Route 66 centennial

Route 66 Turns 100: NTA Plans Grand Centennial Celebrations

The National Tour Association (NTA) is kickstarting the celebration for Route 66’s upcoming 100th anniversary.

Route 66, the famous highway known as The Mother Road, turns 100 years old in 2026, and starting this year, NTA is helping tour operators create itineraries for multiday tours along the eight-state thoroughfare that celebrate the heritage and highlights of the iconic roadway.

At the Travel Exchange 2024 convention, set for November 17-20 in Huntsville, Alabama, travel planners will have the opportunity to delve into Route 66’s offerings. They’ll meet with destination reps, attraction operators, restaurateurs, and various experience providers along the historic route stretching from Chicago to the California coastline. The event will feature a special Route 66 corridor filled with booths, a themed reception, and an informative seminar among other educational and networking activities.

NTA President Catherine Prather said, “We first told members about our Route 66 celebration in early March, and the response has been wonderful. Our tour operators tell us that late 2024 is exactly when they want to collect information for Route 66 tours they’ll conduct in 2026, and members located along the highway—destinations and tour suppliers—are eager for tour groups to join the celebration.”

In preparation for the Travel Exchange, the NTA will facilitate connections between tour operators and Route 66 stakeholders through sponsored content on NTAcourier.com starting in September. This initiative aims to showcase Route 66’s unique stories, events, and activities, further enriching the upcoming tours. The association will post the articles on its magazine website, NTAcourier.com, at the start of September and then distribute them in print to tour operators at Travel Exchange ’24.

A survey conducted by the NTA revealed a significant interest among tour operators in creating a Route 66-centric tour, with a notable percentage ready to explore the highway’s potential for new tour packages.

“We found that fewer than 20 percent of responding operators currently offer a tour dedicated to Route 66, but we learned there’s tremendous opportunity for growth,” Prather said.

“About 40 percent currently package places on the highway and are interested in developing a new tour to commemorate the 100-year anniversary, and another 28 percent don’t know much about Route 66 or aren’t currently packaging its states, but they think it’s a good hook for their clients and want more information.”

Prather said NTA is gathering resources and experts on Route 66 to ensure that all interested operators can learn about the highway’s rich history and iconic quirkiness, although the best sources of information are the members located on or near the route.

“Tour operators are asking for ideas and suggested itineraries, and nobody has more knowledge of an area than a DMO—what’s there and what’s on the way,” she said. “We’ll do everything we can to help our members work together and create fabulous adventures for all travelers—Americans, Canadians, and overseas visitors—who want to explore Route 66.”

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