In eight days, Lisa Simon will step down as president of the National Tour Association (NTA), a position she held for seven years. The NTA board of directors has begun a nationwide search for a new president, and Catherine Prather, NTA senior vice president, will serve as interim president starting Jan. 1. Earlier this month, Senior Editor Michelle Baran caught up with Simon at the U.S. Tour Operators Association Annual Conference and Marketplace in Scottsdale, Ariz., to get a retrospective on her tenure and see what advice Simon has for anyone thinking of applying for the jobQ: What accomplishment in the last seven years are you most proud of?
No. 1 is China. Our China Inbound Program for tour operators has been just an enormous benefit to NTA as well as our members, who are mostly U.S.-based.
It makes me proud of NTA for stepping up and saying, "You know what? We'll do this." Nobody else did. It gave us the opportunity to not only show our leadership but to do something that was really emerging and expanding just immensely. It's been this burgeoning market that's just been amazing. Q: What were the biggest challenges you and the NTA faced during your tenure?
We went from a management company to self-managed. That was a big challenge. We were managed by an association management firm, and we left the firm at the end of 2010.
And it was, for at least a good year, very operationally focused. It was kind of like a startup with a 60-year history. And it was this strange dichotomy of newness and tradition all coming together. Q: What advice do you have for anyone thinking of putting their name in the hat for the job?
The love of travel and travel experience is really critical. Obviously you want to have the association management experience, as well, but to be in and from the tourism industry is important because you need to have a very common bond [with] the members.
And that, I think, is probably one of the most critical characteristics -- to just have that passion for travel and tourism and what it can do for people and bringing people together from a cultural standpoint.
I think that's the most important. So that they have not only the passion but from an insider perspective, they know what's going on in the industry, what challenges there are in the industry. Q: What are the biggest challenges that lie ahead for the NTA?
There are probably three challenges. I think the China market is going to change the world of travel and tourism. The travel product is going to change.
Technology is going to continue to have an impact on the way people do their research, where they travel and how they do their booking. A lot of travel companies are going to be forced to move in directions they haven't gone in yet. It's also a big opportunity. The third opportunity for the tour market is specialized [travel]. Q: What does the future hold for the tour business?
I think there's always going to be a group market; there's always going to be people who depend on travel professionals. Q: What are your plans post-NTA?
The first thing I want to do is read a book. I need to take a little pause. Follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly.