Written By: Terry Dale, President and CEO, United States Tour Operators Association
Are your clients seeking greater fulfillment and a deeper understanding of the regions they visit? From carpet weaving with Egyptian artisans and glass bead making with artists in South Africa to polar bear watching in Churchill, Manitoba and truffle hunting in Croatia, let us help. The tour operator members of the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) offer inspiring global tour programs and packages that allow guests to forge deeper cultural connections to the people, traditions and customs of the places they are visiting.
USTOA’s active tour operator members represent nearly 160 brands from budget to luxury. They provide tours, packages and custom arrangements that allow more than eight million travelers annually unparalleled access, insider knowledge, peace-of-mind, value and freedom to enjoy live like a local experiences across the entire globe. USTOA members fully vet every experience and program offered and have eyes and ears on the ground in destinations in order to provide travelers with real-time information and recommendations. They meet residents and negotiate with local companies in order for guests to avoid long lines at major tourist attractions, providing a level of access travelers can’t typically gain on their own.
When a travel agent or traveler books with a USTOA tour operator member, they are placing their travel plans in the hands of the most trusted industry professionals. USTOA requires each of its tour operator members to participate in USTOA’s Travelers Assistance Program, which protects consumer payments and deposits up to $1 million in the event of a USTOA member company bankruptcy, insolvency or cessation of business… providing peace of mind to travelers and agents knowing their hard earned vacation investments are protected with a solid financial safety net.
USTOA also works as a unified voice for its members. Government advocacy has been the association’s number one priority for the past few years and since 2012, the association has held an annual Congressional Caucus in DC in order to build USTOA’s voice and presence in Washington. Over the last five years, the highly active government affairs committee has laid the groundwork educating congress on the issues most critical to USTOA’s membership and tirelessly championed a policy of open borders. The committee has worked successfully with the Department of Transportation (DOT), U.S. State Department and other government entities to facilitate tourism worldwide.
And, as a voice for the tour operator industry for more than 40 years, USTOA provides education and assistance for consumers and travel agents. Travel agents continue to contribute significantly to members’ business – in fact, in USTOA’s annual trend and forecast survey announced last December, 87% of responding members reported the use of travel agents to sell product in 2015 – and USTOA remains committed to supporting it’s travel agent partners through dialogue and tools that help sell tours and vacation packages more effectively.
There is a wealth of information on the Travel Agent Resources page of USTOA.com and here are a handful of tips on how USTOA can help you, our valued travel agent partners, better meet your clients’ needs and build your businesses.
Tip #1: Become a USTOA Specialist
Visit www.travelagentacademy.com and enroll in the free USTOA Specialist Program under the “tours” category. This dynamic and robust education program will help you build your business by learning how to work, source and sell travel and vacation packages…and be included on USTOA’s preferred Travel Agent Specialist listing on the USTOA consumer website.
The education program is designed to help travel agents learn more about USTOA and the benefits of booking with a USTOA tour operator member. It provides a primer on the diverse range of tours and packages available from our members, informs you about the unique attributes of these products, and provides ways to overcome objections and misperceptions about tour products that may come up during the sales process. The training will also help you profile customers more effectively in order to create the best tour product match for their particular needs.
To date, USTOA’s Travel Agent Academy has seen more than 1,400 graduates and nearly 3,200 agents enrolled in the current curriculum.
Tip #2: Sign Up for USTOA’s e-Newsletter
USTOA has a dedicated e-newsletter program to create a pipeline of information to agents. Everyone who graduates from the USTOA Specialist program is automatically enrolled. Agents can also choose to sign up individually at www.ustoa.com/resources/travel-resources.
Each newsletter includes news highlights, travel agent updates and links to the latest digital tools and resources. This December, stay tuned for a new video series about traveling to Chile.
Tip #3: Join Ongoing Webinars
USTOA Active Members offer ongoing webinars for agents on a variety of topics, from river cruising and safari experiences to the rise of experiential travel. Visit https://www.ustoa.com/resources/travel-agent-webinars to review the list of upcoming webinars to see what makes sense for you.
Tip #4: Discover Insights and Inspiration
Behind every memorable travel experience is an expert tour product manager – a modern day explorer – who travels deep within a destination with the single goal of designing enriching itineraries for travelers. This year, USTOA assembled a dream team of explorers to share their adventures while scouting undiscovered travel experiences around the world. The Modern Day Explorers collection brings travelers behind the scenes in destinations ranging from exotic islands and the National Parks, to Latin America and beyond.
