In the Hot Seat National Tour Association's Catherine Prather By Michelle Baran / October 20, 2015 Share 1 -- Catherine Prather The National Tour Association (NTA) last week decided to welcome travel agents as full-time members of the organization. Travel Weekly's Michelle Baran spoke with Executive Vice President Catherine Prather about the change in direction and what's in it for agents and existing NTA tour operator, supplier and destination marketing organization members. Q: Has the NTA ever in its 64-year history allowed agents to be members of the association?A: No. That's the short answer. A lot of our tour operators are also travel agents, but their primary business really is as a tour operator packaging travel. Q: Why did the NTA decide to allow agents to join as members?A: We have discussed expanding our membership for years. And for the past couple of years, as you know, we invited agents as guests to the Travel Exchange, our annual convention, and we had some really good group discussions with our members. The timing was right, and we had created a viable path to open the door to retail travel agents. Q: Why hadn't agents been allowed in before?A: We [NTA management] constantly monitor business trends. And traditionally, the tour operator has been the fire within our association. However, over the years, more and more NTA operators are selling through each other and through travel agents. So, with the changes brought about by 9/11, the constantly fluctuating economy, consolidations, and the recognition that we're operating in a global marketplace, people in travel have just been more and more comfortable in working together and seeking new ways to work smarter. And it was time to broaden our membership and look into bringing more buyers to the table.Q: Do you get the sense that agents are keen to join the NTA, especially given the modest attendance of agents at the last two conventions?A: Well, we've just begun our outreach. But the response is promising. And we're not naive to the fact that we need to build awareness for the National Tour Association among the agent community. We need to educate them that NTA has 700 tour companies, and over 62% of them offer commissionable tours and packages. So if the agents want to grow their business and have the access to those authentic experiences to offer their clients, they'll want to check out NTA. We didn't rush into this; we don't expect the agents to rush into this, either. However, we're ready, and frankly we're excited to welcome agents into the NTA community.Q: Will allowing agents in take time away from the supplier, tour operator and destination marketing organization business dealings? Is there any concern about juggling too much and what the focus of the NTA should be?A: We don't anticipate that. The fact of the matter is, this is going to be a gradual increase. We have a lot of awareness-building to do yet. We've long recognized that there is such great value in bringing together the tour operators and travel agents -- the tour operators create the tours and packages, and the travel agents sell them, so obviously that helps both parties grow their business and increase their bottom line. We see it as a benefit and not something that's going to change our focus. We're still all about tour operator-packaged travel.