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USTOA Says Americans Like to Make Their Own Travel Plans

August 12, 2008 By: George Dooley

In a recent consumer poll, more than 75 percent of Americans said they like to make their travel arrangements themselves, according to new research by the U.S. Tour Operators Association (USTOA).

Only 10 percent said they mostly buy independent tours (an itinerary you can do on your own), and 5 percent said they buy vacation packages (separate elements bundled together). Yet the USTOA has found that travelers save an average 20–30 percent when buying the same arrangements in a vacation package or tour rather than on their own.

“The survey points out that clearly there are tremendous prejudices and misconceptions to overcome about packaged travel versus independent travel,” said Bob Whitley, USTOA president. Whitley points out that many people don’t realize they can buy the same independent arrangements directly from a tour operator or through a travel agent, and save money.

“As travel agents know, when it comes to tours, people think it means being herded together in a large group and on the go all the time," Whitley said. "However, this is not the case. Tours today run the gamut. You may be with a small group of people on a walking tour of Croatia or the Rocky Mountains. You can take a culinary tour or a river cruise tour in Europe. Even many standard motorcoach tours today provide plenty of free time for people to do activities on their own, like shopping, more sightseeing, or just relaxing. Travel agents can play an important role in educating their clients about the diversity of tours and packages.”

According to the survey, Baby Boomers were the most likely to choose packaged travel, with 30 percent of that age group saying they enjoyed independent touring. This echoes findings of a 2006 USTOA consumer survey, which found that 70 percent of those aged 55-64 were likely to buy a tour or vacation package because of the savings.

The survey also found that attaining a higher level of education is associated with an increased preference for independent touring. 13 percent with a college education selected independent touring, the survey reported.

Whitley cites one couple in their mid-70s who went on a heli-hiking tour in the Canadian Rockies. Their lodge was accessible only by helicopter. On the same tour, a woman in her mid-50s found a new circle of friends, crediting the small group size for making it easy to know everyone.

“Vacation packages provide all the elements for an independent traveler to do it all on their own, while an independent tour provides the framework of a pre-confirmed itinerary without the restraints of a group,” explains Whitley.

TNS Global conducted the telephone survey for USTOA in late May. USTOA’s 150-member companies send more than 11 million people on vacation annually to all corners of the globe.

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