Last updated: 03:13 PM ET, Sat January 02 2016

Tour Operator Outlook 2016: The Biggest Stories For The Year Ahead

Tour Operator | David Cogswell | January 02, 2016

Tour Operator Outlook 2016: The Biggest Stories For The Year Ahead

Photo by David Cogswell

Whoa, here comes 2016! It’s just right around the proverbial corner. Only problem is there is no corner. The calendar is deceptive. There is no break between 2015 and 2016. On Dec. 31, it’s just the next day.

Don’t believe anyone who tells you he can predict the future. Prediction is a dubious process. But it’s the year’s end, and time for the year-end ritual of looking ahead to the next year. Time to bring out the old crystal ball and polish it up.

It is incumbent upon us to do the best we can to project what we might reasonably expect the next year to bring, though 2016 will no doubt confound most of our expectations.


Cuba is going to continue to be one of the biggest stories of the year, as it was last year and has been increasingly so year after year for many years. Despite the impossibility of predicting the future, this one is inevitable. The momentum is too strong for anything to divert it. There may be some surprises. But we know that Cuba will continue to be one of the biggest stories in the travel industry.

Will the embargo be lifted? At the moment it seems highly unlikely given the stuck nature of Congress. But there is much room for change even within the current set of rules. We are still seeing news on a regular basis about changes in the Cuba travel market, like the recent agreement on commercial airline service. There are new tours, new cruises and even new airline routes coming into play.

The influx of American tourists has vastly changed the playing field in Cuba and we will see the market adapt to that change. While more tours continue to flood the market and the demand from Americans seems almost limitless at this point, there is a limit to capacity on the island itself. This is already affecting availability and pricing.

But the ever resourceful Cuban population is now free to set up small businesses, including restaurants, inns and bed-and-breakfasts. So we can expect the ingenuity of the people of Cuba to come up with some solutions to the capacity problem that we cannot yet imagine. It’s going to be fascinating and fun.

Terrorism and War

Sorry folks, there’s no way around the inclusion of this element in our list of top stories to watch for the coming year. From the number of terrorist incidents, as well as lunatic mass shootings in recent months, there is almost zero chance of this trend suddenly stopping.

There is virtually nothing happening to change the trends we are seeing. We can hope for peace, security and safety. And if enough people hope for it, maybe it will come about. But the element of risk is going to continue to be with us. And it is not something you can avoid just by staying home and doing nothing. Most of the people affected by terrorism and random violence are not even traveling. They are just going about their daily business. So you are not going to avoid risk by hiding in your home.

Could there be major peace agreements that stem the tide of violence? Perhaps. Could there be legislation that will help keep weapons out of the hands of dangerous unstable people? It’s not likely in the next year, but hope springs eternal.

What can the travel industry do? The element of uncertainty cannot be completely removed, but tour operators are among the most advantageously situated to keep an eye on what is going on in the destinations they serve. And when there is danger, they are among the first to hear and the first to respond. Their businesses rely on it.

There are many bad news stories coming at us day by day. It is highly unusual to hear of anyone being hurt who was in the care of a professional tour operator. It rarely happens. Traveling with the support of a dependable tour operator with a solid destination management network is one of the best ways to avoid risk.

Risk should actually boost business for tour operators. Avoiding it is their specialty, and the security and comfort they provide are among their top selling points.

Also, on a long-term basis, travel is one of the forces that works toward international understanding, cross-cultural harmony and peace.

Presidential Politics

Presidential election years are typically slightly down for the travel industry and for tour operators in particular. No one can say why exactly. It could be partly the distraction of the political theater being blasted constantly by the 24-hour news commentary stations. More likely it is the uncertainty of approaching that fork in the road and not knowing for sure which way things will go.

Will 2017 start with the inauguration of President Trump? Could it be President Sanders? Will it be Clinton II, or Bush III? Which industries will benefit and which will suffer? A Democratic victory will be more likely to lead to further opening of Cuba. Recent history would suggest a Republican victory might throw the process into reverse.

So presidential politics will no doubt have a big effect on the travel industry and will produce many of the biggest stories in the travel industry of 2016.

Latin America

The travel market for Latin America is growing robustly. The Brazil Olympics will probably not be much of a boost for tour operators when the event is going on because tour packages for the Olympics is a very specialized market controlled largely by the Olympic Committee and rather onerous for tour operators to get into. But the attention on Brazil will be tend to raise its international profile and be a boost for tourism before and after the events.

The rest of Latin America is also rising on the international stage. The region is seen as relatively safe. It is a new area for exploration for many who have traveled extensively elsewhere. Latin America is a vibrant part of the world and is on the verge of discovery by many Americans who are just now getting around to noticing. So Latin America will be an important story for 2016.

Sustainable Tourism

As environmental issues increase in intensity and visibility, as climate issues become more visible and the consequences and costs become more evident, the population at large is becoming increasingly concerned with environmental stewardship and sustainability. When large numbers of people change their minds just a little bit, businesses have to follow the leads of their customers, and more and more companies are adopting sustainable practices.

Consumers are increasingly counting sustainable practices as part of what they require of a company they do business with. Tourism is one of the most active and advanced industries in terms of environmental protection. Look for this trend to continue and intensify in 2016.

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