The United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) released the findings from an annual survey of its tour operator active members at the 2022 USTOA Annual Conference and Marketplace, held in San Diego, Dec. 7-10. According to the survey, which was conducted in early November, 93% of members anticipate growth in sales in 2022. Two-thirds (65%) of those respondents are “optimistic” and forecasting a “boom year,” with growth anywhere from 7% to 10% and higher.
When asked about their company’s outlook on when the travel industry will see a full recovery of business, half (53%) say by end of 2023, and another 20% expect a full recovery at the end of 2022. Another 20% of respondents foresee a full recovery of business by the end of 2024.
“While this year’s survey reveals more confidence moving into 2022, our members are not blind to the challenges that lay ahead on the road to recovery,” said Terry Dale, president and CEO of USTOA. “We asked members to name the biggest challenge or obstacle to operating in 2022 and border closing confusion across countries/states topped the list, followed by customer confidence to travel.”
USTOA members report that 59% of existing bookings for 2022 are new bookings and 41% are rebooked passengers from cancelled trips in 2020 or 2021. Three-fourths (75%) of 2022 existing bookings are to international destinations,; the remaining quarter are to North American destinations.
A third (36%) of responding tour operators report that consumers are booking within four to six months of departure. A quarter (24%) say bookings are being made within seven to 12 months of departure, while another quarter (27%) report no discernible pattern.
Reinforcing the significant contribution travel advisors make to USTOA members’ businesses, 87% of responding members plan to utilize travel advisors to generate sales in 2022. Three-fourths (76%) of members report that travel advisors will play a very important or important role in their business, and 89% expect business booked by travel advisors to increase or stay the same in 2022.
Top Destinations for 2022 and Other Travel Trends
When asked about the top three international destinations travelers are booking for 2022, Europe continued to have a strong presence. Italy topped the list, followed by France and Greece tied for second, and Ireland ranked third.
On the home front, members report that travelers are gravitating toward locations with wide-open spaces — national parks were named the top domestic destination for 2022. Alaska followed in second, with Hawaii in third.
"This question is traditionally asked as a write-in response, and there was an overwhelming number of members who named national parks as the top choice, across multiple states,” Dale said.
Based on existing customer bookings, members chose small-group tours as the most popular travel product for 2022. FIT ranked second, followed by private groups, classic group tours (25+ passengers), river cruising and small-ship cruising. Ocean cruising (medium to large ship) rounded out the list.
Similar to last year’s annual survey, tour operators believe safety and wellness will have the strongest influence on consumers when choosing a travel destination in 2022. Border reopening/government travel restrictions will have the second strongest influence on travel destination decisions, followed by value, distance/ease of travel, travel alerts and outdoor components.
When USTOA asked members about trends that will have the most impact on travel over the next 10 years, sustainable or responsible travel topped the list. More than half (56%) of responding members have formal policies, procedures and metrics to measure social and/or environmental impacts of services. A quarter (22%) of our tour operator membership say sustainability is “important” to their customers while another two-thirds (62%) report it is “somewhat important.”
“Sustainability is a critical, global issue, and our members recognize how important responsible travel practices are to building a viable, long-lasting future for tourism,” Dale said. “In 2022, USTOA celebrates its 50th anniversary and this milestone represents an opportunity for our industry to look at everything we do through a sustainable tourism lens, especially as we look toward the next 50 years.”
United States Tour Operators Association