In a major effect to build consumer and travel agent awareness of the integrity and value of member tour operators, the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) has announced a new multi-dimensional campaign, according to Terry Dale, USTOA president.
The USTOA campaign includes an aggressive legislative relations program, networking conferences, a new sweepstakes promotion and a refining of the USTOA brand, including distinctions between USTOA's 45 Active members and USTOA's 700 Associate members. USTOA members now represent more than 150 brands, Dale said in an interview.
Dale said the USTOA - now celebrating its 40th anniversary - enjoyed strong support from its members who represent a majority of tour and packaged vacation companies. "We want to expand our partnership with travel agents who are critical to our members marketing - accounting for an 80 percent of sales."
At the same time, Dale, who joined USTOA last year after a highly successful career at the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), seeks to build a stronger, more proactive relationship between Active and Associate members.
One of Dale's first steps was the creation of a Congressional Caucus which held its first meeting in Washington, D.C. earlier this year.
"The importance of Congressional deliberations and the policies of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) have grown to be major influence on travel and tour operators," Dale said, calling 2012 a year of engagement.
"The DOT has the power to impose costly regularity burdens on tour operators in the midst of a fragile economic recovery,” Dale said, underscoring the USTOA's advocacy role.
Another major step was the May launch of the USTOA's Sweepstakes with $40,000 in travel prizes. Dale noted that in a four week period the responses have grown from 500 'like's' to 6,500 - a 900 percent increase. He also reports a one week score on Facebook of 250,000 unique visitors. "This is a testimony of the importance of social media and the strong appeals of USTOA members products," Dale said.
Another innovation was the development of new logos for Active and Associate members and a new corporate logo using the stance line "Integrity in Travel." USTOA's Dale said the goal was to draw a needed distinction between the Active tour operator members protected by the $1 million USTOA protection plan and Associate members who are USTOA members but are not covered by the USTOA protection plan.
Ahead is the 2012 USTOA Annual Conference & Marketplace, which will take place December 6-8, 2012, at the Hilton Waikoloa Village in Big Island, Hawaii and other initiatives that will increase top of mind awareness among consumers and agents of the value of USTOA and its members. This includes an overhaul of the USTOA's website, Dale notes.
Dale reports the effort to expand the partnerships and networking between Active and Associate member has achieved results with two recent conferences in New York and Los Angeles attended by over 200 members.
"Clearly the tour and packaged vacation industry has completely reinvented itself in the past 40 years, offering travel agents and their clients high integrity, high value products. We are listening and responding to our agency partners, and represent a crucially important and growing source of agent revenues," Dale said.