In an annual survey of travel forecasts and trends, the tour operator members of the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) report a very positive outlook for the industry in the year ahead. Ninety-five percent of USTOA tour operator members anticipate growth in sales for the year ending in 2018, while 64 percent are “optimistic” and forecasting a “boom year,” meaning growth anywhere from seven to 10 percent or higher.
According to the survey, 84 percent of responding members reported an increase in sales for 2017; just over half (53 percent) cited an increase of 10 percent or higher. A third (35 percent) attributed sales growth to an improving economy and consumer confidence, while almost another third (31 percent) attributed the increased sales to better and improved marketing. Exactly four fifths (80 percent) of membership cited a growth in the number of passengers for 2017, with 46 percent reporting passenger growth 10 percent or higher.
“The reported growth and positive projections for the year ahead are particularly encouraging,” Terry Dale, president and CEO for USTOA, said. “It speaks soundly to the remarkable resilience of both our industry as well as today’s traveler, who continues to explore, despite the challenges of an ever-changing world.”
While USTOA tour operator members were overwhelmingly positive, they also addressed the global issues that could have a negative bearing for 2018. Among them, terrorism was cited as the biggest threat to consumer confidence, followed by political then global financial instability.
Over half (56 percent) of surveyed members increased staff in 2017; two thirds (69 percent) forecast increasing staff levels in 2018, and a third (31 percent) plan to maintain their current staff.
The travel agent community had a large effect on the overall growth of USTOA tour operator business with 84 percent of responding members reporting the use of travel agents. Adding that, more than half (53 percent) of USTOA Active Member bookings in 2017 were through a travel agency. For the year ahead, 90 percent of members anticipate business booked through travel agents to remain the same or increase in 2018.
Top Travel Trends
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Iceland was named top emerging or “off-the-beaten-path” destination for 2018, moving to the top spot from second in last year’s member survey. Colombia followed in second, with Vietnam named as third.
When asked for the five most popular or “hot” international destinations for travelers in 2018, tour operator members named Australia, Spain, Iceland and Italy (tied for third), France and Japan. On the domestic front, USTOA members forecast California, Florida and Hawaii (tied for second), New York, Alaska and Nevada (tied for fourth) and Washington, D.C. as the most popular U.S. destinations for clients in 2018.
Members were also asked to name the destinations/sites most “at risk” from disappearing (from over-tourism, climate change or other factors) that travelers should see now. The top three chosen were Antarctica, Cuba and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
Arts and culture, adventure, family, and culinary were cited as the most popular travel categories for passengers by survey participants.
Who is Traveling?
More than half (57 percent) of members’ customer base are Baby Boomers (51 years of age and older). The next largest age group is 35 to 50 years old, representing about a quarter (22 percent) of customers. In addition, 28 percent said families represented anywhere from 10 to 25 percent of their annual passengers. Almost half (46 percent) reported a growth in solo travelers in 2017 over 2016.
Research from the new member survey was revealed at USTOA’s Annual Conference & Marketplace at the Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood, FL.
The 2018 Executive Committee and Board of Directors
The USTOA also announced its 2018 Executive Committee and Board of Directors, five of whom serve as the associations’ Executive Committee.
Heading the Executive Committee as newly appointed chairman will be Dana Santucci, vice president of development at EF Education First. She will be joined by Harry Dalgaard, president, Avanti Destinations, as vice chair; Charlie Ball, executive vice president, Princess Cruises & Tours, as treasurer; Scott Wiseman, president, Travel Impressions, as secretary; and Paula Twidale, executive vice president, Collette, as immediate past chair.
Additionally, three new members round out USTOA’s 2018 Board of Directors, who include:
- Bob Drumm, president, Alexander + Roberts
- Dan Mahar, CEO, Tauck
- Elizabeth Crabill, CEO, CIE Tours International
- Ian Swain,* owner and president, Swain Destinations
- Kirk Demeter,* president and owner, Down Under Answers
- Madhvi Buch, CEO, Destination America (The Travel Corporation)
- Nish Patel,* president, Mayflower Tours
- Olle Olsson, senior vice president, WorldStrides Explorica
- Peter Schaefer, general counsel, Mark Travel Corp & Affiliated Companies
- Scott Nisbet, CEO, Globus Family of Brands
(*Indicates newly elected.)