The National Tour Association, or NTA, is a business association for companies and organizations that serve customers traveling to, from, and within North America. We talked with Dawn Pettus, NTA’s vice president of events, about Travel Exchange, aka TREX, the association’s annual conference.

Dawn Pettus | National Tour Association
Dawn Pettus
Credit: NTA

Q. Can you provide a brief overview of NTA and Travel Exchange?

A. NTA is the home for packaged travel professionals, destinations, and experience providers, and our annual conference has long been a fantastic assortment of buyers and sellers who partner to build itineraries. I also think of Travel Exchange as an umbrella because of the organizations that partner with us: the International Tour Management Institute, the World Food Travel Association, and Tourism Cares. We find an inviting and exciting site for the conference each year, and this fall, we’ll be in Reno, Nevada, Nov. 13-16.

Q. How does attending Travel Exchange benefit packaged travel professionals?

A. Everyone will learn from our education sessions and from each other, but Travel Exchange is focused on business. The model for our event—and our association—starts with what NTA buyers want for their tours, and our seller members try to provide it. And much of that has changed since the pandemic, so travel buyers and sellers need each other now more than ever.

Travel Exchange one-on-one appointment | National Tour Association
Travel Exchange one-on-one appointment
Credit: Normand Huberdeau

Q. What’s new at Travel Exchange this year?

A. Business appointments are the No. 1 reason that members attend Travel Exchange, and we’ve done a lot to enhance those appointments, starting with ramping up the information in members’ online profiles. We’ve added universal breaks and walk time into appointment sessions, giving attendees more time to network, and we’re adding events and activities to our first afternoon together on the TREX Floor.

Q. What do you anticipate attendance at Travel Exchange to look like this year?

A. I checked last week and was excited to see we’re pacing significantly ahead of registration for the same period in 2021. Tour operators, as I said, are eager to meet in person with sellers, and so many DMOs and suppliers have fully restored budgets and want to get in front of our buyers.

Q. Can you explain the partnership with ITMI Symposium?

A. ITMI-certified tour directors and guides gather terrific information during the four days of Travel Exchange’s education sessions, meals, and destination info sessions, and NTA tour operators who are seeking to hire new staff members can interview them for positions ranging from tour directors to travel planners.

Travel Exchange | National Tour Association
NTA members applaud a Travel Exchange presentation
Credit: NTA

Q. Are there any seminars/speakers during TREX that you’re especially excited about?

A. We’re offering a good mix of familiar presenters and new faces, including Brad Montgomery, who’ll kick off the conference with a lot of smiles (and some magic) when he hosts “How to TREX” on Sunday afternoon. He’ll also speak about empowering and encouraging others in an all-attendee keynote session Monday morning.

Q. In an era of higher prices, COVID uncertainties, and worker shortages, it’s a new landscape for group tours. What adjustments have tour operators had to make?

A. In a recent NTA survey, we learned that business is booming for the majority of our operators, and they’re countering the challenges in these ways:

  • Delaying the announcement of some 2023 product
  • Finalizing components of tours closer to departure date
  • Relying on DMOs much more
  • Being honest and transparent with clients about decreased service levels and offering options if vendor rates rise too high.

Q. Is there anything else tour operators should know about NTA and Travel Exchange?

A. The business at Travel Exchange isn’t gained only through one-on-one appointments. Operators also group together to hear presentations from domestic and overseas DMOs; it allows buyers to get a better sense of how to package a state, province, or country as a whole, and it gives sellers exposure to many more buyers.

Lead photo:
Colleagues connect at NTA’s Travel Exchange
Credit: Normand Huberdeau