Insights from the National Tour Associations Travel Exchange (Part One), with Nicole Mahoney

Episode 308

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For this first episode in a special three-part series of Destination on the Left episodes, I visited the National Tour Associations Travel Exchange in Reno and spoke with several experts in the travel and tourism industry. My guests shared some of their wisdom in mini-interviews, focused on the trends, challenges, and future outlook for the group travel industry. The brilliance each of these leaders shared is certain to be invaluable as we seek new opportunities in group travel.

In this episode, you’ll hear from these extraordinary leaders:

Travel and Tourism Insight from The National Tour Associations Travel Exchange

The National Tour Associations Travel Exchange is an incredible event that allows experts in group travel to exchange ideas about the trends in the potential opportunities for group tour operators in 2023 and beyond. It was my honor to speak to some of the extraordinary guests at the travel exchange to get their insights into where the group travel industry has been, where it’s going and share key information and strategies for the future.

Amy Larsen – Industry Relations Manager at Wyoming Office of Tourism

Amy shares her perspective on travel trends she has seen over the last few months, including visitors’ desire to see their smaller towns and unique destinations. People are connecting the pioneer spirit and the western heritage which is central to Wyoming. She describes why the COVID-19 pandemic led to a desire for simpler times and why it’s such an exciting trend for Wyoming.

Debbie Jones – Senior Vice President & Client Relations at Trip Mate, Inc.

Debbie and I talk about the number one issue facing the industry today and how her organization is helping to address it. She shares the challenges travelers often face in finding an appropriate insurance plan for a more mature audience. Debbie discusses how her company provides peace of mind and ease of access for people traveling in groups.

Eddie Lutz – Director of Sales at Ark Encounter/Creation Museum

Eddie discusses the number one issue facing his organization right now and how they are moving through it. We dive into the industry-wide issue of a lack of staffing and why it’s so concerning for group travel companies. Eddie describes why his organization has committed to taking on a leadership role in their region, working with hotels and attractions to ensure they are ready to offer guests exemplary hospitality.

Jay Smith – President at Sports Travel and Tours

I talked with Jay about what he believes the group tour operator of the future will look like and how they’ll get there. He shares why he thinks group tour operators will have to be a little more creative to continue bringing unique experiences to the plate that people just can’t do independently. We also discuss how we can educate the younger community of travelers on the benefits of group travel.

Lee Callicut – Destination Sales Manager at Visit Montgomery

Lee shares how Visit Montgomery flipped from a destination marketing organization trying to bring travelers into the area to what they call a destination management organization focusing on serving people who live in the area. He shares the lessons they learned and how they have translated into providing small-group outdoor-based experiences for visitors and locals alike.

Marcel Perkins – General Manager at Latin Trails

Marcel discusses the issue of sky-high flight costs facing the touring travel market and how his organization is responding to it. He shares why many travelers are waiting for flight prices to Europe to drop before they plan their trips and gives his recommendations for what destinations should be doing to be ready for guests when the time comes.

Michael Collins – Group Tour Coordinator at Nebraska Tourism Commission

Post-COVID-19 travelers are rediscovering the wide open spaces and rural areas of the USA. People are looking for destinations that are quirky, out of the ordinary, and a fun place to visit, and Michael describes why that describes Nebraska to a T. He also shares what his team is doing to capitalize on that trend.

Key Trends for 2023

According to my guests, trends for 2023 include active itineraries, small-town visits, and a definite focus on seeking the simpler pleasures in life. Our discussions also touched on the importance of having professionals in the industry mentoring new team members at hotels, restaurants, and attractions where tour operators plan to visit and how that might impact the generalized staffing shortage.

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