Start with some good news. This year, NTA's China Inbound Program brought more than 125,000 Chinese group leisure visitors to the United States, according to the National Tour Association (NTA). In fact, a recent NTA survey of operators in the China Inbound Program shows that the average number of visitors grew 76 percent in the first half of 2009 compared to the second half of 2008. A growth market to be sure. But for most agents the question remains: how can travel agents get in on the action?
One way to find out is by attending the NTA’s Nov. 14-18 Convention in Reno, Nevada. Not only does it offer insight into the China Inbound program but into all inbound and outbound programs and opportunities. Including the potential in the opening of the Cuba. Overall tours represent a $10 billion dollar marketing opportunity with real growth forecast, despite the hopefully short-lived recession.
The NTA conference is deadly serious about tour program – in bound (to the U.S.) and outbound (from the U.S.). The Convention and its Tour & Travel Exchange – where destinations, agents, operators and suppliers meet to plan new program - is serious business. Deals are cut. And opportunities defined. That includes group tours, FIT's, affinity and family travel and customized tours.
More good news. The NTA – one of the largest and best-managed associations – has co-locating the conference with the World Religious Travel Association's (WRTA) Expo. This gives tour operators the opportunity to enhance their market share and grow their faith-based product line. Like the China inbound market, faith based products are a growing and lucrative market. The NTA hopes that tour operators can enhance their market share and grow their faith-based product line. WRTA expects about 100 exhibitors representing a variety of travel companies and destinations specializing in faith-based travel.
Also on display at the NTA Convention will be hundreds of destinations with enormous appeal to vacationers and scores of innovative program that travel agents – including career independents - should be aware of. Nor is it all U.S. or Canadian destinations. The NTA recently added two new strategic partners — the Africa Travel Association (ATA) and the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO). The NTA is increasingly international in its scope while drilling down to smaller tour operators with imaginative and salable programs.
This year the NTA has introduced a new format. The signature Tour & Travel Exchange model (scheduled one on one meetings) gives attendees access to decision makers. As does the Destination Pavilion, where tour operators are able to buy the way they package -- by destination. Noteworthy, is that the NTA has very strong representation by destination management organizations (DMO’s) and suppliers as well as tour operators. About 20 percent of NTA members are travel agents. Today, the NTA membership represents 48 countries, and includes tour and travel packagers of all types.
What is most exciting about the NTA convention is the great flair on display of state and city DMO’s (including the convention and visitors bureaus or CVB’s) that promote tours and the diversity and quality of tour program. It’s a positive reminder of the economic contributions of the travel industry but also the competence and marketing skill of tour operators, destinations and suppliers that is on display.
Increased awareness of the diversity, marketing power – and profit potential - in tour sales may prove to be a key to future growth for travel agents. Recent research by PhoCusWright notes that 69 percent of tour operator sales are agent generated despite competition from direct online sellers. Travel agents - including independent agents – will find the NTA Convention an eye opener and NTA member’s travel agent friendly.