By Jim Smith, CTIE, Senior Consultant – Travel Industry Distribution 

Perhaps one of the most commonly overlooked business opportunities that is off the radar of many marketers is a segment that represents 20% of the US population. It is, by all accounts, the fastest growing global demographic. Surprisingly, it is not the millennial market although they do, indeed, hold rich potential.

Over 63 million Americans live each day with some form of chronic disability. Additional tens of millions, while not disabled, have special needs; some acute, others chronic.

In a Fortune Magazine survey, over 24 million Americans with disabilities indicated that they would travel or travel more frequently if only their needs were met. The market holds tremendous potential for forward-thinking travel providers.

Their market spend on travel exceeds 12 billion dollars, with over 32 million vacations taken annually. Not surprisingly, 85% are taken with others.

Disability impacts 1 in 5 American households, providing no household member has yet attained the age of 65. When one household member turns 65, the incidence of household disability jumps to 1 in 4.

For travel to be memorable for all the right reasons it needs to be comfortable, enjoyable and accessible. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990, was enacted to protect the civil rights of Americans with Disabilities.

In the past quarter-century we have seen physical modifications to facilitate access vis-a-vis ramps to public buildings. Curb cutouts enable wheelchairs, scooters, etc. to accomplish tasks as simple as crossing a street. Grab bars are now resplendent from public restrooms to hotel accommodations. Accessible parking spaces, poolside/motor coach lifts and braille embedded signage are a direct result of this milestone initiative.

For almost a decade, Special Needs Group has been committed to “Delivering an Accessible World.” As the leading global provider of mobility, oxygen (and much more), 2015 saw SNG serve over 200 cities in 35 countries, worldwide.

Knowledge is Power. On Veterans Day, 2011, SNG introduced its “Certified Accessible Travel Advocate®” online training initiative. This 3-module, 65-minute program includes a brief test at the conclusion of each module. Successful completion of the series is required to earn the designation.

Over 2,500 travel professionals earned this designation in 4 years. We would like to extend an invitation to USTOA members to avail their organizations access to the program and are delighted to conduct “Certification Jump-Start” webinars for all USTOA members.

Founded as “Special Needs at Sea,” serving the cruise segment, a rebranding to communicate our expanded global footprint and ability to serve land-based vacationers was undertaken in 2011. From Las Vegas to Orlando, Spain to Greece, the Yucatan to the Dominican Republic (and many destinations in between), we are poised to assist USTOA members and their stakeholders at every turn.

Special Needs Group is located at 302 NW 3rd Ave, Dania Beach, FL 33004, USA Toll Free 1-800-513-4515. USTOA members, please contact Tensi Westreicher, Director, Sales and Marketing at extension 1014 to schedule Certification Jump-Start Webinars or for additional information. 

*Note: unless otherwise noted, all statistics were extracted from the 2005 US Census.

By Terry Dale, President and CEO, USTOA

This August marks 100 years since Woodrow Wilson signed the United States National Park Service into existence and festivities are already underway in many of the parks to honor this momentous milestone.  USTOA tour operator members have long treasured these conserved areas of natural beauty and history and to help celebrate are featuring new National Parks-focused itineraries, special offers, insider access and more.

Jackson Lake, Grand Teton National Park (Credit: Austin Adventures)

Jackson Lake, Grand Teton National Park (Credit: Austin Adventures)

From kayaking in Grand Teton National Park and stargazing in Yosemite to Navajo cookouts at the Grand Canyon and traditional carriage rides along historic roads in Acadia National Park, USTOA members provide travelers access, activities, adventures, culinary exploration and more throughout the National Park Service’s 84 million acres of protected area.

