- Özgür Töre
As many budgets cut to the bone and business travel has been all but eliminated, the National Tour Association comes with a solution to connect its members. The association’s signature event, Travel Exchange, will be conducted entirely online.
“Instead of gathering this November in Reno, Nevada, we’re going to get together on our laptops, desktops, and mobile devices,” said NTA President Catherine Prather, CTP. “This online event will deliver a combination of one-on-one and small group appointments plus seminars and sessions with real solutions for recovery.”
The virtual Travel Exchange, dubbed vTREX, will take place Nov. 17–19 and be hosted by Prather and NTA Chair Jim Warren, CTP. Members can arrange one-on-one appointments and participate in the popular Sales Mission and Best Pitch meetings that were launched last year. In plenary sessions, industry experts will address industry-wide issues, and members can seek specific answers and strategies in breakout sessions and panel discussions.
“Throughout the COVID shutdown, NTA has found tremendous success with online meetings that bring together members from like companies as well as sessions that allow members from all types of organizations to get answers,” Warren said. “And vTREX will be an expansion of those meetings and webinars plus many of the same opportunities for product development that brings NTA members to Travel Exchange every year.
“All we’re missing are the hugs and handshakes,” he added.
Warren and Prather said that the staff and board investigated every possibility for having an in-person show, including the use of social distancing, masks, and an abundance of hand sanitizers.
“We really wanted to see our colleagues in Reno this fall, and we were set to roll out a new schedule with several innovations,” Warren said. “But with the threat of a fall spike in COVID cases and the very real damage the disease has done to our members’ budgets, we determined that an online conference is what’s sensible and safe in every way—and we know it won’t be canceled.”
After weeks of scenario planning and platform research, Prather and her team developed a combination of live participatory events and reviewable sessions that will accommodate members in a wide range of time zones, all with a need to connect.
“Travel buyers and sellers do business best when they can gather together to share itinerary ideas and compare strategies—and that’s why TREX works so well for them,” Prather said. “But this year, most of them simply don’t have the budget to attend the show. So we’re taking the show to them.”
Prather added that NTA will still take the show to Nevada. Reno Tahoe will host the 2022 Travel Exchange a year after the TREX ’21 show in Cleveland.
During vTREX, NTA will continue its collaboration with the International Tour Management Institute, enabling tour companies and other NTA members to meet with ITMI-certified tour directors to fill key roles on their staff. vTREX will also welcome travel professionals whose engagement in the NTA community was interrupted by COVID-related job loss.
Registration for vTREX will open in late June, with an expanded window of early-bird pricing. Lower fees reflect association leaders’ desire to make the event more affordable, allowing more members to attend.
“With registration fees less than half of our regular show and with no expenses for travel, we expect to see our regular delegates and pick up some new attendees, too,” Prather said. “The landscape for travel will look much different in November than it does now, and members will want to get together to revise existing itineraries and create new ones.”
Warren, an experienced tour operator and a 40-year member of NTA, said the travel industry took an enormous hit from the virus, but his colleagues are resilient.
“We’ve battled back after 9/11, the Great Recession, and one health scare after another, but this one is the worst yet,” he said. “Now we’re ready to get back in gear and put our businesses, our lives, and our customers on the road again. NTA will lead the way.”
To learn about vTREX, go to NTAtravelexchange.com. In the weeks ahead, details about the show’s speakers, seminars, and business opportunities will be posted as they develop.