At the United States Tour Operators Association’s Annual Conference & Marketplace in Boca Raton, Florida, details of a biennial economic impact study conducted by PriceWaterhouseCoopers were shared with attendees. The study found that active members of the Association contributed $12.5 billion to the U.S. tour operator industry in 2013, representing more than 7.6 million individual travelers. Even better, the membership projects a healthy increase in sales in 2014 of 8.7 percent to $13.5 billion, with a 4.7 percent increase in individual travelers to nearly 8 million.
“Each of these vital statistics show robust growth since 2011,” Colin McIlheney, global research director with PriceWaterhouseCoopers, said during the conference. “Many are at all-time highs since the work began.”
“The research we’re doing is smart and right,” USTOA chairman Jerre Fuqua added. “What we see since the last study is how they see sales ending in the coming year. Almost everyone said it would be better next year.”
The numbers back that up: A full 95 percent of respondents anticipate a growth in sales in 2015. Of that majority, two thirds (62 percent) forecast “optimistic” to “boom year” growth with sales approaching 10 percent or more. A little less than a third (29 percent) remain cautiously optimistic that sales will increase 4-6 percent in 2015.
“Since PwC started monitoring the economic footprint of our tour operator members two years ago, USTOA has been able to use this data to build and strengthen the association’s role in advocacy for our membership as well as understand the full impact of the revenues and jobs generated,” Terry Dale, president and CEO of USTOA, said in a statement. “It’s vital to track these economic and travel trends to fully appreciate how USTOA’s active tour operator members impact the industry overall,” Dale continued.
On the jobs front, active members report employing 11,800 people within the U.S. Total wages paid by members in 2013 amounted to $843 million. In 2014, members project an increase of 4.7 percent, or 12,350 jobs, and an 8.9 percent increase in wages to $917 million. More than half respondents (57 percent) plan to increase staff in 2015.
“Travel agents continue to contribute significantly to our member’s businesses and remain an important piece of the sales chain,” Dale said, adding that active members reported travel agencies represented two-thirds (67 percent) of total packages sold in 2013.
Other statistics included:
- Active members were responsible for more than 16.3 million hotel room nights booked in 2013.
- Airline seats sold in 2013 were 4.55 million, with 4.7 million projected to sell in 2014 for an increase of 3.2 percent.
- Total travel packages sold number 3.7 million in 2013; in 2014, this is expected to grow 8 percent to 4 million travel packages.
- Purchases of goods and services for travel packages, including air, rail, cruise, ground transportation, accommodations, dining, and sightseeing/attractions, was $9.4 billion in 2013; with a projected increase of 5 percent to $9.9 billion in 2014.
When asked who’s traveling, members responded that about half of their customer base is Baby Boomers at least 50 years of age and older. The next largest age group was 36 to 50 years old, representing 26 percent of customers. Two thirds (66 percent) of business booked was by U.S. residents traveling to international destinations, with 21 percent by U.S. residents traveling domestically.
Top Destinations and Trends
When asked to name the top ten destinations for travelers in 2015, active members ranked Italy as number one, followed by United Kingdom, China, Peru, France, Mexico, Australia, South Africa, Brazil and Vietnam.
For the third year in a row, respondents named Myanmar the top “emerging” country they foresee becoming increasingly popular in 2015, followed by Cuba, Croatia, Iceland, India, Peru, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia and Panama.
“What’s really interesting about these results is that Cuba debuted at the very impressive position of second behind Myanmar,” added Dale. “This validates current and growing demand for travel to Cuba and further reinforces our positioning and support of an ‘Open Borders’ policy.”
“More operators can access Cuba, boosting its appeal,” Collette’s Paula Twidale said, adding that the uptick in travel to Croatia, Iceland and Cambodia mirror research done by the International Business Institute about interest in these destinations.”
Based on revenue of sales, USTOA tour operator members reported California, Hawaii, New York, Florida, Nevada, Arizona, Washington DC, Alaska, Puerto Rico and Texas remain the top 10 domestic destinations for 2014. The top ten international destinations for 2014 were Mexico, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, France, Italy United Kingdom, Aruba, Bahamas, Germany and Costa Rica.
Demand for experiential and culturally immersive travel remains high with members offering programs in a variety of categories. Nearly three fourths (71 percent) of USTOA membership provide travel and tour packages that offer art and culture, and family/multi-generational programs, with 64 percent offering culinary and more than half (57 percent) providing adventure focused packages. When asked to rank the programs based on sales, multi-generational/family, art and culture, and adventure rank consecutively the highest.
While USTOA members view the upcoming year optimistically, they cited potential threats to the positive outlook. Three-fourths (74 percent) of members named natural disasters, followed by pandemics and other health crises (67 percent), as the leading concerns that could impact their growth prospects in the next three years. The next potential threat was strength of the U.S. dollar, followed by global financial stability, terrorism and lastly, political instability.