Cuba remains the most popular destination for travelers in 2017, followed by Italy, Iceland, United Kingdom, Spain, Ireland, Australia, South Africa, China and Vietnam. That’s the view of U.S. Tour Operator (USTOA) active members, according to a new survey released at USTOA’s annual conference and marketplace in Scottsdale, AZ, last week.
“It’s interesting to see Cuba grab that top spot from Italy on the hot destinations list for the coming year, as it also clinched number one on the top emerging destinations list for 2017,” said USTOA president and CEO Terry Dale. “This only validates Cuba’s popularity and the growing demand among U.S. travelers. Nearly a third (29%) of our members anticipate that the easing of U.S.-Cuba sanctions will help increase their annual revenue.”
USTOA active members also identified their Top 10 off-the-beaten path or emerging destinations gaining popularity for 2017. On that list, Cuba ranked first and Iceland was second, followed by Croatia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Myanmar, Iran, Africa (South Africa and Morocco), Cambodia and India.
Leading international destinations in 2015, according to USTOA tour operator members’ sales, were Mexico, Italy, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, United Kingdom, Aruba, Saint Lucia, Bahamas, Costa Rica and France. The top 10 U.S. destinations for 2015 based on sales were Hawaii, District of Columbia, Nevada, Florida, New York, California, Arizona, Colorado, Alaska and U.S. Virgin Islands.
USTOA tour operator members also were surveyed for the niche travel opportunities they deliver. Family/multi-generational programs are offered by the most active members (81%), while 77% of members provide honeymoon/romance experiences. About half of the active members offer adventure (55%), art and culture (53%), culinary (49%) and safari/nature (49%).
When asked about the customers who are traveling today, USTOA tour operator members said roughly half of their customer base is 51 years of age and older. The next largest group (24%) is 36 to 50 years old. Gender is split evenly (50/50) among male and female customers. Two thirds of business booked was by Americans traveling internationally, and 20% by Americans traveling domestically.
The results of USTOA’s active member survey, which took place before the U.S. presidential election, was echoed by active members attending this year’s conference.
Mary Stachnik, co-owner of Mayflower Tours, said business has actually been better since the election. “What’s booking for 2017 is Iceland and European river cruises,” she said. “But France is still slow, as is the rest of Europe. Also big for 2017 is business to America, including national parks tours, such as our new solar eclipse tours in Yellowstone and other parks in August.” Nevertheless, Stachnik said her company now has more international than domestic business right now.
Scott Nisbet, CEO of the Globus Family of Brands, echoed Stachnik, saying his company saw more bookings immediately following the presidential election “after the uncertainty” was over. He said Globus also has seen strength in North America for 2016 and 2017. He’s also seeing more bookings to South America and Asia. Europe, however, continues to be weak, except for countries on the periphery, such as Ireland, Poland and Iceland.
John Klados, vice president of sales and marketing of Homeric Tours, which specializes in Greece, said that country is coming back for 2017, though business to Turkey is still dead. But Homeric also has diversified to sell other destinations in Europe and even the Caribbean. “Croatia is getting more popular and Iceland is an emerging destination,” Klados said. “Cuba also is still doing well. And I thought Iran would emerge as a new destination but maybe not now.”
Scott Wiseman, president of wholesaler Travel Impressions, said his company’s top destinations in the Caribbean and Mexico are still going strong for 2017, with an influx of new five-star resorts now offering customers even more choice. But Wiseman also said Travel Impressions is looking to grow in 2017 in Peru, as well as other Latin and Central American countries, and even in Asia.