USTOA Opens Annual Conference on Theme of Open Borders
PHOTO: Terry Dale addresses the crowd during the USTOA conference. (Photo by David Cogswell)
The U.S. Tour Operators Association Annual Conference and Marketplace was convened at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago with President and CEO Terry Dale evoking the theme of borders, as in breaking down borders.
The first broken border mentioned by Dale was the proverbial glass ceiling for women as USTOA inaugurated its first female chairman, Paula Twidale, executive vice president of Collette. Twidale will hold the position for two years.
Twidale will be followed in the chair at the end of her term by another woman. Dana Santucci, vice president of development for EF Education First, is USTOA’s current vice chairman and will succeed Paula Twidale as chairman in two years.
Dale also brought up the political issue of “securing our borders.”
“Today we are in a very sensitive, emotionally charged environment where this country along with a lot of the countries represented in this very room are working through the challenging topic of securing our borders,” said Dale.
“My recommendation is that we will let our elected officials work through that process, hopefully to a successful solution. But there is one thing that I know and that I have confidence in and that is that we are one of a very few industries that have a potential to make a difference. Because when you think about it, as we take customers to every corner of the world and expose our guests to different guests and different people, we instill hope. And at the end of the day we realize that we share that common bond as being a citizen of this world. And the more people get out and travel, I believe the safer and more secure we will be as a country.”
The opening ceremony also included presentations by Rodrigo Esponda, regional director for North America of Mexico Tourism Board, which sponsored the opening ceremony; Jerre Fuqua, president of Travcoa and the outgoing chairman of USTOA, who introduced Twidale; and finally Doc Hendley, the founder of Wine to Water, an organization dedicated to providing access to clean water to communities around the world that don’t have it.
Fuqua reported good news in the form of the results of a recent survey of members. The survey indicated that 75 percent of the active members reported their business was up in 2015 and 70 reported their passenger numbers were also up. One third reported a boom year with sales up 10 percent or more. And two thirds reported increases of 4-9 percent.
Ninety percent of the organization’s members are “expecting strong growth.” Fifty percent are expecting “a boom year” in 2016.
Fuqua reported that a survey of consumers commissioned by USTOA and carried out by Cornell University MBA School discovered three themes: people are confident about their ability to afford travel; interest in international travel is growing, with South America leading the trend; and safety concerns have declined.
The survey was conducted in mid-October, before the attacks in Paris.
Paula Twidale took to the stage in her first official act as chairman, saying, “I am overwhelmed and full of gratitude, and I want to say thank you to everyone for being here to help celebrate this great journey.”
USTOA is evolving, said Twidale, and “today gender is out of the equation. USTOA respects the contribution of the members without barriers or marginalization. That’s a feat in and of itself…
“The arms of USTOA are wide open, encouraging innovation, commitment and diversity,” she said.
“I’m honored to be the first woman who is chairman, but actually ecstatic that it’s the beginning for so many talented women to follow.”
More by David Cogswell
Get Travel Deals and Travel News
Recent Travel Opinions
Features & Advice
Airlines & Airports
Destination & Tourism