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Group markets expanding

Carylann Assante, Executive Director, Student and Youth Travel Association (SYTA)
Terry Dale, PRESIDENT AND CEO, United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA)
Peter Pantuso, President and CEO, American Bus Association (ABA)
Lisa Simon, President, NTA

By all accounts, an economic recovery is finally underway. How do you see this affecting your association, your members’ business and travel buyers’ decisions?

Dale: We started 2013 with a forecast where 88 percent of our members were forecasting an increase in revenue and sales for this year. Now that we’re midway through 2013, it appears that everyone feels confident that it’s going to be stronger than they even expected. I think we’re going to see a double-digit growth for a lot of our members.

The signs on Wall Street and consumer confidence and housing are all stronger.  All of those give consumers the confidence that now is the time to travel, and they’re acting on it.

Pantuso: When we’re talking to our members, they’re telling us that their business is up. The buses are rolling, and the tour operators seem pleased with the number of people on the tours.

Travel buyers are buying a year and two years out, so my guess is that if they’re looking at the next couple of years, a good percentage of what they’re going to do is going to be based on the successes they’re having right now. The operators are happy. A lot of them are back to pre-2007 and 2008 levels. The trend line is definitely moving in the right direction.

Simon: Last year was definitely better than 2011. We had 60 percent of tour operators and 64 percent of suppliers see greater sales volume in 2012 over 2011. In forecasting 2013, we had 60 percent of operators and 71 percent of suppliers predict that 2013 would exceed 2012.

We’re seeing more resilience in special-interest markets. That’s what we’re really trying to focus our education on for members. We were surprised when we started our faith-based initiative to find that 40 percent of our operators were already selling faith-based products. That number has grown in the past couple of years. We’re also seeing a huge rise in food travel — 61 percent of our operators said that they expect to increase the amount of business they conduct surrounding food-and-drink tourism.

Assante: We’re an educational, student-travel industry, so ours is driven by travel with a purpose. Specific to economic recovery, much of it for our vendors and supplier members is an increase in inbound international student travel — student groups coming from Brazil, India and China, and increased [numbers of] students from Australia and New Zealand. These are emerging markets on a steady growth.

In domestic student groups, we’re seeing more of a return to our students traveling again. Students are fundraising across the high schools and middle schools again.