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Column: USTOA Talks Growth, Terrorist Attacks at ConferenceDecember 4, 2015 By: Ruthanne Terrero
The executive committee of the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) presented trends culled from a membership survey in Chicago recently, at a press briefing held during the group’s annual conference and marketplace.
The survey, taken prior to the Paris attacks, showed that its active member companies, who represent more than $13.5 billion in revenue, are incredibly upbeat about the future; nine out of 10 of the tour operators expect growth for 2016 and are, in fact, predicting a boom year. That’s all following a prosperous 2015, where 75 percent of the tour operators reported an increase in sales over 2014; 40 percent of them said sales were 10 percent or higher. They also enjoyed new business come their way, as nearly three quarters of them saw an increase in passengers in 2015. All of this is good news to travel agents, who continue to contribute significantly to the business of USTOA member companies; 87 percent of these members reported using travel agents to sell their product in 2015, and more than half of their bookings were made through agents. That number is expected to be maintained or even increase in 2016.
The effects of terrorism were candidly discussed at the press briefing, and while the newly appointed USTOA executive committee—comprised of USTOA President and CEO Terry Dale; Chairman Paula Twidale, executive vice president, Collette; Vice Chair Dana Santucci, vice president of development, EF Education First; Treasurer Harry Dalgaard, president and founder, Avanti Destinations; Secretary Charlie Ball, executive vice president, land operations & customer service, Holland America Group; and Immediate Past Chair Jerre Fuqua, president, TRAVCOA and YMT Vacations—didn’t try to predict how the most recent incidents would influence consumer travel patterns, they did indicate that any modifications to their own company itineraries would be made only after careful consideration.
“We’re not going to pull away from going anywhere unless there’s a very good reason to,” said Collette’s Twidale. “We’re in wait-and-see mode.” Dalgaard said Avanti did see cancellations for FIT Paris trips immediately after the terrorist incidents and that the company provided a liberal cancellation policy during that period. Overall, any cancellations for that city looking ahead “are very minimal” when compared to the large amount of business Avanti does in Paris, said Dalgaard, who noted that FIT travelers tend to be extremely resilient. He did add that in his 30 years in business, he’s never seen such support from Americans for France than during this current phase and wouldn’t be surprised if that translated in to future bookings. “That’s an early prediction,” he cautioned.
Jerre Fuqua summed it up best when he noted that USTOA members owe it to today’s travelers to continue to deliver experiences that will bring them home from a vacation changed in a most positive way. “We don’t want people to stop being adventurous,” he said.