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Service Levels and Entrepreneurship are Highlighted at TREX 22

Most NTA tour companies are optimistic about growth in 2023, but skyrocketing hotel rates and chronic staffing issues at many hotels, restaurants and motorcoach companies are tempering that enthusiasm. Disruption of service levels as a result of the pandemic was just one point of discussion at the NTA Travel Exchange (TREX 22) held November 13–16, in Reno, Nevada.  More than 600 delegates from 23 countries gathered for the annual event, including 130 tour operators and 59 tour directors.    

“Service levels for groups are a key to what we have to address after COVID,” said NTA president Catherine Prather. “We need to create renewed awareness of best practices for handling groups in general. Some operators feel like they are offering on-site orientation to new hotel staff at times. It becomes another layer of work for the tour company that did not exist before the pandemic.”

Given that service has also suffered in many industries outside of travel, Prather and her leadership are realistic about the realities of having to reacquaint some in the industry with the importance of groups. Prather said her current board members are up to the challenge and are equipped with innovative business skills.

“We have progressive, forward-thinking people on this board,” she said. “We have members from 30 countries involved in NTA, and we have never been afraid to innovate. Our board is tempered by its youth and geographical diversity. They press us forward on every issue we face.”

Prather described two evolving terms that came up in Reno that NTA uses to describe a recent phenomenon in tourism — “new packagers” and “experience providers.” She described them as entrepreneurs who have created a business from a local activity. 

“They’re travel suppliers in our world, but maybe there is a more defined membership category there,” she said. “We’re still trying to figure that out. Many of them started their businesses as a direct result of COVID. They became tourism innovators in their local communities, and they offer the authenticity that every traveler wants. That presents an opportunity for us next year to have our veterans provide training and encouragement to these new tourism drivers.”

NTA is a member of the Travel Unity organization, which promotes diversity, equity and inclusion as values for the travel industry to incorporate. Prather, a board member of Travel Unity, said NTA will release a new mission statement and core values document within weeks based on refinements discussed by her board in Reno.

She characterized TREX 22 as energetic and noted her members were among those who had led the return to in-person meetings for the industry.

“We were one of the first major travel organizations to host an in-person gathering after the shutdown that COVID created,” she said. “We had a wonderful meeting in Memphis in May 2021 that made a very positive statement to the industry and to our members. COVID reasserted itself that fall, but that positivity was evident again this year in Reno. Our tour operators were booking business on-site, and we are all excited about the year ahead.”

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.