Terry Dale, president and CEO of the U.S. Tour Operators Association (USTOA), has been overseeing the group for five years now, after serving eight years as president of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). Before that he was executive vice president of NYC & Co., the New York convention and visitors bureau, and president of the Greater Providence Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Dale has a new contract to manage USTOA for the next three years. He’s introduced innovative programs over the past five years, including a lobbying effort in Washington to focus on issues affecting tour operators and a series of consumer awareness campaigns to promote the value of tours. TMR sat down with Dale to review the state of the tour business, his accomplishments so far, and what’s ahead for the industry.
How do you view your tenure as USTOA president so far?
I’ve been here five years now. I have enough confidence and support from the membership to try new things; it’s been kind of liberating. I’ve just loved every minute of it, in large part because of the people I work with at USTOA.
At CLIA you had a lot more financial resources to work with. Has this been a challenge at USTOA, where you have fewer resources?
In my career I’ve always refused to allow money to be an excuse for being ineffective. You can still be effective with a minimal budget; you just have to be smarter in how you use it. I don’t look at that as a constraint. It just adds another dimension to the challenge. And I like how it pushes me to be even more creative.
What’s the status of USTOA today?
We’re in the best financial health we’ve ever been in. We’re in the most sound membership situation we could ever ask for. What’s unique here from a membership perspective is that we don’t just automatically take someone as a member just because they have the appropriate references. We’re now more strategic in how we approach membership, because we have strength in many parts of the world. Our goal is to create a global balance, focusing on the areas that our members say are emerging destinations. That’s in the associate membership category for destinations. But we’ve got a good solid list of active tour-operator member prospects for 2016 as well. It’s now about quality, not quantity, in members.
How many active members and how many associate members do you currently have?
We have 54 corporate active members representing 166 brands, which is pretty consistent. We add a couple of new active members every year. But we added 102 new associate members last year, for a total of just over 700 associate members. We are very sensitive to the fact that we have a ratio of associates to actives of 13 to 1 and we’re comfortable with that ratio. It’s just getting the right mix globally.
What have been your major accomplishments over the past five years?
Clearly it’s what we’ve been able to do on the government lobbying effort. That was part of the appeal for me five years ago when I joined USTOA. And the members have been extraordinarily supportive of that effort. We’re now coming up to our fifth annual congressional caucus this June. And we have tangible results that we can point to, especially with the Cuba travel situation. When a people-to-people license was required to operate in Cuba, our members were having problems. Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) got the door open and helped get our members’ licenses approved. That was because the collective strength of USTOA was stronger than any individual member trying to do it on his or her own. We’ve also been able to get access to key people at the U.S. Department of Transportation to give them a better understanding of our members and the potential impact certain regulations can have on the tour industry.
How have you changed the image of touring with social media and online video campaigns, such as Dancing with Matt a couple of years, Travel Together with Kelley Ferro, and now your latest effort featuring younger executives from USTOA active members?
I really feel we’ve made some very significant progress on this front just trying to shift the perception of packaged travel. These campaigns clearly help us with the consumer and the travel agent. There’s always been this unclear notion that maybe our products are only for baby boomers. But over time we’ll start seeing that needle shift and we’ll also continue to see more multigenerational travel. If we can connect with those younger travelers who happen to be with their parents or grandparents, we have a good shot at keeping them as a customer for life.
What are some of the other major things you’ll focus on at USTOA for the next three years?
In addition to adding new associate members internationally, we’re going to place greater emphasis domestically, too. I believe we’re the strongest association from an international membership perspective, but domestically we don’t have that same type of strength. So we are going to build on that by adding more associate members. We need to do a better job of getting into our own backyard. That means adding state tourist boards, and convention and visitor bureaus. I think there’s an opportunity for us to be a leader in the global packaged travel industry as well.
What are you doing on the travel-agent front and what programs do you offer?
We feel very positive about our current educational program for agents. We have more than 2,500 travel agents enrolled in the program and over 1,000 have completed the curriculum. We have a quarterly newsletter for agents and we do a marketing campaign every September called Travel Now Month. So we’re just going to continue to grow and educate travel agents.