At its annual conference earlier this month in Cancun, the U.S. Tour Operators Association (USTOA) released results from its informal polling of tour operator members about how certain destinations and markets have been selling in 2007. Among the survey findings:
1. For the fifth straight year, Italy was the most popular international destination for vacation packages and tours, with England coming in a distant second.
2. Eastern Europe—including Bulgaria and the Czech Republic—was ranked the hottest up-and-coming destination for tours and packages, followed closely by South America and Asia, respectively.
3. Croatia came in first as the hottest up-and-coming country, with China close behind.
4. Domestically, the western states were cited as the top area for tours and packages, with California slightly edging out Alaska and Nevada.
5. Nearly two out of three tour operators responding to the poll said that adventure travel is on the rise.
6. FITs—where a tour operator custom-designs a vacation package from separate components—scored a greater gain than pre-packaged independent travel or escorted tours, with more than 80% of respondents saying this category has grown in 2007 compared to 2006. Some 73% of respondents said they had experienced an increase in independent tours, while 60% reported year-over-year growth in escorted tours.
7. In a year when the U.S. dollar dropped in value versus the euro and pound, more than 50% of companies serving Europe and Great Britain said their European bookings have declined, some by as much as 20%.
8. More than half of the respondents said they expect 2008 bookings to Europe to be similarly affected.
9. About three in five tour operator respondents said they expect the weak dollar to be reflected in 2008 prices, which they predict would generally increase by 5–15%.
10. Far and away,Egypt placed first as best value for the dollar, with a three-way tie for second between Turkey, the U.S. and China.
11. Results were mixed when it comes to "slow travel"—stay-put vacations, or tours that spend more time in a destination. More than 50% of respondents cited year-over-year growth, but 36% reported no growth for this type of product.