Following is a sample of itineraries from USTOA member tour operators to explore its pristine landscapes celebrate throughout the centennial of the National Park Service:

  • For the first time, Globus, an official partner of the National Park Foundation, is offering an unparalleled 103-day tour that takes travelers to 35 National Parks from Hawaii to Maine. Travelers on the “Centennial Celebration: 100 Days of GoParks!” journey will engage in local experiences such as a buffalo safari near Custer State Park, wine tasting in Washington’s wine country and time with a naturalist in Denali National Park and Preserve. The tour begins July 7, 2016 in Honolulu and ends on October 17, 2016 in Las Vegas. It is priced from $30,405. For travelers who can’t commit so much time, Globus offers 24 other GoParks! Tours and a percentage of revenue from each is donated to the National Park Foundation.
  • With horseback riding, fly fishing, ziplining, stargazing and other outdoor adventures on a dude ranch in Big Sky, the new seven-day “Montana: Big Sky & Yellowstone National Park” from Adventures by Disney will fulfill every cowboy’s dreams. Guests will also “glamp” at Yellowstone National Park, hike to the Norris Geyser Basin and visit Old Faithful.  Available over select dates in summer 2016, prices start at $3,919 per adult.
Yellowstone National Park (Credit: Adventures by Disney)

Yellowstone National Park (Credit: Adventures by Disney)

  • National Parks have always been at the core of Austin Adventures’ offerings and to mark this year’s centennial anniversary, the company has expanded its roster of trips and departures. Additionally, as an advocate of the Every Kid in the Park initiative from the National Park Foundation and the White House, Austin Adventures is waiving trip fees for all fourth graders traveling on any National Park adventure in 2016. Finally, as a participant in the NPS Centennial Tour Operator Program, the company will donate two dollars from each guest booked on one of its National Park trips in 2016 to Tourism Cares, Inc. to aid restoration projects at five National Parks. Guests can choose the six-day “Oregon – Crater Lake National Park” itinerary from $2,798 and the new six-day “Glacier National Park” itinerary from $2,898, among others.
  • Student groups can explore nature’s playground on Explorica Educational Travel’s six-day “Grand Canyon, Bryce & Zion National Parks” itinerary with optional Colorado River rafting extension. Highlights of this action-packed trip include a hike through the red rock spires in Bryce Canyon and a guided tour of Hoover Dam. Available year-round, rates start at $845 (bus) or $1335 (flight) and group leaders travel free with 10 paying participants. In honor of the centennial, receive $50 off per participant on any new booking with offer code GBZ50 through March 31, 2016.
  • In Freedom’s Footsteps: Philadelphia to Washington, DC” from Tauck, a new itinerary crafted in collaboration with acclaimed documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, traces the roots and legacies of freedom with visits to 10 National Park Service sites in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia and Washington, DC. During this 11-day journey, travelers will have early morning admission to view America’s founding documents at the National Archives, learn about the Civil War from historian and author Mark Howell, and visit Shenandoah National Park, among other activities. Available over select dates in 2016, prices start at $4,790 per person, double occupancy plus airfare.
Gettysburg National Military Park (Credit: Tauck)

Gettysburg National Military Park (Credit: Tauck)

  • Go Ahead offers nine tours that visit U.S. National Parks – five of which are new – and is offering $200 off all when reserved by March 31, 2016 with the promo code 16USTOA. On the 11-day “National Parks: Canadian Rockies, Glacier & Yellowstone” journey for instance, guests marvel at cascading waterfalls in Yellowstone National Park, drive along the scenic Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park and explore the Grand Tetons, where human history dates back 10,000 years. Price for this tour starts at $2,249 with discount code:
  • Photographers will delight in the “14 Day Ultimate National Parks” itinerary from Gate 1 Travel. Visits to Scottsdale, Sedona, Montezuma Castle, Grand Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Salt Lake City Tabernacle and Temple Square, Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial offer captivating views and abundant wildlife. Available over numerous departures dates May through September 2016, prices for this spectacular journey start at 2,449 per person, land only. Save $400 per person with promo code UST400.
  • Mayflower Tours is offering 20 National Parks air holidays in 2016 and will be donating $5 per person for each National Park visited to Tourism Cares to aid restoration projects. A highlight is the “National Parks of the Southwest” journey, departing September 28, 2016, which features the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta and six National Parks (Arches, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest). Guests will watch the evening sky fill with a kaleidoscope of brilliant color as the burners of nearly 500 balloons are ignited at once followed by a mass ascension of over 600 specially shaped balloons as they lift off at sunrise the next day. Prices start at $3,099 per person, twin.
Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta (Credit: Mayflower Tours)

