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Reenvisioning Travel Exchange

July 16, 2019

The story behind the rebirth of a 58-year-old convention

by Bob Rouse

When change came knocking at National Tour Association headquarters, the staff held the door wide open. Travel Exchange, NTA’s keystone event, needed a makeover—even if it required a lot of work.

“We knew we were looking at long meetings and a million details, but we also knew we needed to take Travel Exchange to the next level,” said Dawn Pettus, NTA’s director of events. “We were right about the long meetings, but I’m excited about the outcome.”

NTA has been holding conventions since 1951, and in the mid-’70s the association pioneered an appointment-scheduling system that became standard across the industry. But after 40-some years, the system needed retooling.

“One-on-one appointments are the backbone for business at Travel Exchange,” Pettus said, “but our tour operators were getting a little weary from sitting for so long.”

With some of the association’s operators either attending as sellers or staying home in favor of electronic communication, NTA had a math problem. Tour suppliers and DMOs were happy with the quality of their meetings with buyers, but they wanted more of them. And buyers, who took appointments for all or part of four days, wanted fewer.

So NTA cooked up some new connections.

For the 2019 Travel Exchange (Dec. 8–12 in Fort Worth), NTA will completely change up one day in the middle of the show. Tuesday will be appointment-free, giving tour operators time to attend educational seminars and to browse exhibitor booths.

In place of Tuesday’s one-on-one appointments with DMOs, buyers will have two new ways to gather information about destinations: Sales Missions and Best Pitch.

Sales Missions, coordinated by state and provincial DMOs, are 15-minute presentations delivered to groups of buyers by several DMOs (and even suppliers) from the same region.

Best Pitch will turn the spotlight on international destinations, with national tourism office reps giving five-minute talks to a large group of buyers.

Both formats give DMOs a guaranteed audience, as attendance at these sessions is part of the requirement for buyers’ rebates, plus they are great ways to educate buyers about packaging multiple destinations.

“With our new sessions, we’re giving buyers a break from appointments and a fresh look at destinations—and we’re also addressing our math problem,” Pettus said. “Sellers can introduce their product to many buyers and then follow up individually.”

These and other changes—along with an intensified effort to recruit new buyers—were inspired by member input, according to Pettus.

“We received massive amounts of feedback that our consultant gathered after our 2017 show, and we developed new programs and platforms,” she said. “We took these ideas directly to members—first in Milwaukee at TREX ’18, and then again in a series of webinar-style focus groups. And of course, our board of directors has walked with us every step along the way.”

Apart from a very different Tuesday, Travel Exchange delegates will find familiarity in the event: engaging education, fun evening events and innumerable networking opportunities. To learn more, visit NTAtravelexchange.com

Bob Rouse is NTA’s VP of communication and editor of Courier magazine.

Photo cutline: Major changes to the TREX Floor at Travel Exchange ’18 in Milwaukee were welcomed by NTA members both for the area’s bright appearance and for its navigational ease.

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