CLEVELAND — Nearly 600 tour operators, destination and supplier representatives and other travel industry professionals attended NTA’s Travel Exchange in Cleveland, November 14-17.
The event marked the first in-person meeting of a major tourism trade association since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Like other trade associations, NTA moved its 2020 Travel Exchange to an online-only format. But with widespread vaccination and testing availability, NTA’s leaders saw an opportunity to return to in-person business and decided to go ahead with the Cleveland conference, which had been scheduled several years in advance.
NTA president Catherine Prather said the decision to hold Travel Exchange in person reflected the importance of the tourism industry’s influence on public perception.
“We are in the travel industry,” she said. “Our members are out there telling people that it’s safe to travel and that they need to travel. So we believe we have to set the example for that.”
In addition to its standard education sessions and business appointments between tour operators and destination or supplier representatives, the 2021 Travel Exchange marked the inaugural year for a pair of new partnerships. The World Food Travel Association (WFTA) held its first FoodTrex North American Summit during the Travel Exchange conference. And the International Tour Management Institute (ITMI), an organization that trains and certifies tour guides, brought its education program to the Cleveland conference as well.
Ted Bravos, founder and CEO of ITMI, said bringing his organization’s tour management students to Travel Exchange created important opportunities for them to expand their horizons in the tourism industry, including culinary organizations represented by WFTA.
“We have so many of our graduates who want to start their own food and wine tours,” Bravos said. “With FoodTrex, they’re learning how to do it.”
Tourism Cares, NTA’s philanthropic partner, used the occasion to announce the development of its Meaningful Travel Map of North America. This project allows destinations across the country to highlight local attractions or tourism-facing businesses that make an impact in their communities, with special emphasis on organizations founded or owned by people of color and women.
“We’re still largely known for our events,” said Tourism Cares chief experience officer Jessica Flores. “But we really need to focus our energy on these tools for change.”
NTA’s 2022 Travel Exchange is scheduled for November 13-16 in Reno, Nevada.