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta (Credit: Mayflower Tours)

  • Abercrombie & Kent announced two new National Parks-focused Luxury Small Group Journeys (limited to no more than 18 guests) for 2016, including the 10-day “Family Yellowstone & the Grand Tetons” itinerary. Kids and adults alike will enjoy a roping demonstration at a dude ranch, a hike to a waterfall, horseback riding and whitewater rafting down Snake River, among other local experiences. Available over select dates in summer 2016, prices start at $7,995 per person, based on double occupancy (children save $800).
  • Insight Vacations’ 15-day “Great Western American Adventure” offers guests an in-depth look at the diverse composition of the American West with visits to Grand Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and Yosemite National Park, along with the iconic cities of San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Scottsdale and Las Vegas. Highlights include an exclusive wine tasting in Napa Valley, a customized food tour in Carmel and a night inside Grand Canyon National Park without the daytime crowds. Available over various dates in 2016, this spectacular journey begins at $4,916 per person, twin.
  • Trafalgar offers nine National Parks itineraries, including the 15-day “Scenic Parks Explorer” with visits to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Arches National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Jackson, Denver, Monument Valley and Las Vegas. The adventure includes off-the-beaten path experiences including an exclusive behind-the-scenes talk at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, a complex of five western museums in Wyoming, and an unequalled view of the Grand Canyon at sunrise. With 45 departure dates from May to October, prices start at $3,895 per person, land only.
Grand Teton National Park (Credit: Trafalgar)

Grand Teton National Park (Credit: Trafalgar)

  • Cox & Kings’ eight-day “Southwestern Spa and Healing Immersion” private journey is the perfect respite for travelers wanting to disconnect from daily cares, reconnect with nature and rejuvenate at renowned spas. In addition to marveling at the Grand Canyon and hiking in Petrified Forest National Park, guests will receive a privately guided tour of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Taos from a Native American healer, take part in a hands-on cooking experience with a Native American chef and scholar, and relax at the natural hot springs of Ojo Caliente. Available throughout 2016, prices start at $8,950 per person. Save $250 per person based on double occupancy for travel by Labor Day weekend.
  • The Colorado Rockies,” a nine-day journey from Collette, visits Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Mesa Verde National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. Guests will climb aboard a 1881 steam train for a journey through the San Juan Mountains, scale Pike’s Peak on the world’s largest cog railroad and take a private tour at a family-owned vineyard, all while taking in the spectacular views. Available over many departure dates May through September, 2016 and 2017, prices start at $2,299 per person, land only, based on double occupancy.
Bryce Canyon National Park (Credit: Collette)

Bryce Canyon National Park (Credit: Collette)

By Terry Dale, President and CEO, USTOA

It’s February, and so of course our thoughts are on Valentine’s Day. Beyond the more commercial aspects of chocolates and roses, the day is a reminder to spend time with the people you love. And, what better place is there to do that than in one of the most romantic destinations in the world?

