Travel agents who want to expand tour and vacation sales— and clients unsure of where they want to go, what they want to do, or the type of travel they want— will find guidance at the U.S. Tour Operators Association's (USTOA) newly revamped website (www.ustoa.com or www.ustoa.travel ), which provides a one-stop database on the association's 150 brands, searchable by destination, activity or type of travel.
Highlighting the search capability is a new interactive world map with 380 destinations, from Abu Dhabi to Zihuatanejo. The map allows users to click on a destination and view a list of USTOA member companies serving that area. Two other drop-down windows provide searches by activity, special interest or attraction— from adventure to winter sports or archeology to wineries— or by traveler or vacation type, from student to senior travel, and from beach vacations to safaris. Each menu selection provides links to the corresponding company's websites.
"Since USTOA's members must meet the travel industry's strictest requirements for financial stability and integrity, agents are guaranteed a high standard of quality," said USTOA President Bob Whitley. "That takes the guesswork out of knowing whether a company is reliable, which is especially important in this Internet age, when anyone can put up a web site."
Travel agents who want to verify whether a company is a USTOA Active Member can key in the company's name, bringing up a descriptive page with the company's details, its destinations and programs, as well as a link to the company website. Or a complete list of USTOA members along with their contact information can also be downloaded.
A Destination Spotlight section profiles a specific country or area, which links to the country's tourist Mini Travel Guide page. TravelWise and Smart Travel Planning sections provide timely tips, travel-related quizzes, and useful information, such as how to shop for a tour or vacation package, Travel Agents: Your Best Bet, and a Travel Glossary. An About USTOA section features the organization's history, member listings, mission and goals, recent activities, and contact information.
Of special interest to travel agents is the website's Travel Trade Room. Here agents can download USTOA's Travel Agent's Kit, with brochures such as, "What is USTOA?," "How to Select a Tour or Vacation Package," "The Standard for Confident Travel," and "A Traveler's Glossary." Agents can also play two public service announcements as well as download the scripts and podcasts for their own use.
USTOA member companies have met the travel industry's highest standards, including participation in the association's Traveler Assistance Program, which among other things helps protect consumer payments up to $1 million in case the company goes out of business. USTOA is the premier association of companies providing vacation packages, tours, and custom travel itineraries for more than 11 million people yearly.