SAN ANTONIO — Some 1,000 travel professionals attended NTA’s second Travel Exchange of 2017, December 14-18, in San Antonio.
Though the convention usually takes place annually, the second installment for 2017 was necessary to change the event date from winter to late fall, a season that has been traditionally successful for NTA meetings. NTA president Pam Inman said the move was requested by many longtime members of the association, which promised to continue to hold Travel Exchange in the late fall in coming years.
“As long as I am here, Travel Exchange will stay in the fourth quarter,” she told attendees at an all-delegate lunch.
The transition to the fourth quarter is just one of several moves the association is making to improve the Travel Exchange event and increase member engagement. Inman announced that NTA has retained the services of a consulting company called Minding Your Business (MYB) to evaluate and suggest changes to the convention.
“In the 1960s, NTA was the first travel association to have appointments,” she said. “Now it’s 40 years later, and tour operators do business differently.”
Chris Babb, president of The Group Tour Company and incoming NTA chair, said the initiative reflects members’ changing needs.
“We’re seeing a critical mass of people who are hungry to do business differently than it was done 40 years ago,” he said. “So we wanted somebody from the outside to come in and give us some opinions.”
Inman said the association has four goals for its work with MYB: aligning the Travel Exchange event with the organization’s broader strategy, growing event participation, refining education delivered at events and improving the event experience for attendees. Representatives of MYB were on-site at Travel Exchange to meet delegates, gather their feedback and evaluate the event. Inman expects an initial report of the firm’s findings in March, with recommendations for specific changes to follow in April.
Babb said any significant changes MYB recommends will first be considered by the NTA board and then be voted on by the membership before being implemented.
The December installment of Travel Exchange also saw the launch of two new initiatives — the DMO Network and the Supplier Network — intended to create increased engagement and benefits for travel industry members. The new groups are based on the concept of the Owners Network, a small group of NTA tour company proprietors who meet twice a year for executive-level discussions about business issues.
“I’ve belonged to NTA for a quarter century, and the opportunity to sit down with 15 to 20 other owners and discuss things is incredibly valuable,” said Mark Hoffman, owner of Sports Leisure Vacations and chairman of the Owners Network. “It’s like having your own set of consultants available. It allows you to talk about things you normally wouldn’t talk about.”
Using a similar model, the DMO Network will allow destination marketing organization representatives to share insights and solutions with each other. The network is being headed by Lisa Itel, manager of global sales for Travel Oregon.
“We get to come to convention once a year, but we’re really focusing on our own business when we’re here,” Itel said. “The DMO Network will create another platform for us to start communicating.”
The network will meet in person annually. The first meeting took place at Travel Exchange, and the 2018 gathering is scheduled for NTA’s Contact event in Charleston, South Carolina, in April.
NTA’s new Supplier Network, also launched at the December Travel Exchange, will follow a similar model, providing a discussion platform for attractions, hotels and other tourism suppliers. It will be led by Sally Berry, tourism sales and marketing manager at the Corning Museum of Glass.