Venice (credit: Avanti Destinations)

Venice, Italy (credit: Avanti Destinations)

As the presidents of our tour operator members are seasoned travelers – and romantics at heart – we tapped a few of them to ask for their advice on the most romantic destinations across the globe. So, in their words, here are a few places you’ll definitely want to keep in your back pocket for when you’re planning your next romantic getaway…

Dan Austin, President, Austin Adventures: “After 30-plus years of traveling the planet with my lovely wife Carol, it is impossible to call just one destination “the most romantic.” To me it usually comes down to two things…one, the company you keep (got that covered), and two, the accommodations and how they enhance the destination.  We have had some amazing adventures complemented by some incredible accommodations. A few of our favorites include a beach side cabana on a private island off the coast of Belize, a Casita in the Sacred Valley of Peru (on the way to Machu Picchu), a riverside cabin in Montana and frankly too many others to list.  Perhaps my absolute favorite was a small, first-class river boat in the Peruvian Amazon, waking each day to a beautiful sunrise and settling in with a good glass of wine on deck for a different sunset every night. Pretty hard to not find that (or any of these) romantic!”

Harry Dalgaard, Founder and President, Avanti Destinations: “There are so many possibilities for romantic travel, each as different as the two people who share the experience. You have the classic romantic travel experiences: a gondola ride in Venice, a stroll along the Seine in Paris, snuggling up by a cozy fire in a chalet after a day of skiing in the Alps, learning to tango in Buenos Aires, or staying in a thatched-roof cottage by a beach somewhere in the tropics. Today, many couples – young and old – who book with Avanti’s travel agent partners are looking for a romantic experience that is more unusual, adventurous, exotic:  hiking the Inca Trail in Peru, whitewater rafting or ziplining in Costa Rica, exploring the ruins at Angkor Wat, being mesmerized by the amazing landscape of Guilin in China. One thing is certain: FIT is the only truly romantic way to travel.  It has to be just the two of you.”

Jack E. Richards, President and CEO, Pleasant Holidays: “My entire career has been spent in the travel industry and during that tenure my bride of 35 years and I have been fortunate to travel the world together. We’ve enjoyed alpine ski vacations in snowy chalets; dined on beaches at sunset in Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean; and celebrated our most-recent wedding anniversary on a river cruise in France. But for the ultimate romance vacation experience, there’s nothing that can match an overwater bungalow in Bora Bora. This tiny heart-shaped island in French Polynesia is tropical, it’s tranquil, and its beauty is beyond description. It’s simply romantic perfection.”

Jerre Fuqua, CTC, President, TRAVCOA and YMT Vacations: “Travel allows us to connect not only with our new surroundings…the tribesmen of Papua New Guinea, the beautiful landscape of Patagonia, the elephant families in South Africa…but also with our loved ones accompanying us on our global exploration. Travcoa has been fortunate enough to arrange some amazing experiences of celebration including a private cruise on the Grand Canal of Malta with a scuba diver surprising a couple with a bottle of champagne as the sun begins to kiss the ocean; a re-commitment ceremony from a Quechuan Shaman at Machu Picchu in Peru; and a romantic evening dinner on the plains of the Serengeti showcasing just how many stars there are in the universe. Of course, one cannot ignore the beauty and exclusivity of the many romantic islands around the world like Necker Island in the Caribbean or North Island in the Seychelles, both of which we can arrange with personalized and unique experiences.”

Paris, France (credit: Avanti Destinations)

Paris, France (credit: Avanti Destinations)

As for me… when I think about the quintessential romantic destination, my mind always lands on Paris. Coined the “City of Love” for valid reasons, it is simply the most beautiful city to experience on foot.  There is a picturesque scene around every corner…from quaint cafes to linger over coffee or a glass of wine, to stunning architecture, both ancient and modern, broad boulevards and majestic public parks for strolling, and of course, the emblematic Eiffel Tower.  Paris will always hold a special place in my heart.

By Terry Dale, President and CEO, USTOA

Safety has always been the top priority for USTOA members so we’re particularly sensitive to State Department travel alerts and warnings, which can cause more confusion and uncertainty among travelers than guidance. We’re constantly monitoring these alerts and found Everett Potter’s overview of what they mean in USA Today this week particularly helpful and informative, so wanted to share it with both travelers and our travel agent partners as a resource:

In addition to monitoring State Department travel alerts and warnings, our members are uniquely positioned to monitor situations around the world. With eyes and ears on the ground in destinations, our tour operator members have access to real-time information that allows them to act in the best interest of both guests and employees.

