USTOA Members Relax Booking Policies, See Increase in FIT Travel and Staycations

Members Relaxing Booking Policies, Promoting Deals 

How are top tour operators dealing with the downturn? By offering value-added deals, promotional pricing and even flexible payment plans. That’s the pulse of the membership of the U.S Tour Operators Association.

A recent survey drew responses from 50 brands, representing 80 percent of USTOA’s corporate members. The poll showed that 36 percent of the respondents said that they are offering special deals and discounts; some (less than 15 percent), said they will promote early booking discounts, while others said they will extend the window during which travelers can book at discounted rates. Tour operators are also trying to encourage wary consumers to travel by providing rebooking assistance, which makes it easier to change travel plans or dates; they are also using less stringent cancellation policies.

Staycation, FIT Travel Increases 

If you thought the concept of the “staycation” was merely a public relations ploy, think again. The USTOA has revealed that 70 percent of respondents to a recent poll showed that domestic travel increased by 25 percent in 2008. Nearly 50 percent said domestic year-over-year packaged travel in general was up by 25 percent, while one-third saw no change. Twenty percent saw declines of under 15 percent.

The survey results were based on responses from 50 brands, representing 80 percent of USTOA’s corporate members.

The results of the poll were revealed at the association’s annual meeting, which is taking place in Palm Springs, CA this week.

Other results of the poll? One-quarter predicted they’d see gains of 10 percent to 15 percent in 2009; that upbeat note is tempered, however, by the more than 70 percent who said that packaged travel will either remain constant or decrease by an average of 18 percent in 2009.

Travel abroad, hampered by the dismal economic situation and the low dollar exchange rate, has brought down the number of international bookings by 10 percent to 15 percent. Eighty percent of the respondents expect to see another 10 percent decline in 2009.

Pricing will remain unchanged in 2009 for a full third of the respondents; however, 40 percent said pricing would increase, but only by under 10 percent.

Interestingly, FIT travel is on the rise; half of the respondents saw a nearly 15 percent growth in that area.

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