“I wouldn’t repeat 2020 for 20 million dollars, but I won’t ignore the lessons we learned last year.”
And for Catherine Prather, National Tour Association president, one big lesson carried over from 2020 is how to capitalize on web conferencing.
When NTA members were unable to gather in person for the 2020 Travel Exchange, Prather and her staff conducted the association’s signature event, nicknamed TREX, in a virtual format, complete with business appointments, seminars … even entertainment. And throughout 2020, NTA members stayed connected via Zoom for a series of roundtables, strategy sessions, and happy hours.
“Those virtual meet-ups were truly screen saviors,” Prather said. “The huge amount of information and support kept everyone informed and, just as important, connected.”
So, how is NTA applying 2020’s lesson to 2021? As a complement to the association’s return to an in-person Travel Exchange — Nov. 14—17 in Cleveland — NTA is presenting two of its popular B2B sessions in a virtual setting prior to everyone coming together. And a third web conferencing session, part of NTA’s collaboration with the International Tour Management Institution, is set for late October.
In the weeks ahead of Travel Exchange, NTA will conduct the following sessions virtually, allowing members to take care of vital business needs and providing a shorter (four-day) show.
- Sales Missions: Groups of U.S. and Canadian DMOs (and often, suppliers) who are from the same area meet with groups of tour operators and share ideas and itineraries for packaging multiple days in their destination. 4
- Best Pitch: Overseas members take turns before a large group of operators, delivering concise reports and recommendations for group and FIT tours in their respective countries. 4
- Job interviews: Tour operators seeking to fill tour director positions will interview ITMI-trained and -certified professionals. 25 and 27
When NTA members gather in person in Cleveland, they will be joined by other professionals whose associations—ITMI as well as the World Food Travel Association—are conducting meetings and specialized education sessions alongside Travel Exchange seminars, roundtables, and business appointments. And delegates of all three associations will mingle at luncheons and evening events and on the Exchange Floor.
“We’ve built a better event,” Prather said. “For Travel Exchange this year, NTA members will spend less time out of the office, make new connections, and reunite with colleagues they’ve partnered with through the years.”
After a year of lost business and newfound traveler preferences, it’s important for industry professionals to reconnect. In NTA’s midyear business survey, two-thirds of responding tour operators said they have modified their 2021 itineraries, and 56% said they are creating new itineraries for 2022.
“They need to meet with DMOs and suppliers for ideas and for updates on terms and pricing,” Prather said. “That’s the lesson we’re learning this year.”
Bob Rouse is NTA’s vice president for communication and editor of Courier.