WAIKOLOA VILLAGE, Hawaii - If it wasn't for the Aloha Spirt surrounding the recent 2012 United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) Annual Conference & Marketplace at the Hilton Waikoloa Village, you would have thought the conference was taking place in South America.
Just about everywhere you looked, the region's presence was felt from sponsored lunches to nightly receptions all showcasing the offerings of South America.
The Ecuador Ministry of Tourism hosted a lunch on the first day of the conference while PromPeru, Peru's tourism board, hosted a night cap that night. On the second day, Proexport Colombia hosted a special "Thought Leaders Session" in which the destination's diversity was put on display for association members. Lastly, Embratur, Brazil's tourism board, hosted a lunch on the final day of the show.
And the love is mutual. Just as South America had a major footprint in this years conference, USTOA members continue to rake in the profits selling the growingly-popular region.
Proexport Colombia has been an associate member of USTOA for the past five years. In 2007, only one USTOA active member offered Colombia. Currently, Colombia is present in the catalogs of over a dozen active USTOA members, including Adventures Incorporated, Gate 1 Travel, Latin America by Goway, Brendan Vacations, Goway.com and more.
Also, during a sit-down chat with Andrea Martinez, deputy director of tourism for PromPeru, Travel Agent learned that the USTOA went from about eight members selling the destination to its current 20 over a roughly three-year span.
"There is definitely a strong involvement in this show by South America, but that's because the USTOA's involvement in selling our destination continues to grow every year," she says.
And there are further numbers to back up Martinez's sentiments. During a media roundtable hosted by Terry Dale, USTOA's President and CEO, it was revealed that a recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that three South American destinations were among the top 10 destinations sold by USTOA members in 2012.
Peru was the South American destination sold the most by USTOA, finishing fourth overall on the list behind Myanma, Vitenam and India. Brazil was the second highest South American destination and sixth overall on the list. And Colombia was the third highest South American destination sold and eighth overall on the list.