On Site: USTOA Conference Talks New Research, Government Regulations

As the 2014 United States Tour Operators Association Annual Conference and Marketplace kicked off at the Boca Raton Resort and Club in Florida, President Terry Dale offered a quick snapshot of the year’s accomplishments: 

This year, USTOA worked with graduate students from Cornell University’s SC Johnson Graduate School of Management to launch a consumer insights project for its membership, the first step of a multi-year “Innovation Lab” to “help members create relevant products and experiences.” 

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The Association also completed its second PricewaterhouseCooper Economic Impact Study and hosted its third Congressional caucus, giving members a chance to learn about government issues that affect the travel industry and meet with elected officials on Capitol Hill. “It’s not the most pleasant thing to walk the halls of Congress, but we have to do it,” Dale said 

Dale also noted some initiatives that are still in the works: The JOLT Act, which would facilitate international travel to the United States, is a “priority” for the Association, he said, as is a reduction on travel-related taxes. “The industry feels like it has a target on its back,” he said, noting that thanks to extra taxes and fees that affect only hotels or airports, travel becomes more expensive that it appears for an initial quote.  

Brand USA, meanwhile, still does not have funding secured for next year. “That must be passed,” he said. The USTOA is strengthening ties with the Department of Transportation to make sure that all regulation that affects the industry does so in a positive way. 

And the USTOA is also working to strengthen the Open Borders policy with Cuba, which Dale acknowledged still has a long way to go. Still, he noted, more tour operators have improved their person-to-person licensing, but as an industry, there is still much work yet to be done. “Opening Cuba to travel is a priority,” he said.

By the Numbers

Chairman Jerre Fuqua also offered some strong numbers for the Association, which added three new active members last year (Austin Adventures, Down Under Answers and Perillo Tours) and 91 associated members that represent 25 countries.  

Perhaps most notably, Fuqua said that USTOA's members have generated $13.5 billion in business, up 8 percent over last year and up 32 percent over 2011. A full 8 million travelers used members' services, up 5 percent over last year and up 29 percent over 2011. "These are solid indicators of solid, sustained performance," he said. 

Looking ahead, Fuqua said that 95 percent of USTOA's members anticipate further sales growth for 2015. A full 66 percent of these expect 7 to 10 percent growth, which could lead to a boom year. 

Of course, he acknowledged, many elements that affect travel are outside of the Association's control...but if the members are resilient, he added, "we can survive together." 

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