Published on : Wednesday, December 21, 2016
In a recent survey conducted by PriceWaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC), tour operator members of the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) named Cuba the most popular or “hot” destination for travelers in 2017.
The top 10 “hot” destinations for the coming year included Italy, which ranked second, followed by Iceland, United Kingdom, Spain, Ireland, Australia, South Africa, China and Vietnam.
“It’s interesting to see Cuba grab that top spot for the first time on the hot destinations list as it also clinched the number one spot on the top emerging destinations list for 2017,” said Terry Dale, president and CEO of USTOA. “This only validates Cuba’s popularity and the growing demand among US travelers. Nearly a third of our members anticipate that the easing of US-Cuba sanctions will help increase their annual revenue.”
Among the top 10 off-the-beaten path or emerging destinations for 2017 named by tour operators are: Cuba, which ranked first for the second year in a row, Iceland ranked second, followed by Croatia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Myanmar, Iran, Africa (South Africa and Morocco), Cambodia and India.
The tour operator members of USTOA offer a variety of culturally immersive, experiential and themed programs for travelers. Family/multi-generational programs are offered by a majority (81%) of tour operator members, with three fourths (77%) of membership providing honeymoon/romance experiences. Around half of the Active Members offer the following categories: adventure (55%), art and culture (53%), culinary (49%) and safari/nature (49%).
Economic Impact and Growth Ahead
According to the study, the tour operator members of USTOA project to close out 2016 with sales reaching close to $15 billion, representing 8.6 million individual travelers. Dale added, “That projection is a nearly 4% increase in total packages sold in 2016 over 2015, showing remarkable resilience in a challenging year for travel.”
USTOA tour operator members cited further optimism for the year ahead with 82% anticipating growth in sales in 2017. The survey revealed that almost half (44%) of the members who anticipate an increase in sales next year forecast “optimistic” to “boom year” growth with sales ranging from seven to 10% or more.
USTOA tour operator members also addressed the global risks that could impact potential growth in the coming year, citing terrorism as the biggest threat with 85% “extremely concerned” to “very concerned.” Further risks identified by members as “extremely concerned” to “very concerned” were: political instability cited by 59%, and pandemics and other health crises cited by 56%.
In addition, tour operator members projected that 62% of total packages sold in 2016 were through travel agencies, “Reinforcing the significant contribution travel agents make overall to our members’ businesses,” Dale cited.
When asked who’s traveling, tour operator members responded that about half their customer base are 51 years of age and older. The next largest group was 36 to 50 years old representing 24%. Gender is split evenly (50/50) among male and female passengers. Two thirds of business booked was by US residents traveling internationally, with 20% by US customers traveling domestically.
The research was released at USTOA’s Annual Conference & Marketplace, held at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, AZ, December 6-9, 2016.