The United States’ National Tour Association (NTA) will connect buyers and sellers (one-on-one appointments and group presentations) at vTREX, a virtual Travel Exchange in mid-November.
NTA’s innovative answer during the pandemic will also provide insightful education (live or on demand), and create interactive events for members who miss seeing each other’s smiling faces.
The need for professionals to connect is palpable, and the low cost of registration—plus the no cost of travel—has made vTREX extraordinarily affordable, says Cathy Greteman, CTP, owner of Star Destinations in Carroll, Iowa.
“The virtual environment allows us to get all of the power of the event without the expense,” Greteman says. “It also allows us to engage more staff members in the meeting’s energy.”
The price is especially right this year. Buyers who participate with a full book of prescheduled appointments can attend vTREX for only $75, and reps from the same company can participate at a cost ranging from free (additional full-appointment-takers) to $50 (partial-appointment-takers who wish to focus on one buying area) and $125 (non-appointment-takers who still have access to all other events).
The affordability factor is leading NTA tour operators to send more staff members to vTREX than they would to an in-person convention. And every delegate has specific tasks. Greteman says tour planners on her staff will meet with DMOs to get the big picture, and her operations specialists will meet with NTA-member hotels, restaurants, and attractions.
“We are looking forward to this meeting, fully expecting the appointment sessions to be top-notch,” she says. “That will allow us to get down to nuts and bolts with little or no distractions.”
vTREX will take place Nov. 17–19, Tuesday through Thursday, with a bonus business day on each end. Tour operators will have a series of six-minute appointments with DMOs on Tuesday, and their one-on-ones with tour suppliers will take place the next two days. Sales Mission and Best Pitch sessions—where DMOs present to a group of buyers—are slated for Monday, and Super Appointments—10-minute meetings at buyers’ requests—will be on Friday.
Another company expanding its presence at Travel Exchange is Mayflower Cruises and Tours. “Historically, we have sent two staff members to Travel Exchange, but this time all of the contracting team will join in,” says Nish Patel, president of the Lisle, Illinois-based company. “We’re also including an international buyer in the hope that this will attract some international suppliers to attend.”
And tour operators are registering more than buyers. Roland Neave, CTP, owner of Wells Gray Travel, says the British Columbia-based company is sending seven staff members to vTREX, including buyers, a general manager, the marketing director, and two office managers. Neave wants his staff to expand their business knowledge.
“It’s easy for office employees to stay at their desks and do similar jobs day after day, but by attending vTREX, they will hear a variety of speakers, meet other operators and suppliers in the chat rooms, and gain a better appreciation for the vast complexity of the travel industry,” he says.
Neave and his son Fraser will “divide the world” and take appointments with sellers in specific regions, and he wants his other employees to experience the show for themselves. “Attending a big event is quite an eye-opener, especially for someone new to the travel industry,” he says. “And vTREX is a bargain at $125 for our non-appointment staff, and we don’t have to pay for flights and hotels.”
Another operator with big plans for vTREX is Shannon Larsen, VP of operations for Ed-Ventures. Six staff members from the Rochester, Minnesota, tour company will attend vTREX, and Larsen has at least that many goals for the event.
“With the discounted pricing, we can improve our game plan—and knowledge—about many locations in North America as well as abroad, and we’ll also take advantage of the fun that an NTA convention can be,” she says. “Networking has always been part of our success at Travel Exchange, and now more staff can share in this.”
Along with two veterans of TREX (Larsen and her brother Paul) Ed-Ventures is sending a new employee with experience as a guide, another colleague who will be attending for the first time, and two staffers who have attended TREX before.
“It’s a chance for us to stay in touch with industry friends—it helps with booking hotels and sites when you know a face—and we can find out what’s happening outside of our area regarding COVID, current travel, and ideas for the future,” Larsen says.
The pandemic has created a world of challenges in the travel industry, and pivoting from the in-person conference scheduled for Reno, Nevada, to an online event has been a big step for the NTA staff. But vTREX will be a carefully crafted get-together, according to President Catherine Prather, CTP.
“Knowing that people are eager to connect, we’ve created an online event that will be rewarding on many levels. Members will be able to build business and experience the NTA community,” Prather says. “At the same time, we’re aware of the limitations of an on-screen event. Our goal is to maximize our time together.”
Buyers like Jerry Varner are counting on vTREX to see suppliers and vendors. “I am a huge believer in maintaining relationships, and in this current environment, it’s more important than ever,” says the owner of Missouri-based Making Memories Tours. “I’m also hoping to meet new suppliers and vendors who are giving this virtual format a try.”
At the same time buyers are taking advantage of the low cost of attending vTREX, other members are enjoying dramatically reduced registration prices—especially with early-bird rates, good through Sept. 30. By registering this week, sellers and associates can sign up for $495. Starting Oct. 1, the rate goes up $100, but it’s still well below prices in a normal year.
And while 2020 is anything but normal, NTA’s vTREX is providing delegates—both veterans and newbies—with a place they can meet to share insights and itineraries … as well as inspiration for a brighter future.