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Search Underway for New NTA Leader

LOS ANGELES — At the NTA Convention held February 16-20 in Los Angeles, outgoing NTA chairman Mark Hoffmann detailed the association’s search process to replace former president Lisa Simon, who resigned in November. Since that time, longtime staff executive Catherine Prather has served as interim president.

“We contracted with John Tarvin of Claremont Consultants, the same group that did the search for Tourism Cares,” said Hoffmann, owner of Sports Leisure Vacations in Sacramento, California. “They came very highly recommended to us. I actually went so far as to speak to two applicants who did not get the Tourism Cares position about their experience in working with John Tarvin. They were happy to speak with us and recommended the firm without reservation.

“Our search committee is made up of last year’s NTA executive committee plus W. James ‘Jim’ Host [longtime executive vice president of the NTA] and former NTA chairman John Stachnik of Mayflower Tours.”

Hoffmann said the search committee decided early on to not detail what type of professional experience or background they were seeking for the new president of NTA.

“We have not profiled this person on purpose,” he said. “Maybe this is a person with tourism experience — maybe it’s not. We’ve even discussed the possibility of bringing in someone who is a turnaround specialist who might stay only a year or so before turning it over to a long-term executive. Everything’s on the table.

“I called Peter Pantuso over at ABA [American Bus Association], and he told me, ‘Mark, I didn’t come from the travel industry and look how long I’ve been here.’  Peter listens to people and listens to his customers, and that may be more important than industry experience. So we feel like we’re coming into this with no preconceived ideas of just who we’re looking for.”

Hoffmann added that he personally would like to see the relationship between NTA and ABA improve and become more cooperative.

“ABA is our sister organization, and I think it’s wrong that we haven’t worked more closely together,” he said.

Hoffmann said there are no plans to move the association’s headquarters from Lexington, Kentucky, at this time.

“We’re an international organization,” he said. “We could operate from almost anywhere, but there are no plans at this time to move the headquarters.”

The search committee expects to hire someone by early summer.

“June or July at the latest, I think,” said Hoffmann. “John Tarvin has laid out a plan for us and has conducted many interviews with the staff, board members and others to really get a feel for what we need to look for in a president. While I’m on the subject of staff interviews, let me say that Catherine and her entire staff have been amazingly professional through a difficult time, and we appreciate that.”

On other subjects, Hoffmann said that NTA, like all organizations in travel and other fields, is dealing with traditional norms that must change to accommodate other industry segments and younger business leaders who are emerging.

“The tent has to become bigger,” he said. “We have 30 travel agents here in Los Angeles. There’s no time to worry about whether a travel agent will become a competitor. Some of them may, but most of them are a distribution channel for us. The agents who are here paid to be here — that should tell you something about them.

“USTOA [United States Tour Operators Association] members sell a lot of their product through travel agents, and I think that’s one of the directions we need to go in as well. I’m also increasingly optimistic that the UMA[United Motorcoach Association] bus companies that are here will book business and vice versa.”

“Appointments are gone,” Hoffmann said when asked to look five years down the road and describe what he envisioned for the convention. “Something bigger and better replaces them. No one has seven minutes anymore to spend with 160 different people when they could spend that same time doing serious business with a smaller number of people. In five years, the tent is bigger and other organizations are under it with us.”

Mac Lacy

Mac Lacy is president and publisher of The Group Travel Leader Inc. Mac has been traveling and writing professionally ever since a two-month backpacking trip through Europe upon his graduation with a journalism degree from the University of Evansville in 1978.