Key takeaways from USTOA online tradeshow

In early December, we attended the United States Tour Operator Association’s (USTOA) online trade show, from which some notable themes and trends emerged. Keep these in mind as we begin to move through 2021. 

US operators are optimistic. 
According to the USTOA survey, 60 per cent expect to have tours running in Canada in April 2021 (50 per cent expect to have tours to Europe and 25 per cent to Mexico by then) and 92 per cent of the US operators have bookings for Q3 2021. Note that these numbers do not align with the US consumer sentiment that Google disseminates to us. Survey respondents may be riding a wave of optimism caused by recent vaccine updates and there’s a general tendency of the US trade partners to be more confident and optimistic than other international markets. 

Direct flights are growing in importance.  
Flight is seen as the biggest hurdle (five out of the top six reasons travellers are reluctant to travel are related to flights). 

More are mixing business travel with leisure. 
With remote work more common practice than ever, there is an appetite to stay and work from attractive locations after a business trip. 

There is a growing interest in single-destination/single-country itineraries. 
Growing interest in single-destination/single-country itineraries versus multi-destination/multi-country itineraries – travellers are looking at minimizing logistics and transfers and maximizing time spent in one destination. 

Interest in cities/nightlife/events will return in the long-term. 
While travellers are looking for wide open spaces and quiet areas away from people in the short-term, people are social and miss the social aspect of travel, which will eventually lead to big rebound in city experiences, concerts, nightlife, festivals and events; when it’s safe to do so. 

There is a growing interest in solo travel. 

Sustainability and social responsibility are seeing increased focus. 
Tour operators looking to work with suppliers that are owned and operated locally and independently, by minorities, women, indigenous people. 

Some operators are seeing a slowdown of bookings following vaccine news. 
Some US operators report a slowdown of bookings following the vaccine news – travellers previously willing to travel with restrictions (masks, physical distancing) are now postponing their trips and waiting for the vaccine and presumed ability to travel in a more convenient and care-free way. 

Off-season travel is growing interest. 
This is another way to ‘physical distance’ and avoid potential crowds. 

A shift towards digital marketing channels is occurring. 
Operators traditionally targeting demographics consuming mostly paper media are learning that those travellers are becoming more tech savvy and turning to digital and social media. 

There is more focus on independent travellers and small groups.  
Operators still selling traditional coach tours are planning to run two buses with 20-25 passengers each parallel, instead of one full coach of 40-45 people.