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Tour operators optimistic going into 2014

Published December 17, 2013 2:21 pm

Outlook • Almost 60 percent expect a boom year; exotic destinations are growing in popularity.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Planning a trip to Myanmar this year?

That sounds pretty exotic. But in the annual survey of travel forecasts and trends for the United States Tour Operators Association, participating members named Myanmar as the top emerging or "off-the-beaten path" destination for the second year in a row. It was followed by Vietnam and Cambodia, which tied for second, and India.

Italy topped the list as the tour operators most popular and sought-after destination in 2014 followed by Britain and China and Peru, which tied for third.

"Nearly 40 percent of members cited Europe as the region of the world offering the most experiential travel options, perhaps not surprising given the wealth of cultural and gastronomic experiences available," said Terry Dale, president and CEO of the association.

Top trends for 2014 included enjoying a river cruise followed by sports travel to events such as the World Cup and Olympics, faith-based travel and travel related to pop entertainment destinations.

Tour operators seemed generally optimistic about business prospects in 2014 with 93.3 percent anticipating growth in sales with 59.6 percent predicting a boom year with growth anywhere from 7 to 10 percent or higher.

That reflects an upward trend that saw a big increase in business in 2013 over 2012, with 62.5 percent of the operators reporting sales increased by 10 percent or more.

"We've been hearing anecdotally from members about how strong business has been this year and now the survey both validates and exceeds expectations for the health of our members' business," said Dale. "What's really interesting about these results is that more than half of those members attribute the increase in business to an improving economy and consumer confidence, which is a positive sign for the industry in general."

Of course, that optimism could change rapidly.

According to Dale, political instability, natural disasters, global financial instability, pandemics or other health woes, the strength of the U.S. dollar and terrorism could all negatively affect the travel business.

One of the biggest growing segments of the travel business is families traveling with children under 18 years of age.

wharton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribtomwharton