Cuba, Asia Top Travel Trends and Headlines From the USTOA Conference

USTOA's 2016 Executive Committee
USTOA's 2016 Executive Committee

Cuba taking the lead as one of the top travel destinations for 2016 and new product offerings in Asia from Avanti Destinations led off this year's Annual Conference & Marketplace from the United States Tour Operators Association. The event is taking place December 3 - 5 at the Hyatt Regency Chicago

According to the USTOA's annual travel trend and forecast survey, which debuted at the conference, nine out of ten USTOA tour operator members are anticipating sales growth for 2016. More than half of members (57%) are "optimistic" and forecasting a "boom year," with expected growth ranging from seven to 10 percent or more. 

Three quarters of USTOA members reported an increase in sales for 2015 compared to 2014, with forty percent experiencing growth of 10 percent or more. Passenger numbers were on the rise as well, with 70 percent of USTOA members reporting passenger increases for 2015, and 60 percent seeing passenger increases of between four and nine percent. 36 percent saw passenger growth of 10 percent or higher. 

The survey also spotlighted the importance of travel agents to USTOA members. 87 percent of respondents reported using travel agents to sell product in 2015, and 55 percent of 2015 USTOA member bookings were made through a travel agency. For 2016, 91 percent of members expected travel agent business to stay the same or increase. 

Top Destinations and Trends for 2016

Cuba was cited as the top "emerging" and "off-the-beaten-path" destination set to gain popularity in 206, followed by Myanmar, Iceland, Colombia, and Ethiopia and Japan, which were tied for fifth.  

Italy was named the most popular international destination for travelers in 2016 for the fourth year in a row, followed by the UK, China, France and South Africa (tied for third); Peru and India. In the U.S., New York and California tied for the top spot, with Arizona and Hawaii tied for second Nevada coming in third, and Florida and Washington, DC, tied for fourth. Alaska rounded out the list at spot number five. 

USTOA members named art and culture, honeymoon and romance and family as the most popular travel categories for 2016. 

In terms of passenger statistics, Baby Boomers (defined by the USTOA as 51 years old or older) represented 55 percent of the USTOA member customer base, with the next largest age group, ranging from 35 to 50 years old, representing 23 percent of passengers. 53 percent of USTOA members saw solo passenger numbers rise in 2015. 

Booking windows for international travel ranged between six and 12 months in advance for 55 percent of USTOA members, with 56 percent reporting a booking window of less than six months for domestic travel. 

For 2016, USTOA members cited terrorism as the biggest threat to U.S. traveler confidence, followed by global financial instability and political instability. 

Photo by Avanti Destinations

New Asia Tours From Avanti Destinations

The conference also saw FIT tour operator Avanti Destinations announce its first expansion into Asia: 22 customizable, independent travel itineraries and over 30 city stay packages in China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.  

Avanti's Asia vacations, which will be sold exclusively through travel agents, include local private guides throughout the trip, as well as the chance to select from a range of hotels, including Conrad, Marriott, Peninsula, Rosewood, Shangri-La, Sofitel and others.

There are nine suggested itineraries in China, three in Japan, Thailand and Vietnam, and two in Cambodia and Laos. Two itineraries combine multiple destinations in Southeast Asia. Travel agents can combine city stay modules and add-on activities for custom travel packages. 

As a travel agent incentive, Avanti is offering a $100 bonus for each Asia booking of seven hotel nights or more made through February 29, 2016. 


USTA Announces 2016 Executive Committee and Board of Directors

This year's event also saw the announcement of USTOA's 2016 Board of Directors and Executive Committee

Paula Twidale, EVP, Collette, was named the first woman chair of the Executive Comittee. She will be joined by Dana Santucci, vice president of development, EF Education First, as vice chair; Harry Dalgaard, president and founder, Avanti Destinations, as treasurer; Charlie Ball, executive vice president, land operations & customer service, Holland America Group, as secretary; and Jerre Fuqua, president, TRAVCOA and YMT Vacations, as immediate past chair.  

The additional members of USTOA's 2016 Board of Directors are:

  • Bob Drumm, president, Alexander + Roberts  
  • Dan Mahar, CEO, Tauck 
  • Olle Olsson, executive chairman, Explorica, Inc. 
  • Peter Schaefer, general counsel, The Mark Travel Corporation & Affiliated Companies 
  • Linda Springmann, vice president - Alaska marketing, Holland America Line 
  • Scott Wiseman, president of Cox & Kings, The Americas
  • Roger Mahil, chairman & CEO, SITA World Tours 
  • Scott Nisbet, president & CEO, Globus Family of Brands 
  • Bruce Hodge, president, Goway Travel
  • Madhvi Buch, CEO, Destination America*

*Indicates a newly elected member