This year’s USTOA Conference and Marketplace, held at the Boca Raton Resort in Florida, included some elements that could be considered “experimental,” including a think tank of Millennial travelers at the opening session and a general session comprised of seven eight-minute “TED” Talks, which were affectionately referred to as Terry Talks during the show. The Terry in question is USTOA president Terry Dale, who sat down with Travel Agent after the general session to talk about the Talks, the Millennials and the overall forecast for the industry.
“I have long wanted to do that, and I just finally said to myself, ‘Well then, when are you going to do it? Do it now!’” he said, adding quickly that he “could not be happier” with how the talks developed and how they resonated with the attendees. Bringing seven speakers together for one general session presented challenges in terms of scheduling and availability, of course, and Dale acknowledged that he was not certain, going in, that the program would work out as well as it did.
“I think anybody can sit through eight minutes, no matter how painful it is,” he quipped, noting that the wide variety of speakers could cover an equally wide variety of interests--but all of the lessons could apply to the travel industry.
“It's also, in this day and age, that our attention spans get less and less, and so I just think the format was crisp. It kept it moving. It built momentum...I was so proud of them,” he said. “I just felt like they delivered.”
How Millennials Will Travel
When the young travelers spoke at the opening session, one young woman mentioned that she did not use tour operators for her vacations--a somewhat surprising comment, given her audience. But Dale was unfazed by her candor or travel preference.
“I'm still very positive about [the future of escorted travel],” he said. “The baby boomers are still our bread and butter, and it's an attractive mode of travel experience for them.”
Escorted travel may not grow like the FIT market, he acknowledged, but given the numbers from the PWC survey, the market is still improving.
“I think it's solid and it will continue to be an important part of our mix of offerings,” he said. “Having been on a tour and really seeing the value of it both from a financial perspective, from a convenience perspective and from an access perspective, I think the biggest hurdle is getting people to try it for the first time. Then once they do, the light bulbs comes off or goes on, and it's like, 'You know what? I'll do it again.’”
Adding more free time to escorted tours may be the way to get more younger travelers onboard, he continued.
“I think more and more consumers want to feel as if they've customized it; they put their fingerprint on it in some way,” he said. “They can't do that if it's a completely A-to-Z structured itinerary. I think building in that flexible time and yet still providing options for that window of time saying, 'We can create this for you,' whether it's a private cooking class or a behind-the-scenes museum tour, or you can do your own thing, but I think that's clearly a trend that we'll continue to see.”
Some travelers, especially the younger generation, may picture what Dale calls “bus prisons” when they think of escorted tours, he acknowledged. “That's why when I talk about the diversity of our experiences, [we call it] packaged travel. I think that, that maybe, certainly for the Millennials, the better way to message and market that it's a package travel experience.”