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NTA Takes Lessons from 2020 into New Year

NTA President Catherine Prather

After developing a raft of creative, online ways for its members to address challenges and stay connected during 2020’s pandemic, NTA has launched a comprehensive engagement plan for next year.

President Catherine Prather, CTP, said the association will take lessons from the past 10 tumultuous months and conduct a variety of online interactions throughout the year.

“2020 has been very challenging, but out of adversity, we learned how we can meet members’ needs more broadly and more frequently,” Prather said.

“Following up on a very positive virtual conference in November, we’ll start 2021 with a lineup of learning, networking, and business events.”

That lineup will include the following:

  • Quarterly sessions of BizNet, NTA’s facilitated small-group discussions that allow members from different locations and businesses to share challenges and brainstorm ideas.
  • Bimonthly member network meetings that allow participants in like membership categories—buyers, suppliers, and DMOs—to compare notes and strategies.
  • Executive roundtables, periodic sessions that allow top-level administrators and owners to confidentially discuss the challenges associated with leadership.
  • Education—monthly webinars or panel discussions—that address the opportunities and limitations of the packaged travel industry as restrictions loosen and tours resume.

Along with participating in these meetings, presentations, and guided discussions, members can also use NTA’s online resources 24/7. They include interacting on Engage, reading business articles and researching tour product on NTAcourier.com, and conducting member searches on NTAonline.com.

Two of the BizNet sessions are slated for in-person events: Contact and Travel Exchange. At NTA’s virtual Travel Exchange (vTREX) last month, Prather announced key changes to those events: Contact, an annual buyer retreat, moves from March to May 5­–8 in Memphis, and Travel Exchange ’21, shortened to a four-day show, will take place Nov. 14–17 in Cleveland.

“What makes the return to these popular in-person events even sweeter is that we’ll enhance them with lessons we learned from our virtual offerings in 2020,” Prather said. “The feedback from vTREX was flat-out phenomenal, and we have already started working on what we can carry over from that event to our signature shows.”

Prather said that members were appreciative of the opportunity to meet under this year’s unique circumstances, and many pointed out positives from vTREX, including Colleen Stephens, president of Alaska-based Stan Stephens Glacier & Wildlife Cruises.

“Participating in vTREX allowed our company to maintain relationships, build new ones, and support operators who are looking for new and creative itineraries,” Stephens said. “This member truly is thankful you took the effort.”

Among the programming and event lessons learned in 2020, NTA leaders also want to take forward into 2021 an attitude of flexibility.

“We have mapped out a menu of engagement to help NTA members connect with colleagues, and we’ll use feedback and current events to determine what those sessions will focus on,” Prather said. “NTA members showed remarkable resilience and ingenuity, and whatever 2021 throws at us, we know we can face it.”

As soon as COVID concerns shut down travel last spring, NTA began providing members with a variety of resources: webinars covering topics such as insurance, legal matters, and marketing; frequent member meetings, ranging from strategy sessions to happy hours; and loads of online content, ranging from business articles on NTAcourier.com to continual updates from NTA’s advocacy firm in Washington, D.C.

Prather looks forward to 2021 with confidence that NTA and its engagement plan will help during the industry’s recovery. “Members told us in our post-event survey that they feel more optimistic about next year following vTREX,” she said. “Our job is to continue to keep them connected, informed, and energized as travel and tours start a 2021 comeback.”

For more information about NTA and its members, visit NTAonline.com and NTAcourier.com.

CUTLINE: NTA President Catherine Prather served as a live on-air host for the association’s virtual Travel Exchange conference in November. The online event brought members together for business meetings, seminars, and socializing.

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