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On its 50th anniversary, USTOA and its Active Members are looking to the future through a positive lens. The momentum is palpable, the commitment is strong and the travel forecast is bright.

To mark this very special anniversary, USTOA made a “50 Years Forward” commitment to advocate for and proactively guide travelers, members and industry colleagues on a path toward greater sustainability and responsible practices. In fact, this past year USTOA launched a comic book whose superhero, Sustainable Suzie, fights for responsible travel around the world. Additionally, in its USTOA 2022 Economic Impact Study 61 percent of members—there was a 92 percent participation rate for this year’s study—said that itinerary planning to support local communities is a top priority for the next 12 months, as is aligning sustainability goals with supply chain and partner. For 53 percent of those who participated in the study, reducing/offsetting carbon emissions is a priority in the coming year.

In fact, according to the study, more than half of USTOA Active Members have a formal, documented sustainability strategy, and roughly three-quarters of tour operator members stated that their “corporate values and culture” (77 percent) and “responding positively to global crises” (71 percent) were the main factors driving adoption of sustainability strategy.

Terry Dale, USTOA CEO and President

As Terry Dale, USTOA president & CEO, noted during the press conference that took place at the 2022 USTOA Annual Conference & Marketplace in Austin, TX, “as we approached our 50th  anniversary, the executive committee made a decision that we want to celebrate the foundation that we inherited over 50 years, but we really wanted it to be forward looking, so that’s why we went with the phrase, ‘ 50 Years Forward.’” In that vein, the association held a campaign, “50 Trees for 50 Years,” planting trees for each of the corporate members. Said Dale, “It was just a symbolic way to capture our commitment to sustainability and present it here at the conference.”

Looking ahead to 2023, Dale announced that USTOA is actively hiring a Global Social Impact Manager to support the development and implementation of USTOA’s corporate social responsibility and DEI. The position is projected to start in January 2023. In addition, USTOA is creating a sustainability community, a member-based, peer-led sustainability committee in collaboration with Tourism Cares.

Scott Wiseman, Chairman of USTOA’s executive committee

Speaking of looking forward, the 2022 Economic Impact Study provided some very interesting key statistics when you compare 2022 to 2019. For instance, the economic impact of travel packages sold for 2022 was $15,941,673,000; that’s down only 13.4 percent when compared to 2019. “That’s 87 percent of pre-pandemic levels,” noted ALGV’s Scott Wiseman, chairman of USTOA’s executive committee. “This is really impressive, considering the impact of Omicron in the beginning of the year,” added Wiseman. “The industry continues to recover.”

A couple of additional key stats is that there were 6,065,000 travelers (booked for the USTOA member tour packages) in 2022 vs. 7,629,700 in 2019—that’s only a 20.5 percent difference. And while in 2019, 59 percent of member packages were sold through travel advisors, in 2022, it was 58.4 percent—only a .6 percent difference.

For 2023, 55 percent of Active Members “anticipate a significant growth in sales (more than 10 percent)” as well as a “significant growth in passengers.”

“We’re very happy to share that the majority of members are very positive, and even enthusiastic of the prospect of next year,” said CIE Tours’ Elizabeth Crabill, who serves on USTOA’s executive committee.

USTOA Active Members Address Global Risks

While the Active Members of USTOA view the upcoming year with optimism, they also addressed the global risks that could impact the industry over the next three years. Increases in the cost of living was ranked highest with two-thirds (67 percent) of members “very to extremely concerned.” Moving down one spot on the list from the 2021 trend survey, half (49 percent) of tour operator members are “very to extremely concerned” about pandemics and other health crises. Dale added, “This shows that members are not fully passed the worry and challenges brought on by COVID.”

Widespread staffing shortage ranked in third with 59 percent of members “very to extremely” concerned, followed by global financial instability and war in Europe.

When it comes to top destinations, no surprise that Italy was named the top “hot” destination, followed by a newbie to the list, Greece. Also new are UK, Egypt, Jordan, Maldives and Ireland.

Interestingly, Iceland, Egypt and Jordan were in both the “Hot Destinations” and “Off-the-Beaten-Path Countries” lists. Iceland and Jordan were both new to the ‘off-the-beaten-path list,” as were Norway, Antarctica, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and South Africa.

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