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USTOA Forecast for 2019

Written by  Douglas Cooke

USTOA’s 40th Annual Conference & Marketplace was held at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge in Phoenix AZ, November 26-30, 2018. Representing 55 companies and over 165 brands, USTOA has its finger on the pulse of the travel industry. Their annual conference, in addition to being a great networking opportunity, is also a great time to learn what the coming year holds for the industry. Below are some highlights from an annual survey of its tour operator members.

According to the study, active members of USTOA contributed $17 billion to the U.S tour operator industry in 2017, serving 9.2 million individual travelers. Furthermore, member operators are extremely confident about business in the year ahead: 100% of responding tour operator members anticipate growth in sales in 2019. “Since the first PwC study was commissioned in 2012, it’s the first time we have seen such a bullish response with our entire membership projecting growth ahead,” said Terry Dale, President and CEO of USTOA. “It’s even more encouraging that more than half of all members (56%) forecast growth of sales ranging from seven to 10% or more in 2019, indicating a potential boom year.” Dale also reinforced the critical role of travel agents in the continued success of members’ businesses: Active Members reported that travel agencies represented roughly two-thirds (64%) of total packages sold in 2017.

Where Your Clients Want to Go in 2019
Italy was named the most popular destination for travelers in 2019. The top 10 “hot” destinations for next year also included Iceland, followed by Japan, Vietnam, Australia, France, Spain, Colombia, Cambodia and Portugal.
Active members identified their top 10 off-the-beaten path or emerging destinations that they see gaining popularity in 2019: Iceland ranked first, Cambodia ranked second, followed by Croatia, Colombia, Vietnam, Portugal, Bhutan, Bolivia, Myanmar, and Ethiopia.
 “It’s interesting to see so many European destinations top the list this year,” said Dale. “This validates the strong interest in Europe among consumers, driven by both more product and more demand including the growing river cruise market.”
Demand for experiential travel programs continues to remain high. Roughly 82% of members offer art and culture travel experiences. The art and culture category is also the highest ranked experiential program for travelers in 2017, based on volume of sales.
Two-thirds of membership offer honeymoon and romance programs, 63% of members offer adventure programs, and more than half (56%) offer multi-generational family programs.

Traveler Profile
Interestingly, when asked who is traveling, tour operator members responded that about half (48%) of their customer base is 51 to 70 years of age. The next largest category was aged 36 to 50 years, representing 20% of customers. Despite the growing trend to focus on Millennial travelers, Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers still represent two-thirds of USTOA’s tour members’ clients. While Millennials may be the future for travel sellers, Boomers and GenX age clients are your best target market, especially for tour and river cruise products. For more information on USTOA, visit, call 212-599-6599, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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