The United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) released new findings from surveys of its tour operator Active Members about current passenger booking trends, post-pandemic recovery, and resumption of business. The surveys are a key part of USTOA’s ongoing efforts to support and inform its membership and the industry throughout the coronavirus crisis.
According to the survey, eight out 10 USTOA Active Members are “enthusiastic” to “cautiously optimistic” for a complete resumption of business by the end of 2021: half (49%) are “cautiously optimistic;” 24% are “optimistic,” and roughly 7% are “enthusiastic.” At smaller percentage, 11%, are “not optimistic,” and 9% are feeling “negative.”
Terry Dale, USTOA president and CEO added, “Optimism for recovery even as early as 2021 recovery is high, which is a positive sign for our members and the industry, especially as this survey was conducted just prior to the recent news of a potential return to Europe and US cruising by summer. While our members remain vigilant, given the fluidity of the situation, we suspect this enthusiasm to only strengthen as more progress is made with re-opening strategies.”
Dale continued, “Right now, 56% of our Active Members are currently operating. And reports of customer feedback have been extremely positive, reinforcing the peace of mind our members offer travelers. Tour operators take the guesswork out of travel planning, which will prove to be invaluable as we navigate this tricky and evolving phase of post-pandemic travel.”
Two thirds (64%) of currently operating Active Members reported that customers shared only positive feedback regarding the wellness protocols and reported no negative impact on the overall travel experience. The remaining third (36%) said only a small number of customers reported that the wellness protocols put in place hindered the experience in some way. Of those currently operating, 65% of the operated itineraries were international and 35% were domestic.
Demand for US Grows
More than three fourths (80%) of Active Members that sell US programs have seen an increase in domestic bookings in 2021, while 17% responded no increase in domestic bookings. The remaining 3% reported US destination passenger bookings remain the same. At the time of the survey, two thirds (67%) of USTOA tour operator members sell US destination tours/packaged travel itineraries.
Nearly half (43%) of respondents with US programs have added new itineraries/tours for 2021 and 17% added additional departures dates on current tours/itineraries in 2021. Another 17% added both new itineraries and added departures dates for the US in 2021. The remaining 23% did not add new itineraries or additional departures in the US this year.
About two thirds (69%) of current USTOA Active Member 2021 bookings are international, the remaining third (31%) are domestic. According to Dale, “It is with little surprise that our members are seeing an increased demand for US travel based on what we knew of international border re-openings at the time of the survey. With more news of planned re-openings from Europe and other international locations, it’s likely we will see this percentage shift again as we get further into 2021.”
When looking ahead to 2022 passenger bookings, 83% are international, while 17% of booked business is to domestic locations.
Passenger Booking Patterns
An overwhelming 96% of responding tour operators have seen an increase in new bookings in the last 60 days. The remaining 4% said bookings remained flat with no change in either direction.
As a follow-up, USTOA asked when are the most passengers booked to travel, based solely on new bookings made in the last 60 days. Active Members reported the following:
- Almost half (44%) of responding Active Members report that Q3 and Q4 of 2021 have the most passengers booked to travel.
- A third (36%) said that most new passengers are booked between Q1 and Q2 of 2022.
- Another 11% named Q3 and Q4 2022 as having the most passengers booked to travel.
- The remaining 9% said Q2 2021 has the most passenger bookings.
Based on new bookings made in the last 60 days, survey respondents named cancellation/refund policy as the most frequently asked question from guests. Likelihood of travel departure was the second most frequently asked question followed by: health protocols, changes/limitations of itinerary, health/COVID insurance policies, size of group and will the trip still be fun.
When asked if booking patterns changed since pre-pandemic, 84% of tour operators said yes. A third (34%) of the respondents that said consumers are booking within one to three months of departure, while another third (39%) reported consumers booking within seven to 12 months of departure. Roughly 13% said consumers are booking within four to six months of departure and 11% said consumers are booking more than a year in advance. Only 3% of members reported that consumers are booking less than a month from departure.
USTOA asked what are the top three international destinations that travelers are booking for 2021 (based solely on bookings made this year) and Italy topped the ranking. Ireland and the United Kingdom tied for second, followed by Costa Rica, Egypt, Iceland, and Mexico tied for third. Italy was also named the top international destination that travelers are booking for 2022. Germany came in second, followed by France, Greece, and Ireland tied in third.
When asked what are the top three domestic destinations that travelers are booking for 2021, based on new reservations made in 2021 only, Alaska ranked first. Arizona and Utah tied in second with Florida and Wyoming tied for third. Alaska was also named the top domestic destination that travelers are booking for the year ahead (2022) with Florida and Utah tied for second. Hawaii made the list in third.
The Active Member survey was completed on April 19, with a 78% response rate of Active Member brands.
Representing nearly $19 billion in revenue, the member companies of U.S. Tour Operators Association provide tours, packages and custom arrangements that allow 9.8 million travelers annually unparalleled access, insider knowledge, peace-of-mind, value and freedom to enjoy destinations and experiences across the entire globe. Each member company has met the travel industry’s highest standards, including participation in the USTOA’s Travelers Assistance Program, which protects consumer payments up to $1 million if the company goes out of business. As a voice for the tour operator industry for more than 40 years, USTOA also provides education and assistance for consumers and travel agents.