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NTA explores terminating management contract with IMG

Courtesy NTA

MONTREAL — In anticipation of its 60th anniversary in 2011, NTA announced a raft of changes and new initiatives at its annual convention in November; however, it was an unannounced development that was a prominent part of conversation here. A management review that could result in the termination of NTA’s management contract with IMG Worldwide is well underway.

In October, the association’s tour operator members voted to extend the tenure of the current board of directors and executive committee in order to consider a transition away from IMG.

“We needed to extend the term of the board of directors for one year,” said Cathy Greteman, chairman and CEO of the association, in response to a question at a media forum in Montreal. “We are in the midst of transitioning the management of the association from a management company to self-management. We’re looking at a lot of our policies and things that have been around for a long period of time.”

IMG took over management of NTA in 2007 when it acquired Host Communications, a Lexington, Ky.-based sports marketing and association-management company that had managed NTA for many years. As IMG’s primary business is in sports, NTA volunteer leaders here said that IMG executives and NTA leadership have agreed that a parting of ways could be best for all involved.

Details of how the changeover will unfold remain unclear, but it sounds like much of the association staff currently employed by IMG could transition into direct employment with NTA, including president Lisa Simon. Up to 25 current employees could be retained by the new structure, said persons close to the situation.

Beyond its management transition, NTA announced plans to continue to develop and advocate for travel to and from North America.

“NTA is all about strengthening the North American travel industry,” Simon said. “We’re doing as much as we can to help prepare our members and position them for growth.”

As part of those efforts, the association has commissioned a travel research company to create Travel Trade Barometers for the top five inbound markets into the United States, as well as for China. Simon also announced that NTA is opening a Visit USA Center in China, to encourage Chinese travelers to plan trips to the United States with the 175 tour operators participating in NTA’s China Inbound Program.

International travel is also on the fore of the association’s government relations agenda. Stephen Richer, NTA’s public affairs advocate, said that his office will continue to work for easing border crossing with Canada, as well as loosening of restrictions on travel to Cuba. In 2008, the U.S. government began requiring passports for all travel in North America.

“The travel deficit in Canada went from $2 billion to $5 billion in the last two years,” Richer said. “We have an interest to see what can be done to expedite the movement of people between the U.S. and Canada. There can be a lot of effort to move people more quickly, and NTA has a perspective on both sides of the border.”

The annual convention occurred in conjunction with the World Religious Travel Expo, which began co-locating with NTA last year. The two events will again co-locate in Las Vegas next year; after that, they will join with the United Motorcoach Association’s expo in January of 2013.