We are hopeful that the U.S. traveler continues to be resilient and keeps exploring new cultures…it’s the best antidote to the misunderstanding that plagues world events today.

By Terry Dale, President and CEO, USTOA

Happy New Year! And welcome to 2016… it’s going to be a great year to travel the world.

USTOA conducts an annual travel trend and forecast survey of the association’s active tour operator members, monitoring business trends, top travel destinations, and more. The most recent results were revealed at the Annual Conference & Marketplace held December 3-5 at the Hyatt Regency Chicago in Chicago, IL.

The punch line for 2016? Our members affirm a positive outlook for the year.

Headline news: member operators are confident about business in 2016

Overall, the tour operator members of USTOA are showing strong growth for this year, with more than a third (39%) attributing growth to an improved economy and higher consumer confidence… a positive sign for the travel industry as a whole.

Nine in 10 tour operator members anticipate a growth in sales in 2016 with more than half of members (57%) “optimistic” and forecasting a “boom year” with growth anywhere from seven to 10% or higher.

In 2015, three quarters of members responding to the survey reported an increase in sales over 2014, forty percent of which cited an increase of 10% or higher. More than two thirds (70%) of members also saw an increase in passengers in 2015; 60% saw numbers grow between four and nine percent, while 36% of indicated growth of 10% or higher.

Destination forecast: where are travelers going?

Kelley Ferro in Cuba, the top “emerging” destination that will gain popularity in 2016 (credit: Brandon Widener)

Kelley Ferro in Cuba, the top “emerging” destination that will gain popularity in 2016 (credit: Brandon Widener)

When asked which “emerging” destinations will gain popularity in 2016, members (not surprisingly) cited Cuba. About thirty four percent of USTOA members currently offer programs to Cuba, and of that number, more than half plan to increase offerings within the next few years. Cuba was followed by Myanmar, Iceland, Colombia, and Ethiopia and Japan (tied for fifth).

Colombia was named the fourth “emerging” destination that will gain popularity in 2016 (credit: Justin Weiler)

Colombia was named the fourth “emerging” destination that will gain popularity in 2016 (credit: Justin Weiler)

Italy, for the fourth consecutive year in a row, topped the list as most popular international destination for travelers in 2016, followed by the United Kingdom; China, France and South Africa (tied for third); Peru and India.  On the home front, USTOA members forecast New York and California (tied for first), Arizona and Hawaii (tied for second), Nevada, Florida and Washington DC (tied for fourth) and Alaska as the most popular U.S. destinations for clients in 2016.

Participating tour operator members also named art and culture, honeymoon and romance, and family as the most popular travel categories for passengers.

Who’s traveling?

When asked who’s traveling, members responded that a little more than half (55%) of their customer base are baby boomers at 51 years of age and older. The next largest age group was 35 to 50 years old, representing about a quarter (23%) of customers. Roughly half (53%) of members saw a growth in the number of solo passengers in 2015.

Potential threats: what could hinder US traveler confidence in 2016?

While USTOA members view 2016 with optimism, they cited terrorism as the biggest threat to US traveler confidence in 2016. The second potential threat named was global financial instability, followed by political instability.

Of note, the survey was completed prior to the tragic events in Paris, yet there is little surprise that it jumped to the top of list given world events. Aware that the impact of such horrific events can be global in scope, our members are hopeful that the U.S. traveler continues to be resilient and keep exploring new cultures…it’s the best antidote to the misunderstanding that plagues world events today.

Based on the results, all roads lead to more travel. So, what are you waiting for? Visit our Travel Together page with videos and information on thirteen different destinations, including Cuba, for more inspiration. And visit our Dream Vacation Itinerary Finder – with those destinations and more – and discover the trip of a lifetime.

