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Earlier this month, the U.S. Tour Operators Association (USTOA) held its 40th Annual Conference on the Big Island of Hawaii. The event brought dozens of tour operators together with hundreds of other participants from companies that run the gamut of the travel industry.
One of the milestones of the conference was the unveiling of the results of the first-ever USTOA member survey, conducted by PriceWaterhouseCoopers.
Among the survey findings was that USTOA tour operator members contributed $10.3 billion to the U.S economy, accounting for more than 10,000 jobs. The survey also found that members expect a healthy increase in sales of 7.5 percent in 2012, and 88 percent of members expect an increase in sales over that mark in 2013. Furthermore, 71 percent of members expect to increase staff in 2013.
“As USTOA increases its advocacy role within the industry and in the nation’s capital, it is critical that we truly understand the economic footprint of our active members,” said Terry Dale, president and CEO of USTOA. “This vital information on sales, jobs, the impact of our hotel and airline partners, the role of travel agents and the forecast for the future points an accurate picture of how integral our members are to the health of the industry overall and strengthens our voice to all stakeholders.”
Another highlight of the conference was the announcement of a marketing partnership with Internet sensation Matt Harding.
Over the past few years, Harding has released several videos on You Tube of himself dancing with locals in countries throughout the world. These videos have gone viral, making him one of the most famous travel personalities in the world, with more search hits than any other travel brand.
According to the marketing agreement, Harding will travel to locations around the world in 2013 with the assistance of USTOA members as he shoots footage for a video to be released in the spring. In addition, the USTOA will announce a dedicated travel agent component of the project early in 2013.
“As USTOA continues to evolve and grow consumer awareness of the benefits of traveling with a tour operator, our board of directors and executive committee challenged us to ‘go big’ this coming year,” said Dale. “We’ve found the perfect partner in viral video star Matt Harding who embodies the core message of our members: the joy of travel, the delight of discovery and freedom to explore.”
Finally, USTOA also announced the creation of a new USTOA website, with special features just for travel agents.
The website features enhanced search tools for consumers and travel agents, called Find Your Dream Vacation,” vibrant destination photography, a dedicated travel agent page and a freshly designed member room.
“The new website is a major step toward USTOA’s mission to grown awareness among consumers and our travel agent partners as it clearly communicates who we are as an association, offering a fresh, simplified user experience,” said Dale.
Next year’s USTOA conference will take place in Scottsdale, Ariz.