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Millennials headline USTOA

During a week when ice skates replaced golf shoes as the footwear of choice, more than 820 attendees from countries across the globe gathered in Scottsdale, Arizona, for the United States Tour Operators Association’s 2013 Annual Conference and Marketplace, held December 3-7.

At their opening session and a subsequent media briefing held December 5, USTOA president Terry Dale and his executive committee discussed several major initiatives for the organization moving into 2014.  Coming off a year in which most members experienced double digit growth, USTOA will be focused on creating original video content to promote its members’ travel products and will be turning its eyes to the millennial generation for long-range research.

“Everything we heard from our keynote speakers today — from Rob Torres with Google’s North American travel division and Digital Leader author Erik Qualman — points to video as the most engaging mass medium in today’s world,” said Dale.  “So we’re working with to create one to two-minute destination videos based on our members travel programs under the theme of ‘live like a local.’”

The videos will be provided to media outlets like USA Today and Huffington Post and will feature Kelley Ferro, a celebrity host.  In 2014, six USTOA member companies will host the video production team in destinations to be determined.

Dale and his executive committee have also agreed to learn as much as they can now about the millennial generation that is emerging as a major societal force of the future.

“Every one of our member tour companies will be impacted by the millennials who are coming into the travel marketplace,” said Dale.  “It’s just a matter of time before they dictate what kinds of products and experiences our members will have to offer.”

Millennials follow Generation X in social study terms, and by most standards are in their teens to early 30s.  Demographers assign them birth years of early 1980s to early 2000s.  Some researchers attribute a social awareness to this group that results in local and global engagement, while others describe them as self-absorbed.

To marketers, they represent the first generation to be influenced primarily by mobile devices and social media that give them access to instant information.  As travelers, they present challenges and opportunities for tour companies.  Gender may also play a part in influencing millennials.

“Who is the customer and what is she thinking?” said USTOA Chairman Jerre Fuqua CTC, president of TRAVCOA/YMT Vacations, in a later session.  “I use ‘she’ because women are driving these decisions in the millennial generation.”

“We’re not sure where this research will lead us,” said Dale afterward.  “All we know is that this is the next generation that will dramatically change how our members do business and we want to stay ahead of that curve.”

In related discussions, the organization reiterated its members’ use of travel agents as their primary sales force.  Almost 90 percent of the active membership sell through travel agents and more than half (56.8 percent) report that 70 percent of their bookings come through travel agents.

Last year was a strong year for USTOA members collectively.  Eight-nine percent reported saw their business increase over 2012 and almost two-thirds said their sales were up by 10 percent or more.

Mac Lacy

Mac Lacy is president and publisher of The Group Travel Leader Inc. Mac has been traveling and writing professionally ever since a two-month backpacking trip through Europe upon his graduation with a journalism degree from the University of Evansville in 1978.