, Terry Dale, Scott Wiseman, and Paula Twidale of the 2018 USTOA Executive Committee // © 2017 USTOA

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United States Tour Operators Association

At this year’s United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) Annual Conference & Marketplace — held at The Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, Fla., from Nov. 27 to Dec. 1 — the 2018 USTOA Executive Committee discussed the results of a recent member survey of travel forecasts and trends.

Among the highlights is an overwhelmingly positive outlook for 2018, with nearly 95 percent of USTOA members anticipating an increase in sales, and 64 percent predicting that 2018 will be a “boom year,” with growth ranging from 7 percent up to more than 10 percent.

According to Terry Dale, president and CEO of USTOA, this optimism is unprecedented.

“In my seven years with USTOA, it’s the first time when talking with my members that virtually every single one, regardless of the category, is seeing strong single- or double-digit growth,” he said. 

Harry Dalgaard, president of Avanti Destinations and the USTOA board’s vice chair, is seeing a 39 percent increase in advance bookings for his company’s FIT tours in Asia, Latin America and Europe.

“If the market is strong, people feel comfortable and are willing to spend,” he said.

And while not everything is great — inbound tourism to the U.S. has been impacted, for example — the majority of members (84 percent) reported an increase in sales for 2017.

And all this bodes well for travel advisors: In 2017, 84 percent of members cited the use of travel advisors, and 90 percent of members expect business booked by agents to remain the same or increase in 2018.

Threats to Travel in 2018
Members are most alarmed by the following threats to travel: terrorism, political instability and global financial instability. New to this year’s list of anxieties were travel bans.

Compared to past years, members were more concerned about the threat of natural disasters.

Members were also asked, for the first time ever, to name “which destinations are most at risk of disappearing?” Answers included Antarctica, Cuba and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. 

“Cuba has gone from a new and emerging destination to one that we should see before it goes away,” said Charlie Ball, executive vice president of Princess Cruises & Tours and the USTOA board’s treasurer. 

According to Paula Twidale, executive vice president of Collette and the USTOA board’s immediate past chair, there are “implications to all actions.”

Dale highlighted efforts to support Cuba by Sen. Jeff Flake and Rep. Dina Titus.  

“We work with [Flake and Titus] a lot, but when you weigh what they’re juggling and their priorities, I don’t see [Cuba] gaining a lot of traction,” Dale said. “We will continue to press forward, but it’s an uphill climb.” 

Nonetheless, client demand for traveling more authentically, and meeting with locals, persists. According to Twidale, there’s a pent-up interest in knowing how cultures differ.

“This will not go away,” Dale said. “People have found such joy from these experiences.”

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