New USTOA member surveys reveal continued plans for recovery and resumption of business

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NEW YORK — The United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) released new findings from surveys of its Tour Operator Active Members and destination management Associate Members about post-COVID 19 plans for 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 Active Member survey, nearly two thirds (64%) of responding tour operators have seen an increase in bookings in the last 30 days.  Roughly a quarter (29%) have seen no change in bookings during this timeframe, with the remaining 7% reporting a decrease in bookings. 

As a follow-up, USTOA asked when new passengers are booked to travel, based solely on bookings made in the last 30-60 days. Active Members reported the following:

  • Roughly 41% of respondents report that they have new passenger bookings scheduled for travel in the fourth quarter of 2020, while 15% have bookings made for the third quarter of 2020.
  • Three fourths (76%) of Active Members are reporting new travel bookings for the second quarter of 2021. 
  • Half (51%) report new bookings being made for Q1 2021 travel and two thirds (63%) say they have received bookings for Q3 or Q4 of 2021 travel. 
  • Roughly 12% of members report new passenger bookings for 2022. 
  • Nearly three fourths (71%) of current Active Member traveler bookings are to international destinations, the remaining 29% of traveler bookings are to North America (US, Canada, and Mexico). According to Terry Dale, USTOA president and CEO, “This reveals a slight increase in demand for North America product compared to the survey USTOA conducted in May, which reported North America travel bookings representing 20% of business.”  

Destination Update

According to a destination management Associate Member survey, one third (32%) of DMO respondents say it is “too early to determine” or “unknown” when their destination anticipates opening tourism to North American travelers. Roughly 17% anticipate a July 2020 opening for North America tourism, while another 17% of respondents expect to reopen in September 2020; 9% project a January 2021 opening to North America.  

At the same time, USTOA Active Members continue to take a destination-by-destination approach to resuming operations around.  “While our last survey showed cautious optimism for a fall return in a handful of regions, we’re now seeing fall having the strongest possibility for the US, Canada and Europe, while early 2021 shows promise for many of the long-haul international destinations,” Dale cited.

When asked when they anticipate restarting operations in destinations around the world, the results are as follows:

  • Africa: More than a quarter (29%) of tour operators foresee restarting operations in the first quarter of 2021, while slightly less than a quarter (21%) anticipate returning to the region in September 2020. Active Members also showed new optimism for a November 2020 return to business, with the response jumping to 18%, compared to 7% reported in the May survey.     
  • Antarctica: Roughly one third (31%) of respondents with itineraries to Antarctica anticipate resuming operations in the first quarter of 2021.  A quarter (26%) said they plan to return between November and December 2020; showing a significant change from the May Active Member survey where 54% said they had anticipated returning within that same timeframe.   
  • Asia: The most selected response for a potential restart of operations in the region was the first quarter of 2021, chosen by 31%. 
  • Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands: More than half (53%) of tour operators with programs to this region anticipate resuming operations in the first quarter of 2021, showing an increase of almost 10% from the May Active Member survey. 
  • Canada:  A third (36%) of Active Members see September 2020 as a potential return to operations in Canada.  Respondents also showed new optimism for an October 2020 return to business, with the response jumping to 12%, compared to 0% reported in the May survey.
  • Central America:  The most selected response for a potential operations restart in the region was the first quarter of 2021 at 33%.
  • Europe:  Half (50%) of respondents anticipate resuming operations in Europe between September and October 2020 remaining consistent with the last survey. Responses for an August 2020 return jumped 5% from the May survey with 14% of Active Members anticipating a return in late summer. 
  • Mexico: 20% of tour operator respondents with programs to the destination anticipate returning in the first quarter of 2021, showing a 12% increase from the May research report. Fewer Active Members (7%) are showing optimism for a September 2020 return, a slight decrease from the 17% cited in the survey conducted in May.
  • South America: 30% of tour operators with programs to countries in South America anticipate resuming operations in the first quarter of 2021, showing an 11% increase compared to the survey response in May. Another third (37%) anticipate resuming operations between September and October 2020. 
  • United States: Half (52%) of respondents anticipate domestic operations restarting between September and October 2020.  Respondents also showed new optimism for an October 2020 return to business, with the response jumping to 15%, compared to 0% reported in the May survey. Now only 15% foresee a July 2020 start, compared to the May survey results were roughly a quarter (26%) of members had forecasted July 2020 as a potential opening.  

Type of Tour Products: Smaller Groups and FIT

When asked about potential destination group size limitations when tourism reopens to North American travelers, more than half (55%) of USTOA DMO Associate Members selected “other” primarily noting “too early to be determined.”  Roughly 19% responded that group size limitations may be up to 10 people maximum, while 13% noted potential group size limitations of up to 15 people maximum and 9% selected up to 20 people. The remaining 4% responded that group size limitations could be set at up to five people. 

According to the same DMO Associate Member survey, nearly all (94%) responding DMOs expect FIT product to come back sooner and stronger compared to other tour product as their destination begins to reopen for tourism. Three fourths (74%) of destinations believe small groups will come back sooner and stronger than other tour product.  “Small group messaging is something our Active Members have expressed as a main focus for marketing efforts moving forward,” Dale added. 

Almost all (99%) DMO respondents see some level of opportunity for integrating sustainability practices or initiatives into recovery plans. Roughly 11% of those respondents indicated that sustainability practices/initiatives will the central focus of their recovery plan, while more than a quarter (28%) believe there is an opportunity to intergrate sustainability to a great extent.  

When it comes to health and safety practices, an overwelming 94% of DMOs say they will use their own governments health and hygiene protocal. Nearly half (43%) reported that they will rely on UNWTO/WHO guidelines, while 15% noted that other health organizations guidelines will be utilized. 

The Active Member survey was completed on June 9, with a 63% response rate of Active Member brands.  The destination management survey was completed on May 29, with a 28% response rate of DMO Associate Members.

For more information on USTOA, visit www.ustoa.com