When tour operators go to Reno, Nevada, in November for Travel Exchange, they’re likely to meet a number of DMOs they didn’t see at TREX ’21 in Cleveland. And that’s OK. Buyers like seeing faces, both familiar and new, according to Jay Smith, owner of Massachusetts-based Sports Travel and Tours.
“My goal in attending TREX is to refresh my relationship with old contacts, and to meet new DMOs and suppliers that I either haven’t met or I don’t know because they haven’t attended in the past,” says Smith, a longtime NTA member and past board chair.
It’s no mystery why many destination representatives couldn’t attend the Cleveland show last year. It mostly boiled down to busted budgets and travel restrictions, all courtesy of COVID.
“As a small DMO, there was a lot of budget uncertainty in 2021, and we had to make some tough decisions,” says Casey Ressler of Alaska’s Mat-Su CVB. “We see great value in NTA and Travel Exchange, though, and that’s why we’re looking forward to seeing our partners in Reno.”
Anjuli King of Visit Savannah says her office has walked a similar path. “We had to scale back our show attendances in 2021, but 2022 has been good to us, so we are able to return to a pre-pandemic travel schedule.”
DMOs like Maxine Morrell-West of Destination Toronto view the easing of pandemic restrictions as a return to business with trusted colleagues.
“Travel Exchange presents us the opportunity to meet face-to-face and connect with tour operator clients with whom, over the past couple years, we have not had contact due to COVID travel restrictions and temporary staff furloughs,” she says. “It also gives us an opportunity to build new relationships, given the significant changes to our industry; share new product and itinerary ideas; and network with clients and industry colleagues.”
As is the case every year, the site of the show comes into play, and for at least one DMO, NTA’s addition of the National Parks Partners program is also an important factor.
“Location played a huge role in our decision to attend Travel Exchange, as we are just a few hours away from Reno,” says Katie Kirkland of Visit Tuolumne County, a California county that holds over half of Yosemite National Park (“the less-crowded half,” as Kirkland describes it) within its borders. “Returning to Travel Exchange as a National Parks Pavilion sponsor was an extra incentive that helped to solidify our decision to attend.”
Joining the many DMOs returning to Travel Exchange are new members, some representing destinations, and other newbies heading to Reno are promoting hotels, attractions, motorcoach companies, and restaurants.
Once all those sellers arrive in Reno, they’ll want to connect with buyers, both on the TREX Floor during appointments and at meals, evening events, and other opportunities. But what are those buyers looking for—especially from DMOs and suppliers who have been absent?
“If I meet with a seller that I haven’t met—and they are in an area where we have programs—I am looking for the 'wow factor' of why I should include that attraction, hotel, destination, etc. in my program,” Smith says. “Pricing, parking, ease of operation, a special event, and the wow factor that my clients will be happy with are what I need.”
Smith adds that when requesting and attending appointments, sellers should first check buyers’ online profiles to determine if the buyer packages their state, province, or country and if the buyer’s clients and program match what the seller offers.
“To maximize all our time, I always hope that DMOs and suppliers do their homework to find out who they need to meet with,” he says. “There is nothing worse than having an appointment with a seller and their first comment is, ‘So what do you and where do you go?’”
Tour operators should be prepared to gather lots of information and updates during Travel Exchange, and here’s a sampling of what they’ll learn from DMOs at the Reno show that they didn’t hear at TREX ’21.
Ressler: “We’ve got a ton of new info! It’s been interesting to see shifts and new products that have come out of the pandemic. For example, in our part of Alaska we have two new ‘glamping’ operators, and they are consistently booked solid. Knik River Lodge is going through a rebrand and will be open all winter, which opens up a ton of new opportunities. Also, a new guided-hiking operation has started, and it caters to people of all abilities.”
King: “Savannah was able to rebound from 2020 quickly and saw growth in the market in 2021. With the addition of new hotels, new nonstop fly markets, restaurants, and attractions, the expansion of the Savannah Convention Center is right on time as we continue to see increased visitation to our destination.”
Kirkland: “From new restaurants like the Armory to renovated spaces like Hotel Lumberjack and new attractions, including off-road Jeep tours in the Stanislaus National Forest, we cannot wait to share our new happenings with tour operators.”
Morrell-West: “Local health and safety information, along with regular updates regarding entry requirements into Canada, are questions operators look to a DMO to keep them informed about, so that is a part of what we share. Also, clients look to DMOs to advise them about products and services, given there have been a lot of changes, so I make sure to inform them about new attractions, dining, shopping, events/activities, and hotels, and I share itinerary ideas and keep them informed about digital assets available to them.”
From Jay Smith’s perspective, tour operators are looking forward to connecting with new and returning sellers, because those sellers provide so much assistance.
“For me, it’s knowing who to go to for what my company needs, and to help me get things done quickly,” Smith says. “Any operator who doesn’t use their DMOs to assist in planning—or even to inform them you are coming—is just not smart. I love my DMO and supplier friends, and I couldn’t operate my business without their help.”
For information about Travel Exchange ’22, set for Nov. 14–17, go to NTAtravelexchange.com, or call NTA Headquarters: +1.859.264.6540.