By: Terry Dale, President and CEO, USTOA

June 6 marks 70 years since allied forces invaded Normandy, a crucial turning point in the war against Nazi Germany, and people from around the globe will come together to honor the brave soldiers who fought during World War II. At the invitation of French President François Hollande, dignitaries and world leaders including President Barack Obama and Queen Elizabeth II will visit Normandy to commemorate the occasion, which will also be marked with firework displays along the coast at main D-Day sites, military parades, parachute drops and more.

Travelers, too, can honor the courageous veterans who fought with visits to the infamous beaches of Normandy and other influential WWII sites through tour programs and packages from USTOA active tour operator members. While many have been exposed to the beaches of Normandy through old newsreels and mainstream films, especially younger travelers, few have had the opportunity to set foot on the historic beaches and sites.

USTOA members provide limitless opportunities to delve into the history of WWII and commemorate the 70th Anniversary of this significant and solemn occasion.  Following is sampling of itineraries from members designed to commemorate the bravery and sacrifice of the Allied troops who fought during WWII:

  • Insight Vacations’ nine-day “Normandy, Brittany & The Loire Valley” tour includes two nights in Normandy, two evenings in Paris and two nights in the Loire Valley. Visit for more information.
  • From Southern England and Northern France to Belgium and the Netherlands, travelers on the “WWI & WWII Battlefields” tour from Trafalgar will visit a variety of memorial sites beyond just the beaches of Normandy. More details at
  • Worldwide Traveler’s “Back-Roads Touring: D-Day Battle for France” itinerary visits the French cities of Lille, Dunkirk, Dieppe, Bayeux, and the Normandy beaches and is led by a specialist in historic battlefields. Visit
  • Go-Today’s six-night “Paris & Normandy, Saint Malo, Mont St. Michel and Loire Valley Escorted Tour” combines free time and organized sightseeing. Visit
  • Travelers on “Normandy, Brittany & the Loire Valley,” a nine-day tour from Grand European Travel, will drive along the beaches of the D-Day landings, reflect at the American Military Cemetery of St. Laurent near Omaha Beach and learn more about the historic battle at the D-Day Invasion Landings’ Museum. Visit
  • “Northern France,” a private journey from Cox & Kings, follows roads taken by allied forces while listening to anecdotes from a local guide and learning about the heated fighting of WWII at Omaha Beach before stopping at the American Cemetery, Caen Memorial, and other locations related to the war. More details at
  • From a wreath-laying ceremony and moment of silence to exploration of the D-Day museum in Mulberry Harbor and Juno Beach landing site, the “Paris & Normandy” itinerary from Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection honors fallen soldiers. Visit
  • Insight Vacations’ nine-day “Normandy, Brittany & The Loire Valley” tour includes two nights in Normandy, so guests will enjoy leisurely yet comprehensive visits to numerous WWII sites. Visit
  • Travelers will gain a greater understanding of D-Day and the beaches where allied forces landed on Gate 1 Travel’s 12-day “Illustrious France” tour. Visit
  • Explore France via bike and gain insight into Normandy’s rich history during VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacation’s eight-night “Bicycling France: Normandy & Brittany.” More details at
  • Created exclusively for the 70th Anniversary of the epic D-Day landings, Collette’s tour “Memorials of War: Normandy & Paris” takes travelers to the landmarks of D-Day. Visit
  • Travelers get an inside look at the daily rhythms of French life on Tauck’s 10-day “Rendezvous on the Seine,” which includes a seven-day river cruise on the ms Swiss Sapphire, in addition to a guided tour of the D-Day beaches. More information at

For more information about tours and packaged vacations, visit  And, remember that when booking with USTOA active members, you also get the assurance of knowing that they are held to the highest standards in the industry with our $1 Million Travelers Assistance Program.  Visit for complete details.