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.