WAIKOLOA, Hawaii — The first truly comprehensive survey of members of the U.S. Tour Operators Association (USTOA), released at the group’s annual conference and marketplace here, revealed that members represent $11 billion in annual sales and are optimistic about growth heading into 2013.

The USTOA invested $59,000 in the survey in an attempt to get a better grasp of the size, scope and market clout of the tour operator community.

The survey, conducted by PriceWaterhouseCoopers during the fall, drew responses from 75% of active USTOA members.

The USTOA has surveyed its members in the past but has never asked detailed questions about revenue and passenger counts to get a complete picture of the economic impact of the sector.

Participating tour operators reported total sales of $10.3 billion in 2011 and indicated that they expect that number to increase 7.5% in 2012, to $11 billion. They also reported handling 6.1 million passengers in 2011, which they expect will increase 5.6% in 2012, to 6.5 million.

Summing up the survey’s results and tour operators’ view of business heading into 2013, USTOA Vice Chairman Jerre Fuqua, president of Travcoa, said, “The future seems bright.”

The USTOA is hoping the survey and its results will help illuminate the significance of tour operators when lobbying on their behalf. The organization plans to conduct this version of the expanded survey every two years.

“Over the last few years, we’ve really focused on advocacy to influence legislation,” John Hanratty, Travel Impressions CEO and USTOA chairman, said during a media roundtable at the USTOA conference, held here at the Hilton Waikoloa Village from Dec. 6 to 8.

The survey also found that 88% of members anticipate sales growth in 2013. Of those, 27% forecasted that sales will grow more than 10%, and another 27% said they expected sales to grow between 7% and 9%. Thirty-seven percent predicted their sales will increase between 4% and 6%.

Active USTOA members reported that 65% of their packages were sold through travel agents in 2011, a percentage that is expected to hold steady in 2012.

When asked to rank possible risks to their business in the next three years, 82% cited global financial instability as the biggest risk factor, followed by political instability (62%) and terrorism (56%). The strength of the U.S. dollar and natural disasters were each cited by 35% of respondents, with pandemics and other health-related issues showing up at the bottom of the list.

At the annual conference, the USTOA also announced the launch of the association’s new website, which features an enhanced member search tool for consumers and travel agents called “Find Your Dream Vacation.”

The tool enables browsers to search for tours and travel packages by activity, destination or tour operator, or by entering a search term.

It also features a new Travel Agent Resources page, which will provide travel sellers with access to educational training tools and webinars.

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