Tour operators express confidence at USTOA conference

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According to a survey of USTOA members, 90% said they were anticipating strong growth in the coming year.
According to a survey of USTOA members, 90% said they were anticipating strong growth in the coming year. Photo Credit: Michelle Baran

CHICAGO — Despite an air of uncertainty about how much last month’s terror attacks in Paris will ultimately impact the tour business, operators attending the annual U.S. Tour Operators Association (USTOA) conference here were confident about the health and resilience of travel.

“Today, we’re in a very sensitive, emotionally charged environment, where this country, along with a lot of other countries, is dealing with the challenging topic of how to deal with security,” USTOA President Terry Dale said during his opening session speech.

Security challenges aside, there are indicators that business is healthy as it heads into 2016.

In USTOA’s annual member survey, to which 75% of active tour operator members responded, more than 75% reported that business was up this year, and a third said they had a boom year.

Additionally, 90% said they were anticipating strong growth in the coming year, with 50% expecting a boom year and 40% expecting growth in the single digits.

And as far as Paris is concerned, “We’re certainly not seeing a collapse [of bookings] at all,” said Travel Bound President James Phillips. “Business has held up.”

Travel Bound, which had about 1,500 guests in Paris at the time of the attacks, experienced only a modest dip in business since then, according to Phillips.

In the face of an uncertain global challenge in the wake of the attacks, Dale emphasized the crucial role that tour operators can play.

“We are one of just a very few industries that have the potential to make a difference,” Dale said. “As we take customers around the world … we instill hope. As more people get out and travel, I believe, the safer and more secure we will be as a country.”

With the theme of the opening session being “Open Borders — Opens Hope,” the larger message appeared to be that travel industry has the opportunity to create greater connectivity and understanding in today’s complex world.

“We need your industry more than anything else right now,” said keynote speaker Doc Hendley, founder of Wine to Water, an organization that is working to provide clean-water solutions to underprivileged communities around the world. After an emotional personal testimonial of loss and perseverance, Hendley called on the travel industry to continue on its path of bridging cultures and communities.

“Your industry has the opportunity to break down barriers,” he said.

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