Interview By: Joanie Ogg CTC, MCC, Founder & Co-Owner -Travel Professional News
We had the opportunity to chat with our good friend Terry Dale, President and CEO of the USTOA to update travel professionals on tour operations and what USTOA members are looking forward to post-pandemic. Terry and I have been dear friends for many years and it was such a pleasure to interview him and hear his take on the current situation and future plans for USTOA members.
With COVID-19 appearing to be on the decline, where do you see the future of Tour Operations?
While short-term uncertainty remains, we are hearing from our tour operator members that the desire among consumers for international travel remains promising, especially looking ahead to 2021. Like with the aftermath of any global disruption or life-altering event, there will be changes to how people travel, and the way in which tours operate. At the forefront, we will see a renewed emphasis on the health and safety, along with much flexibility in order to continually adapt to the “new normal.”
Destination reopening and the restarting of operations seems to be in a continual state of limbo. Are your members sharing their perspective on their plans for a restart?
Our Active Members are taking a destination-by-destination approach to resume operations around the globe, with cautious optimism for an anticipated return to business in various regions this fall.
Which safety measures is USTOA advising for your members in the association?
USTOA is collaborating with the Canadian Association of Tour Operators and the European Tour Operators Association to issue a set of guidelines for our collective members. Because travel is a shared experience, they will include recommendations for staff, guests, and suppliers that meet current health and sanitization protocols set by the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control, as well as other governmental authorities. We anticipate releasing the guidelines in mid-June.
With Travel beginning to move again, what trends do you predict in the next 6 months?
Travelers will seek reassurances about safety and security. Planning a trip with a trusted tour operator or travel advisor will prove to be more important than ever in gaining a traveler’s peace of mind.
In the short term, domestic travel will be more accessible than bigger international trips. We are seeing some of our tour operator members launching new domestic programs and itineraries with a focus on America’s own backyard.
There will also be a stronger emphasis from destinations on natural assets like outdoor adventures, national parks, wildlife and wide-open spaces.
How does a Travel Professionals role in this “new normal” play a part in the success of Tour Operations?
Continued collaboration between tour operators and travel advisors will be critical in rebuilding consumer confidence. Addressing healthy, safety and the well-being of every guest has always been a top priority our tour operator members, but now it will take on a new level of importance amongst travelers. Advisors and operators will need to work hand and hand to advise on the newest guidelines and protocols, continue to leverage relationships, and provide the type of expertise that boosts confidence and gets consumers back in the travel space.
Do you see a possible increase and focus on smaller groups, as a result of COVID-19, in the future?
We do think there could be growth in smaller groups but that is an area that already has been growing in popularity. In last year’s tour operator member survey, small groups were named one of the top three travel trends projected to grow the most over the next five years.
In a recent survey of our tour operators, 79% of members plan to change their marketing messages. When asked how marketing messages may change, tour operators cited an emphasis on health and safety most frequently, followed by a focus on the advantages of small group/ship size.
What suggestions can you offer a Travel Professional looking to get their business back up and moving forward after this pandemic?
Continue to nurture relationships with both clients and industry partners. Relationships with tour operators, hotels and other suppliers will be crucial in ensuring clients are well cared for and any new health and safety guidelines are being met.
Thank you for your time my friend and for always being a supporter of the Travel Professional, before we conclude, is there anything you’d like to add?
As difficult as this pandemic has been on our industry, I truly believe that people will come out of this recognizing the importance and value of USTOA tour operators, who have weathered and assisted travelers through various epidemics, political uprisings and natural disasters.
I also believe there is an opportunity for destinations that were facing overcrowding, as well as the entire tourism industry as a whole, to look at the return of travel through a more sustainable tourism lens.