National Tour Association's Lisa Simon

By Michelle Baran
Lisa SimonLast week, the National Tour Association (NTA) and the United Motorcoach Association (UMA) hosted their first conference together, Travel Exchange, in Orlando. On the organizations' combined trade show floors, NTA President Lisa Simon discussed with Senior Editor Michelle Baran the benefits of partnering with other travel organizations, the NTA's new emphasis on emerging markets and special interest groups and why agents might very well be invited to attend the next Travel Exchange.

Q: This show is the first time you're co-hosting your annual conference with the UMA. What are the advantages and disadvantages of working so closely with another organization?

A:
We have seen nothing but advantages with UMA. We're really synergistic organizations from a cultural standpoint and obviously from the product standpoint, because the motorcoach is such an integral part of what the tour operator does.

Q: For some international destination marketing organizations (DMOs) that are NTA members, the UMA partnership might seem like a move more toward the domestic market. Is the NTA still just as focused on the international market?

A:
Absolutely. NTA has not changed our focus. Our tour operators are still doing outbound business to the same extent that they were. And we still need the international suppliers here for that reason. ... A lot of our tour operators who are doing outbound business are still doing group, and motorcoach is still an important product and component of their tours wherever they are in the world.

Q: In terms of other potential partnerships, are you looking at other organizations? What is the current merger-and-acquisition environment among the different associations?

A:
We believe in collaboration rather than merging or acquisition. So we do look for other partners, and we are looking for other partners. ... We believe that we are somewhat more of the generalist organization, and while we're trying to provide our members education and research and support in these different market areas, we know that we can't be all things to all people. So we look for partners who can bring those specialties and that knowledge base to our members, and we want to embrace that so that we can deliver that to our members. It's a service we can provide.

Q: What are your thoughts on allowing travel agents to join the NTA as either members or being invited to participate in the show?

A:
In terms of membership, we haven't quite figured that out. In terms of the show, absolutely. We did ask in that opening session whether our members would find value in travel agents being here. And 99% of the room said absolutely, we think it would be really valuable.

That is a change within our own organization as well as in the tour operator segment at large, because there used to be that air of competition, "I don't want the travel agents talking to my suppliers and DMOs. I want to be only talking to [suppliers and DMOs] myself or I want them only selling my product." And there's just not that sense anymore. The lines of business are blurring so much. A lot of travel agents are creating product, so they are in fact [operating in] the way we would define a tour operator, and a lot of tour operators have retail sides of their business, so they are in fact travel agents. And so, I think that they're beginning to understand that there's value in doing business no matter who you're talking to.

Q: So, does that mean agents will be invited to the next conference?

A:
We're looking at that very seriously

Follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly. 
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