By Michelle Baran
MARCO ISLAND, Fla. Nearly 11 months after Terry Dale assumed the role of president for the U.S. Tour Operators Association, members attending the organization's annual conference and marketplace here last week were abuzz with optimism about the sea change taking place.
Dale is taking a fresh approach to everything from the way USTOA members interact and network with one another to the association's priorities, which for 2012 include working more closely with Washington and the airlines.
Earlier this year, the USTOA tapped Washington-based McBee Strategic to manage the association's presence on Capitol Hill, the first time the organization sought the services of a lobbying firm.
And among the organization's top priorities for 2012 is working with the Transportation Department on its new rules for full-fare advertising, which take effect Jan. 24.
"We don't believe they are necessarily looking at issues and targeting us, but because we haven't had a face and a voice and an established relationship, they start drafting things that really do impact us," Dale said at a press conference during the USTOA's annual event. "And shame on us if we aren't there ... educating them so that they understand the full effect of things."
Dale noted that what the USTOA has been asking the DOT for is greater "clarity" in its regulations. For instance, travel sellers will be required to notify consumers about the potential for an increase in the full price of a package should air taxes or fees increase after a purchase.
"To do that over a phone and have appropriate documentation is burdensome, and 'costly' is an understatement," Dale said.
He added that the DOT has "acknowledged that this wasn't their best thinking" and that there is talk of further rewriting and clarifying the rules.
As for working more closely with the airlines, it's no small secret that tour operators' frustration with the airlines has been steadily growing amid rising fuel surcharges and capacity concerns, issues over which tour operators have little or no control.
Dale said that while member brands and companies have faced challenges in trying to approach the airlines individually, "it's still going to be challenging for us as an association, but collectively we stand a better shot at educating or trying to re-establish relationships."
Interestingly, one area where tour operators feel they see somewhat eye to eye with the airlines is with regard to the DOT's full-fare advertising rules.
"It's the first time in a while that the airlines and tour operators are kind of on the same side," said John Stachnik, president and co-owner of Mayflower Tours and outgoing chairman of the USTOA. "We've usually been at loggerheads."
As the USTOA heads into its 40th anniversary year in 2012, Dale said that the main themes will be engagement and activation of the membership. Along those lines, earlier this year, the organization introduced a Business After Hours concept, meetings that will take place in various cities (the first two were in Los Angeles and New York) intended to increase member networking opportunities.
A travel vacation should not only be an unforgettable experience, but offer solid peace of mind. That’s why USTOA created a consumer protection fund which protects consumers who book with our Active Members.Learn More