By Mac Lacy
An Internet sensation leapt from cyberspace to the real world, going viral in a Waikoloa, Hawaii, ballroom, during the 2012 United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) Annual Conference.
At the conclusion of the opening session offered for 700 attendees of the conference on the Big Island of Hawaii, USTOA president and CEO Terry Dale shared a video. He introduced it as a piece that summed up well the benefits that travel and travel producers create for the world at large.
Perhaps intentionally, Dale offered a somewhat understated introduction of the session’s final piece.
A fascinating five-minute video entitled “Dancing 2012” followed — a compilation of dozens of dance routines from every corner of the globe, all led by an unassuming young man named Matt Harding. Harding’s Internet dance routines — popularly known under the name of “Where the Hell is Matt?” — are among the most-watched videos on the Internet, garnering more than 80 million views a year on YouTube and www.wherethehellismatt.com.
Harding’s video is uplifting, inspiring and addictive. Its soundtrack is the song “Trip the Light,” an equally compelling piece of work. The delegates in the room watched and listened as destination after destination came up and rose to applaud at the video’s conclusion.
Afterwards, Dale wondered aloud where in the world Matt might be then. As soon as he did, the Internet star stood from the middle of the room. Amid cheers, he made his way to the stage for a quick interview with Dale, who then encouraged delegates to come up and get photos and videos with Harding. That’s when the room erupted and Harding danced along with dozens of small groups as seasoned travel professionals from across the world became adoring fans of an unlikely hero.
As it turns out, USTOA has struck a deal with Harding to have him represent its members in 2013 and to travel to at least 10 different places in the world to tape new dance routines. USTOA will also create video tags for the pieces that will promote the use of their member operators as travel providers.
“We began talking with Matt quite a while ago,” Dale told media members afterwards. “But his video for 2012 was already planned and we wanted to re-design our website before doing this, so the timing worked out perfectly to do this in 2013. My only problem now is trying to accommodate everyone who wants to be part of this. The response today has been overwhelming.”
“I’m excited about this new partnership with USTOA,” said Harding, who, in person, offers a compelling simplicity for such an Internet sensation. “The association and its members embrace the same principles of exploration and collaboration with people from all walks of life around the globe. I can’t wait to hit the road with them.”
Dale and his board also briefed their members in that opening session on the new economic impact research that has been completed for USTOA by PriceWaterhouseCoopers that shows USTOA operators generated more than $10 billion in economic impact in 2011 and are expected to generate more than $11 billion in 2012.
Gleaned from complete or partial participation by 80 percent of USTOA active members, the research also showed that the organization’s tour operators planned trips for more than 6 million travelers and employed more than 10,200 people within the U.S. in 2011. Significantly, 64.4 percent of member packages were sold by travel agents, establishing that industry’s continuing influence as travel sellers.
“As USTOA increases its advocacy role within the industry and in the nation’s capital, it is critical that we truly understand the economic footprint of our active members,” said Dale in a statement. “This vital information on sales, jobs, the impact on our hotel and airline partners, the role of travel agents, and the forecast of the future, paints an accurate picture of how integral our members are to the health of the industry overall and strengthens our voice to stakeholders.”
At the media briefing afterwards, Dale said USTOA hopes to update the research with its members biannually in the future.