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Pam and Amina at Travel Exchange

A mentoring match

Story by
postedOctober 31, 2023

The French essayist Joseph Joubert (1754–1824) wrote that “to teach is to learn twice.” In the work world, teaching and learning can range from a short onboarding session to a structured training program, but learning can also be achieved through a more informal relationship—mentoring. 

Whether it’s planned sessions or periodic chats, mentoring enables a newcomer to learn from an experienced professional, and an association that conducts in-person gatherings with trusted colleagues—hello, NTA!—provides the ideal environment for fostering mentor relationships.

“We all need mentors, and I have benefitted from mentors in many ways in the course of my life,” says Paul Larsen, president of Minnesota-based Ed-Ventures and a past chair of the NTA Board of Directors. “One of the great things about NTA is there are always people willing to come alongside and encourage.”

At Travel Exchange ’22 in Reno, one new NTA member got plenty of encouragement from an experienced one—just what she had asked for. Prior to the event, Amina Watkins of the Paducah (Kentucky) Convention and Visitors Bureau called NTA Headquarters to ask about shadowing another member, and staff members connected her with Pam Williams of the Huntsville/Madison County (Alabama) CVB.

Pam and Amina during an appointment at Travel Exchange
Pam Williams and Amina Watkins during an appointment at Travel Exchange (Photo by Bob Rouse)

“NTA paired us nicely!” Williams says. “Amina and I started chatting before Travel Exchange and met in person once we both arrived in Reno. Because she was new to the industry as well as to her role as a DMO, we talked about everything, from the industry in general to trade show specifics.”

Like, very new to the industry.

“I was in my third week at this new position, and NTA was my very first travel industry event. I didn’t know what to expect,” Watkins recalls. “I followed Pam to her appointments and listened to her sales pitch.”

Conducting multiple days of Travel Exchange appointments is quite an undertaking, even for veterans. Tour operators (or buyers) sit at separate tables in the convention hall, and sellers—destination representatives as well as tour suppliers—navigate the sea of green-clad tables and move from one eight-minute appointment to the next. 




Some appointments hit choppy waters.

Amina in costume at Travel Exchange
Amina Watkins made a big splash with her
costume choice for an evening event at her first
Travel Exchange, last year in Reno. (Photo by
Jennifer Royse)

“One conversation wasn’t going too well, but Pam had experience and knew exactly how to handle it,” Watkins says. “I asked her about it afterwards. She said when you feel like you are losing the sale, just listen and ask questions. In each appointment, her advice worked: Listen for what they want, and ask for what they need.”

Another takeaway for Watkins centers on the profile sheet, the one item—either printed or digital—that sellers can leave with buyers. Participants can use the sheet as a discussion guide during each appointment.

“Pam showed me her profile sheet and also asked other DMOs to show me theirs so I could get an idea of how different they can be,” Watkins said. “The best advice she gave was that you don’t want a profile sheet that’s too wordy. Pictures grab attention, and words can distract operators from listening to you! Also, I heard during Pam’s appointments that some operators only want a flash drive. I need to be prepared to have both.”

For Watkins, connecting with Williams as a mentor helped her ease into becoming an active NTA member—at Travel Exchange but also year-round.

Amina and Pam at party
Pam Williams and Amina Watkins turned a Travel Exchange mentorship into a friendship, visiting each other's destinations and connecting at other industry events. (Photo submitted)

“NTA’s networking calls are so valuable, and everyone on staff goes above and beyond. NTA is the only association that consistently offers that,” she says. “Travel Exchange, by far, has been my favorite trade show, and I can’t wait until Shreveport to see all the familiar faces. (Thank goodness for name tags!)”

The experience was also valuable for Williams, who serves as an NTA Ambassador, regularly welcoming new members and offering guidance. 

“Mentoring revitalized my passion for the wonderful industry we are a part of, and I always learn from mentees,” she says. “Through their questions and perspectives, I’m able to see things in a different way.”

That sounds like learning for the second time, which is exactly what Joseph Joubert was trying to tell us more than 300 years ago.

For more information about Travel Exchange—including webinars and tutorials geared to first-timers—visit the NTA Online education page

Top photo submitted