USTOA's Terry Dale: “This will highlight destinations, but also get to why people travel.”
The image of a tour has long been an albatross for the packaged tour business. For too long, a tour has been equated with a bus trip visiting multiple destinations in an all-too-short period of time. But for the past five years, the U.S. Tour Operators Association (USTOA) has been developing campaigns to change the image of a tour and also promote the experiences offered by its active tour operator members.
At this year’s USTOA annual conference and marketplace, held last week in Scottsdale, AZ, USTOA president and CEO Terry Dale unveiled the group’s latest promotional campaign to boost the image of the tour business. For the first time USTOA in 2017 will form a marketing partnership with USA Today to create a multi-level native-content campaign that will include a series of articles, videos and photos showcasing four destinations and four tour operators. USA Today will provide the camera crew to follow travelers and showcase their trips.
“It’s really a slight shift from what we have done in the past,” Dale says. “This will highlight destinations, but also get to why people travel…when they are on an active experience. It will be branded content and we’ll leverage social media. It’s a first for us and a first for [USA Today].” The four destinations and four tour operators to be featured have not yet been determined.
The new campaign follows three other efforts by USTOA to get the word out about the value of tours. This past year USTOA, as part of its Modern Day Explorer campaign, sent tour development executives from six active tour operator members to six different countries. Each of them was accompanied by a camera team or took a personal camera to create a total of 18 videos.
Bronwyn Hodge of Goway Travel went to Tahiti; Carol Dimopoulos of Perillo’s Learning Journeys went to Malta; Kasey Austin of Austin Adventures went to Yellowstone; Louise Shumbris of Abercrombie & Kent went to the Philippines; Max Aly of Sita World Tours went to Abu Dhabi; and Rebecca Rhyan of Cox & Kings went to Chile. Those videos were then distributed via USTOA’s website and on social media channels, generating nearly 8 million impressions.
Beyond the Modern Day Explorers campaign, USTOA also developed a partnership with AFAR magazine, which assigned AFAR Ambassador bloggers to experience trips on five active tour operator members, including Collette, Contiki, Goway, Holland America and Trafalgar.
Those blogs, including written material, photos and videos, generated more than 520 million media impressions. “We’re very happy with this campaign,” Dale says. “We pushed ourselves to do something bigger, better, broader.” Indeed, the partnership with AFAR will continue in 2017 with at least five destinations selected for travel AFAR Afar Ambassador bloggers.
In 2014, travel expert and video journalist Kelley Ferro showcased a series of destinations and tour operators under USTOA’s first Travel Together campaign. Ferro traveled to Egypt with Abercrombie & Kent and to South Africa with Collette and Swain, among other destinations. In 2013, USTOA launched its first promotional campaign with Matt Harding, who had become a viral Internet dance and travel sensation on YouTube and on his website www.wherethehellismatt.com. Harding visited a series of destinations featured by USTOA active tour operator members.
Whether USTOA’s new partnership with USA Today equals or surpasses the above campaign remains to be seen, but the tour association is continuing in its efforts to get its message out about the value of its members and the destinations they sell.