Onsite: USTOA Predicts "Year of the Tour Operator"

CANCUN--With 750 people in attendance, the United States Tour Operators Association held its biggest conference yet, where buzz centered on a thriving tourism industry, especially in Europe, prompting Nikos Tsakanikos, USTOA chairman and president of Homeric Tours, to predict 2008 as the Year of the Tour Operator. Despite the weak dollar, "Americans are still traveling and going to Europe," Tsakanikos said during his welcome address. "The industry remains strong and international travel is holding its own, especially destinations that offer good value for the dollar."

USTOA research identified one of those destinations as Egypt, which so far this year has hosted a record-breaking 10 million tourists from all markets. Italy remains the most popular international destination for vacation packages and tours, while Eastern Europe, including countries like Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, emerged as the hottest up-and-coming area for tours and packages, with South America and Asia not far behind.

Several factors prompted Tsakanikos' optimism. "With a weak dollar, Americans will increasingly think about the savings, convenience and the economic power of buying packages and tours," he said. "That will be very good for our industry."

Tsakanikos also took loyalty into consideration, as another USTOA survey revealed that 50 percent of people prefer repeating favorite destinations. "That represents good news for those of us selling Europe," he said. "Even though the euro is strong, Americans are still crossing the Atlantic. We may not see the kind of growth to which we have become accustomed to in the last couple of years, but we believe the market will continue."

In other USTOA news, the 35-year-old organization has established a new marketing committee, headed by John Hanratty of American Express Travel Impressions. The group will meet in early 2008 to discuss how USTOA can be more proactive in promoting the value of a packaged vacation to consumers. (JM)