USTOA Members Confident of a Hot New Year

If the annual survey of US Tour Operators Association (USTOA) members is a true bell weather of things to come for 2012, get ready for a very good year. Fully 75 percent of those members surveyed are confident about 2012, anticipating growth in sales, while more than 25 percent of those surveyed are forecasting a “boom year” with sales growing 10 percent or more, and even the most “cautiously optimistic” are looking at sales growth ranging from 4 to 6 percent.

To add credence to that survey, it’s clear the USTOA members are putting their money where their mouth is because half of those members surveyed increased staff in 2011 and one in 10 did so by 15 percent or more. Nearly all of the 43 percent of members who plan to increase staff in 2012 will do so by as much as 10 percent, while the rest of those members surveyed plan on increasing staff by as much as 15 percent in the coming year.

“This is a pretty conservative bunch of businesspeople,” says USTOA 2011 chairman John Stachnik, president and co-owner of Mayflower Tours. As a result, he adds, “the findings are somewhat staggering. The fact that our members actually increased staff in 2011—some in the double digits—and plan to do so again in 2012 is simply remarkable in the context of the current economic climate and speaks to the strength of the value of packaged tours to travelers.”

With all of the financial doom and gloom prognosis foisted on us by the mass media, not to mention the politicians, it was refreshing to hear from USTOA 2012 chairman John Hanratty, senior v.p. and chief marketing officer of Travel Impressions, Ltd., who reported that 64 percent of members surveyed saw an increase in passengers in 2011 vs 2010 and nearly half of those saw growth of 10 percent or higher in passengers. Even better for agents, the average daily rate—or the average price per passenger paid per day—also increased in 2011 over 2010, for 81.5 percent of its surveyed members. “And, even more encouraging,” continues Hanratty, “Nine out of 10 members surveyed anticipate ADR increasing in 2012.”

According to USTOA president Terry Dale, the hot trend to look for in 2012 is a continued emphasis on experiential travel—the “E-Factor,” as he calls it—because baby boomers 46 to 65 years of age comprised the largest age group of travelers seeking “E-Factor” vacations, which is also the largest market for USTOA members. The survey indicated that the region of the world with the most “E-Factor” options for travelers is Europe, followed by South America. Within Europe, Italy was named the most frequently as the destination offering the most experiential travel options, with food, wine and culinary tours, historical and educational opportunities, art and culture in general. France followed closely behind, for similar reasons.

Accordingly, more than half of the survey respondents plan to offer new experiential programs in 2012, with culinary tours topping the list, followed by culture, nature, adventure, photography and golf.

In the “off-the-beaten-path” or emerging destination category for 2012, Vietnam was cited most frequently, followed by India, Ecuador and China. But interestingly enough, more than half of the members surveyed anticipate increasing itineraries in 2012 to destinations recovering from events this past year that negatively impacted tourism. Egypt was named most frequently as the country operators plan to increase tours to, followed closely by Greece, Japan and New Zealand. In fact, nearly one third of respondents have already seen an increase in bookings to those destinations for 2012.