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At the 2018 United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) Annual Conference and Marketplace, which was held last month in Phoenix, the organization announced the results of a promising biennial economic study by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC). For the first time ever, 100 percent of those surveyed said that they expect to see more business in 2019.
“Since the first PWC study was commissioned in 2012, it’s the first time we’ve seen such a bullish response, with our entire membership projecting growth ahead,” said Terry Dale, president and CEO of USTOA. “It’s even more encouraging that more than half of USTOA members — 56 percent — forecast growth of sales ranging from 7 to 10 percent or more in 2019, indicating a potential boom year.”
The report reflects a vibrant industry that is experiencing a major growth spurt. Total sales for 2018 is expected to reach $18.7 billion, representing 9.8 million travelers, both up substantially from 2017 ($17 billion and 9.2 million). On the jobs front, more than half of active members plan to increase staff in 2019, with one-third projecting as many as 11 to 25 new hires.
“If you overlook 2013, when companies were coming out of the great financial crisis, which was kind of a rebuilding year, this is one of the most optimistic responses related to employment that we’ve ever had,” said Charlie Ball, executive vice president of land operations and customer services for Holland America Group and a member of the USTOA executive committee.
When it comes to the perceived threats to global travel, the survey registered another first. While terrorism continued to take the top spot with 17 percent (a considerable drop from 2016, when it came in at 59 percent), tied for second was political instability and overtourism, marking the first time overtourism has appeared on the list of potential threats. Several USTOA members remarked on this change, suggesting that it supports calls for the tour industry to get more involved in the issue.
“This is not a competitive issue for our members,” Ball said. “We all have great networks in local communities and the first step is to show our willingness to listen to our contacts. We can often create a more sustainable situation and help resolve congestion issues because together there’s a lot we can do to mitigate things.”
When it comes to hot destinations for 2019, the survey had several perennial favorites along with a couple new entries. The top 10 list included: Italy, Iceland, Japan, Vietnam, Australia, France, Spain, Colombia, Cambodia and Portugal. Notably, Japan moved up from 14 on last year’s list, and Colombia, Cambodia and Portugal are new to the list. Another major change was that Cuba was not included on any of the survey results of top destinations, perhaps reflecting the ambiguous support of the destination on Capitol Hill.
“In the current administration, the talk about Cuba did a 180-degree turn from the previous government, and we believe that had a very immediate impact on demand,” said Elizabeth Crabill, CEO of CIE Tours International and a USTOA executive committee member. “But as an organization, we believe Cuba is a destination that should be open, so we continue to support and lobby for the opening of its borders.”
Other new and ongoing USTOA initiatives discussed at the conference included:- In 2018, the USTOA’s “Why We Travel” marketing initiative with USA Today delivered more than 41 million impressions, exceeding the organization’s expectations by 15 percent.
- Last year, the group’s first-ever live Digital Marketing Academy event sold out with more than 100 participants. The second one is scheduled for Jan. 23 in New York City.
- In 2019, the USTOA will partner with comedian Harrison Greenbaum to produce a series of humorous travel videos promoting association members and travel in general. Greenbaum was a finalist on the television show “America’s Got Talent.”
The 2019 annual conference will be held Dec. 2-6 in Orlando, Fla.
The DetailsUnited States Tour Operators Associationwww.ustoa.com