United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) active members are energized about 2019. They are extremely confident about business in the year ahead, with members saying they anticipate growth in sales. We learned this during the annual USTOA Conference & Marketplace, which took place last November in Phoenix.
In the biennial economic impact study, conducted by PriceWaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC), more than half of the active members, 56 percent, forecast growth of sales ranging from 7 to 10 percent or more this year. The survey also asked USTOA’s active members if they were concerned with any particular global risks, including terrorism, political instability, global financial instability, overtourism and strength of the dollar, among other risks that could possibly impact their growth prospects in the next three years. Seventeen percent said they were “extremely concerned” with terrorism—this is a considerable drop compared to the 2016 PwC study, when more than half of the members (59 percent) were “extremely concerned.” Meanwhile, 36 percent of members were “very concerned” with political instability. But, let’s focus on overtourism for a moment, as that was newly added to the potential threats list because it’s a growing concern, with 13 percent of respondents saying they are “extremely concerned,” and 21 percent saying they are “very concerned.” It’s something that USTOA is committed to addressing, with USTOA’s president and CEO Terry Dale, noting that the organization “needs to start the conversation.” USTOA executive committee member Scott Wiseman, president of Travel Impressions, noted that “most places are realizing the treasures they have,” and Elizabeth Crabill, CEO of CIE Tours International, added, “it’s about coming up with creative solutions.”
The study also focused on “hot” countries that are becoming increasingly popular for travelers in 2019. Italy took top honors, followed by Iceland (no surprise), Japan, Vietnam and Australia. New to the list are Colombia (#8); Cambodia (#9) and Portugal (#10). Interestingly enough, there’s quite a bit of overlapping in what members see as hot destinations and off-the-beaten path destinations, with Iceland coming in at #1 for off-the-beaten path, followed by Cambodia; Colombia, Vietnam and Portugal ate up the #4, #5 and #6 spots, respectively. And although clients are still requesting travel to Cuba, it did not show up on the list. USTOA executive committee member Paula Twidale, executive v.p. of Collette, noted that “mixed signals from the administration hurt it, although it should pick up again.” Other off-the-beaten path destinations you should keep on your radar to recommend to clients include Bhutan, Bolivia, Myanmar and Ethiopia, which took the #7-#10 spots, respectively.
When asked who’s traveling, tour operator members responded that about half of their customer base is 51 to 70 years old, with the next largest category ranging in age from 36 to 50. And what are they interested in doing when they travel? No surprise that experiential travel programs continue to remain high, with roughly 82 percent of USTOA members offering art and culture travel experiences.