National Tour Association members said they are already seeing strong demand for domestic and international trips in 2023 and into 2024.
And the organization said that growth and a more robust recovery from the pandemic is on the horizon, especially if the industry can train and educate new hires who lack extensive travel industry knowledge.
"The feedback I've received from members indicates that the travel industry's bumpy road will smooth out a bit in the next two years, and some new paths are likely to open up for tour operators," Catherine Prather, president of the NTA, told attendees at the Travel Exchange conference in Reno, Nev.
The biggest and "most significant" issue facing tour operators, the NTA said, will be that reduced staff levels will hinder service levels and have limited facility availability to travelers, a concern that was echoed by tour operators at the USTOA conference in December.
Prather said that hotels have cut certain services, restaurants aren't operating normal hours and there are fewer workers to accommodate the group tours that heavily rely on these services. She added that the staffing shortages are compounded by big increases for group rates at hotels and restaurants.
One member, she said, cited hotel rate increases of up to 70% in 2022.
NTA attributed the price hikes to the staffing issues, inflation, and high demand.
"My hope is that all three factors will level off in the next year, and we want to keep reminding suppliers that they can count on tour operators to bring guests to their doors over and over," Prather said.
NTA members say that operators are finding themselves having to train new staffers while on the job. And Prather pointed to a critical loss of institutional knowledge in the segment, making it difficult for tour operators to find suppliers able or willing to work with groups. "We need to work on training for newcomers to packaged travel, helping them understand tour operations, and informing them -- and their revenue managers -- about the sustainable value of tour operator packaged travel."
Beyond the challenges, the NTA said that its membership was up in 2022 and it expects growth to continue. Prather said the November conference had 20% more tour operators in attendance than the previous year and that the organization is recovering well from the pandemic by recouping lost membership, hosting well-attended events and working efficiently with a smaller staff.
Another top priority for the NTA in 2023 will be its focus on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
The travel organization's DEI Advisory Board recently reviewed the NTA's foundational documents and revised its mission statement and core values to reflect its ongoing efforts in that area. The advisory board is also focusing on sustainability and meaningful travel, which Prather said is top of mind for travelers these days.
"I really laud the work of our DEI Advisory Group -- they diligently and carefully conducted their review," Prather said.
"Sustainability, or meaningful travel, is another top priority -- not only for our association itself, but also helping our members with this."