USTOA Members Grow Emphasis on Sustainable, Responsible Travel

A survey conducted by the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) reveals that more than half (55 percent) of its tour operator active members have a formal, documented sustainability strategy, an important component to remain competitive in the ever-evolving industry that is cultivating more sustainable practices. More than a third (39 percent) of USTOA tour operators have an informal (not yet documented) strategy.   

“Sustainability and sustainable practices are key components to travel, and we—as tour operators—must make sure we are doing our part to respond to the world’s changing environment,” said Terry Dale, president and CEO of USTOA. “We’re proud of how our members have embraced change and will continue to support their efforts into the future as leaders in the travel and tourism industry.” 

He continued, “What is remarkable to see is the progress our members have made over the last year, as we compare these results to our PwC study conducted in 2022. Most notably, we’ve seen substantial growth in the number of companies that have established a formal policy or have begun their sustainability journey in some way.” Dale noted that the number of active members with no formal policy reduced from 14 percent to 6 percent compared to 2022. 

“Corporate values and culture” were named the most important reasons for adopting a sustainability strategy, followed by “responding positively to global issues,” and “public relations and brand."  

According to the survey results, announced at the 2023 USTOA Annual Conference and Marketplace, December 2-6 in Los Angeles, nine out of 10 (92 percent) of USTOA active members take into account a potential vendor’s approach to sustainability and social impact when making a decision. Further, one-third of USTOA tour operator members say sustainability is “important” or “very important” to their customers. Nearly half (49 percent) of USTOA members say sustainability is “somewhat important” to their customers.  

Roughly half (45 percent) of USTOA tour operators currently use sustainability messaging in consumer-facing marketing/sales materials, while more than one third (37 percent) plan to incorporate it in 2024-25, according to the survey. 

USTOA has been focused on sustainability and made significant commitments to support and educate its members. In 2023 alone, the organization hired its first global social impact manager, established a USTOA sustainability community and introduced a "USTOA Sustainability Policy" for all its active and associate members, designed to enhance member efforts to begin or continue their sustainability journey. Accompanying the "USTOA Sustainability Policy" is the "USTOA Responsible Travel Promise," a document for signature by active and associate members that states the company’s support of USTOA’s efforts and is designed to motivate action within their respective businesses to build sustainability plans that share USTOA’s ambition.   

“These steps are showing our commitment and efforts to responsible travel,” Dale added. “We look forward to working with members to increase awareness and activate sustainable practices for long-term responsible travel.” 

USTOA will continue to expand and enhance its focus on sustainable and responsible travel. In that regard, the association will host its third Sustainability is Responsibility Summit, or SIR 3.0, in Singapore from May 18-21, 2024.   

“Our first SIR summit in 2022 focused on the ‘why’ part of creating a sustainability business case, while the 2023 SIR summit, in collaboration with Tourism Cares, focused on the ‘how.’ The 2024 SIR summit will be focused on our members, as it seeks to address sustainability goals in our industry and establish tangible best practices to help USTOA members move forward in their own individual sustainability journeys,” Dale said.    

DEI Policies 

USTOA also asked members about their organization’s policies and internal employee-led networks, a common practice in corporations to address diversity and inclusion. The survey found that roughly three-fourths of members have policies related to race and ethnicity (76 percent), LGBTQ+ (76 percent), and gender (71 percent). Compared to a PwC survey conducted last year, policies for LGBTQ+ saw the highest growth, from 69 percent to 76 percent. Additionally, two-thirds of members have policies relating to age (69 percent), faith (67 percent), and seen or unseen disabilities (61 percent). 

Roughly one-third (35 percent) of USTOA member organizations have networks and/or groups dedicated to gender, race and ethnicity, and LGBTQ+.  Additionally, a quarter of members have networks and/or groups dedicated to age (20 percent), faith (24 percent), and seen or unseen disabilities (20 percent). All six of these categories saw growth in establishing networks and groups when compared to last year, anywhere from 2 percent to 8 percent.   

More than one-third (39 percent) of members are currently using DEI messaging in sales/marketing, while 18 percent plan to incorporate it in 2024-2025. 

This survey was conducted between October 5 and November 6, 2023, with a 94 percent participation rate. For more information on USTOA, visit

Related Stories

CLIA Announces the Promotion of Donnie Brown

Americans Headed to Beaches, Big Cities This Holiday Season

Travel Edge Network Launches New Training Program

Travelers Unfazed by Economic Pressures in 2024: Stats