The U.S. Tour Operators Association (USTOA) released the findings of its annual survey of active tour operator members this month and see a positive and growing outlook for travel in the year ahead.
Nine in 10 of tour operator members anticipate a growth in sales in 2016 with more than half of members (57%) “optimistic” and forecasting a “boom year” with growth anywhere from seven to 10% or higher.
In 2015, three quarters of members responding to the survey reported an increase in sales over 2014, 40 percent of which cited an increase of 10% or higher.
More than two thirds (70%) of members saw an increase in passengers in 2015; 60% saw numbers grow between four and nine percent, while 36% of indicated growth of 10% or higher.
More than a third (39%) of the operators surveyed attributed growth to an improved economy and higher consumer confidence, and some 57% note an optimism about continued growth in sales in the coming year. Nearly half those surveyed said they plan to increase staff.
Travel agents continue to contribute significantly to USTOA members’ business: 87% percent of responding members said travel agents helped them to sell product in 2015. Adding that more than half (55%) of USTOA member bookings in 2015 were made through a travel agency. Looking ahead, 91% of members anticipate business booked through travel agents to maintain the same or increase in 2016.
Tours and Destinations in Demand
When asked which “emerging” and “off-the-beaten path” destinations will gain popularity in 2016, members cited Cuba, followed by Myanmar, Iceland, Colombia, and Ethiopia and Japan (tied for fifth). Abut 34 percent of USTOA members currently offer programs to Cuba, and of that number, more than half plan to increase offerings within the next few years.
Italy, for the fourth consecutive year in a row, topped the list as most popular international destination for travelers in 2016, followed by the United Kingdom; China, France and South Africa (tied for third); Peru and India. For U.S. destinations, USTOA members mark New York and California as top picks, Arizona and Hawaii compete second tier, Nevada, Florida, Washington DC, and Alaska round out the rest most popular U.S. destinations for clients in 2016.
Participating tour operator members also named art and culture, honeymoon and romance, and family as the most popular travel categories for passengers.
Who’s Traveling These Days?
When asked who’s traveling, members responded that a little more than half (55%) of their customer base are baby boomers at 51 years of age and older. The next largest age group was 35 to 50 years old, representing about a quarter (23%) of customers. Roughly half (53%) of members saw a growth in the number of solo passengers in 2015.
On average, 55% of members report that consumers and travel agents are booking international travel packages between six to 12 months in advance. For domestic travel, more than half (56%) of members cited that consumers and travel agents are booking less than six months prior.
What’s Stopping Travel Plans?
While USTOA members view 2016 with optimism, they cited terrorism as the biggest threat to US traveler confidence in 2016. The second potential threat named was global financial instability, followed by political instability.