NTA Addresses Shift to Younger, More Diverse Tour Market

by Robin Amster

The younger and more diverse nature of the tour market took center stage at the National Tour Association’s annual Travel Exchange, which presented sessions on faith-based, family, adventure, culinary and Hispanic travel.

“We supply our members with the tools for success, and that often means entering underdeveloped markets,” NTA president Lisa Simon said at the conference, which ends today.  

This year’s exchange, held at Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center, was the first combined event with UMA, the United Motorcoach Association. The event drew 1,800 NTA members and 1,800 UMA members.

Significant market changes
Along with the importance of entering new niches, Simon noted significant changes in NTA’s markets. Five to 10 years ago, 85% of NTA clients were seniors, compared to 30% now.

“We’re also seeing a continuing reduction in group size and length of tours, as well as a lot more customizing of tour products,” Simon said.

This was the second year NTA addressed faith-based and Hispanic travel with a Faith Tourism Leaders Forum and Hispanics in Travel Caucus. The organization introduced its first Family Travel and Adventure Tourism Leaders Forum this year.

Evolving faith-based travel
The faith-based travel market is changing, said Paul Larsen, CEO of Ed-Ventures. “Pilgrimages tend to be larger groups, but there’s a desire for smaller groups and for innovation.”

There’s also a lot of “cross-over” in faith travelers who’ve been abroad, to the Vatican for instance, and “want to get this experience closer to home,” he said.

Hispanic business development
Olga Ramudo, president and CEO of Express Travel, is a leader in the Hispanic travel sector. Ramudo chairs the NTA-ASTA Hispanic Business Development Task Force, which she called “a historic alliance.”

Those who want to capture this business must have staff who understand and know how to communicate with the market, are familiar with the cultural nuances and can help with product development and promotion, according to Ramudo and other specialists.

Family matters
Families are the fastest growing leisure travel market, according to Nancy Schretter, founder and managing editor of the Family Travel Network.

Forty-four percent of all leisure travelers brought kids along on their trips in 2012, up from 26% in 2000, according to the 2012 Portrait of American Travelers Survey from MMGY Global.

Schretter advised those who want to sell this market to discard the stereotypical image of families as “two parents with kids under 12 years old.”

“It’s important to focus on a broader definition of family as any combination of family members traveling together, regardless of age,” she said.

Wider adventure options
Specialists in the adventure travel field also recommended broadening the focus of adventure travel to include less strenuous physical activities, like walking instead of hiking, as well as experiences that immerse travelers in local cultures.

Debra Asberry, president and founder of Women Traveling Together, said her clients are often intimidated by the more extreme adventures but are comfortable with softer adventure travel experiences offered in a supportive atmosphere.

‘Everyone has to eat’
Food and wine, meanwhile, provide “tangible examples of what’s unique about a destination,” said Laura Mandala, managing director of Mandala Research LLC. Culinary experiences bring increased spending and length of stay on tour programs, she added.

Erik Wolf, president and CEO of the World Food Travel Association, stressed the importance of culinary experiences in travel. “Eating and drinking are 100% participatory,” he said. Clients don’t have to go to a museum or a particular attraction or shop, but everyone has to eat, he said.

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