NTA tour operators have seen restrictions relax and clients come back, but they’ve also experienced a headache or two on the bumpy road back to “normal.” So at Travel Exchange ’22 in November, they’ll be looking to firm up plans with trusted partners and gather new ideas from NTA colleagues.
When the NTA community gathers in Reno, Nevada, Nov. 13–16, buyers and sellers will meet in appointments, in small-group info sessions, and at scores of other networking and learning events throughout the show. And based on their responses to a recent survey, NTA tour operators will look to DMOs, suppliers, and other operators for help in developing solutions to post-pandemic challenges.
Asked in the survey about business in 2023, most NTA operators are positive: Two-thirds report that bookings are meeting or exceeding expectations, with nearly a third terming business as stronger than expected. Just under a quarter (23%) say bookings are not as promising as they had hoped.
Not all operators are seeing the same demands, said NTA President Catherine Prather.
Catherine Prather, president, NTA
“The range in responses from our operators matches the variety of clients they serve, the destinations they visits, and the experiences they specialize in,” Prather said. “While some companies are simply picking up where they left off, others are dealing with shifts in client requests, including an interest in smaller group sizes.”
A significant challenge for operators is widespread staff shortages that lead to reduced hours or days of operation among suppliers—the restaurants and experience providers that NTA operators count on for their groups’ meals and activities.
“They’re handling those challenges by adding flexibility and individual choice within their group itineraries,” Prather said. “They’re also providing unstructured time in the itinerary so their travelers can choose how to spend this free time.”
Increased prices, too, have been a struggle for many tour operators and travelers—but not all. Some operators say their clients are not concerned with price and are willing to spend more to travel in a smaller group. Others say that increased prices are leading some travelers to delay or scale down their travel.
While operators are doing their best to set prices now for future tours, they are being upfront with clients now.
“NTA operators are dealing with so many factors that are out of their control, but they can control what they’re telling their clients,” Prather said. “We heard over and over that clear and honest communication—about prices, service levels, and scheduling—helps to manage client expectations.”
Another key for tour operators is maintaining effective relationships with their DMO and supplier partners.
“Tour operators are still producing brochures with scheduled departures, but with shifts in traveler preferences, there are more calls for customized tours, which accentuate the need for quick access to a lot of good partners,” Prather said. “And of all the operator responses I read, the most gratifying was the shortest.”
One operator concluded their description of current challenges with this: “It is easier as an NTA member.”