USTOA—The Future Seems Bright

written by | Posted on December 12th, 2012

Some fun with “Dancing Matt” during the opening session of the 2012 USTOA Conference & Marketplace, which was held in Hawaii last week.

With its first-ever comprehensive survey in its 40-year history, USTOA is looking to the future with a healthy dose of optimism. In fact, during last week’s media roundtable at the 2012 USTOA Annual Conference & Marketplace, held in Hawaii, Jerre Fuqua, president of TRAVCOA, said, “The future seems bright,” and the Active Members who participated in the survey—there was a 75 percent response rate—couldn’t agree more.

Eighty-eight percent of USTOA members, in fact, anticipate a growth in sales in 2013 over 2012. Of that majority, a quarter (26.7 percent) forecast a “boom year” with sales in excess of 10 percent, with another quarter (26.7 percent) optimistic about sales increasing 7 to 9 percent. In fact, when the members who took the survey responded to an open-ended question that asked them about the outlook over the next five years, members commented that they see “strong demand, aggressive growth,” and are “optimistic…U.S. economy stabilized, U.S. dollar stronger, enabling us to have a better and improved buying power.”

What does this all mean to you? Well, according to USTOA Active Members, travel agents represent nearly two-thirds (64.4 percent) of total packages sold in 2011, a number expected to hold steady in 2012. “Travel agents are clearly a very important piece of our members’ business model,” Terry Dale, president and CEO, USTOA, commented.

So where will you be sending your clients in 2013? Countries in Asia and Latin America are where the top action is going to take place, say active members. The number one “off-the-beaten-path” country they foresee becoming popular in 2013 is, no surprise here, Myanmar, followed by Vietnam, India, Peru, Cambodia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Costa Rica and Ecuador.

Regarding one of those trending destinations, Camilo Duque Medina, leisure tourism director with Proexport Colombia, said, “Our alliance with USTOA has greatly benefitted Colombia’s tour operators. Drawing upon USTOA’s strategic resources and strong network, our operators are continuing to bring ever greater numbers of tourists to Colombia.” In fact, during 2012, Colombia expanded promotion agreements with USTOA tour operators, increasing from one agreement at the start of the year to 12 today—a strong exhibit of growing interest in the country and the endless potential for collaboration and expansion.

Bird’s-eye view of Cartagena in Colombia

And experiential travel is, as you well know, what travelers are still longing for, whichever destination they decide to book. Gone are the days of taking in only the top tourism highlights. Today, travelers are interested in experiencing unique cultures and the distinct tastes of a destination. When asked to rank the experiential travel programs they currently offer, 71 percent of members cited “adventure” followed by “culinary” at 68 percent, “art” at 61 percent, “multigenerational travel” at 58 percent and “sport” at 42 percent.

According to Dale, they hope to conduct this member survey every two years, because as Paula Twidale, executive vice president of Collette Vacations, said during the media roundtable, this survey “allows us to visualize our footprint.” This will “touch,” added Dale, “everything we do.”

In Other News…
USTOA has launched a new website that includes a travel agent resources page where travel agent partners are able to search the Active Member directory and find educational tools and collateral. “This section,” said Terry Dale, “is a major enhancement for our travel agent partners and has been designed to expand as new training, educational opportunities and webinars are provided by members.” There’s even a travel glossary that covers some of the terminology most frequently used in travel brochures.

Also new is USTOA’s partnership with viral travel video sensation Matt Harding, whose channel, “Where the Hell is Matt” is the most watched travel channel on YouTube (click here to view). Harding will visit as-yet undisclosed locations with USTOA tour operator members around the world to capture and spread the joy and freedom of exploration he shares in each of his travel videos. USTOA’s video will launch in the spring on Harding’s website (wherethehellismatt.com) and YouTube channel as well as USTOA and its members’ websites and social media channels. USTOA will announce a dedicated travel agent component of the campaign and participating sponsors after the New Year.

Additionally, the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation, the official tourism organization for Nigeria, has joined USTOA as an Associate Member. This membership makes Nigeria the first and only West African country to be accepted into USTOA.

For more information, visit ustoa.com.