From inspecting bedding and bathroom facilities to scouting insider access and exclusive activities, these Modern Day Explorers will take you along every aspect of their journey. They’ll bring you “up close and personal” with people and experiences that will amaze and inspire…visit a local animal whisperer in Gozo, Malta; take a private archeological tour of Huahine, an island of Tahiti; find hidden culinary gems off-the-beaten-path in the Philippines, and much more.
The Modern Day Explorers collection is the newest content in USTOA’s robust library of inspirational Travel Together destination videos and blogs – all part of the association’s ongoing effort to grow awareness online.
Over the last three years, USTOA worked with AFAR Magazine to send their team of influential bloggers on two dozen Active Member tours and packaged travel itineraries to destinations across the globe. This year, the team of AFAR Ambassadors traveled deeper domestically to uncover “live like a local” experiences in the good old USA. Adventures chronicled include Yellowstone National Park during the centennial year celebrations, the famed Fourth of July festivities in Skagway, Alaska, and a private concert by one of the granddaughters of country legend Johnny Cash in Nashville.
Modern Day Explorers destinations and videos can be found at www.ustoa.com/modern-day-explorers, Travel Together content at www.ustoa.com/travel-together and blog posts at www.ustoa.com/blog. Please enjoy – and feel free to share with clients.
Tip #5: Take Advantage of the New USTOA.com
Searching for the perfect trip? Stop here.
The USTOA website is now easier for you and your clients to navigate for inspiration and information. Visit www.ustoa.com to find a freshly redesigned, mobile responsive website plus a marketplace with real traveler reviews and testimonials to help you and your clients discover direct, verified and unbiased feedback on various products and itineraries. Impartial online reviews are a vital link in the decision making chain for many consumers and tour operators have long been underrepresented in these forums. The new tour-specific review platform for USTOA Active Members features star ratings and general comments and testimonials direct from travelers who have experienced a specific tour operator travel itinerary.
The site currently features more than 7,000 tour product reviews. To find them use the “Find Your Dream Vacation” search tool on the homepage. Available traveler reviews appear with the destination search results and are indicated by stars listed under the trip itinerary name. Complete testimonials and additional ratings can be accessed by clicking “reviews” on the results page.
On USTOA.com, your clients can also research multi-day itineraries and packages from tour operator member brands, find a USTOA certified agent nearby, read inspirational blog posts and more, while you can easily navigate the site with direct access from the home page to the USTOA Business Resource and newsletter sign-up, training, webinars and active member directory.
Tip #6: Mark Your Calendars for Travel Together Month
Every September, USTOA kicks off a month long promotion that brings together on one website deep travel deals from the country’s leading providers of independent and escorted group travel. Delivering a versatile, one stop shop for consumers, Travel Together Month showcases special pricing, premium offers, and value-added incentives on travel itineraries spanning all seven continents. These offers, coupled with the local connections and expertise of USTOA’s tour operator members, help make bucket list destinations a reality.
With bonus commissions, the option to earn free trips, special FAM rates and more, Travel Together Month also makes booking with a USTOA tour operator member easier and even more lucrative for travel specialists. Mark your calendars now for this annual event.
Current USTOA tour operator members – all adhering to “Integrity in Tourism” and the highest standards in the industry – include: Abercrombie & Kent USA, Adventures by Disney, AHI International, Alexander + Roberts, All About Tours, American Council for International Studies, Austin Adventures, Australian Pacific Touring, Avanti Destinations, Celtic Tours World Vacations, China Travel Service (U.S.A.), CIE Tours International, Classic Vacations, Collette, Cox & Kings, The Americas, DH Enterprise & Associates, Down Under Answers, EF Institute for Cultural Exchange, Flight Centre Travel Group (USA), Gate 1 Travel, Globus Family of Brands, Goway Travel, Grand Circle, GTA Americas, Helloworld Travel Services USA, Holiday Vacations, Holland America Line, Homeric Tours, Lindblad Expeditions, Mark Travel Corporation & Affiliated Companies, Mayflower Tours, MLT Vacations, Pacific Delight Travel, Perillo Tours, Pleasant Holidays, Princess Cruises and Tours, Rail Europe, Ritz Tours, Scenic Tours USA, SITA World Tours, smarTours, Swain Destinations, Tauck, The Travel Corporation USA, Travel Impressions, TUI Travel, USA Gateway Inc. dba Majestic Vacations, VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations, Viking River Cruises, Wendy Wu Tours, and WorldStrides.
Visit www.USTOA.com for more information and get ready to discover why it’s always better to travel together!