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The Virginia Sales Mission

What makes a show

postedJanuary 28, 2020

A little over 10 years ago, I attended my first Travel Exchange: November 2009 in Reno. It was my first time in Nevada and my first work-related convention. I was enthralled at the whole affair, including all those appointments I had as a buyer. I have attended every Travel Exchange since then.

Having a full book of appointments can be exhausting, but ultimately, it is productive and fun. It’s constant engagement with a good share of the convention attendees, and every seven minutes you meet a new contact!

Several new elements were groundbreaking at TREX ’19 in Fort Worth. On Saturday night tour operators were treated to a BBQ and a rodeo at the Stockyards. While every Travel Exchange may not lend itself to a signature event that captures the heart of the city or region, this introduced Western culture with a bang.

Sightseeing tours are a good way to immerse yourself in your surroundings, and my colleague Ellen Turnbull and I chose the Stockyards tour. We were treated to a variety of experiences, including the Walk of the Longhorns. Before that finale we learned about cowboy culture and how the historic stockyards will be reborn as a retail and restaurant focal point. What a great morning.

I always admire the energy in my business appointments. I met with folks who went to school, studied, and got certified in their craft—well done! I, on the other hand, got lucky in my career. I learned on the job, falling into tour planning in midlife after working in the less-stable Washington, D.C., halls of government and holding other jobs. My boss, Chris Babb, was born into the tour operator business.

Beyond presenting a good spin on their region, attraction, or tour business, the NTA members I met with showed a lot more: a dedication to our profession and enthusiasm in talking about what they came to present.

Christen Eliason
Christen Eliason (Photo by Normand Huberdeau)

That drive and substance was evident in the Best Pitch session on Tuesday. They weren’t high-tech presentations, except for our Whisper devices. International members simply telling us about their country—how and where to travel within it—made for a novel experience. Listening to their accents and zeal was amazing. It was, as we say, authentic. NTA will probably tweak this session, but please don’t change the genuineness of this new element of Travel Exchange.

Likewise, the state and provincial Sales Missions were, for many tour operators, a good way to round up our knowledge of an area and give us connections we may not have time for in our one-on-one appointments. Presenters at all the Sales Missions I attended put thought into what they did, and the cleverest was probably the Virginia Sales Mission.

As the operators sat in a circle, with a member of the state’s DMO team behind us, we each held a wrapped gift that had initially been placed underneath our chair. As we listened to short presentations about each area, we were directed to listen for the words “left” and “right.” Upon hearing either of these words, we passed the gift to the person on our right or left. While this might not work for all the Sales Missions, this approach helped get us around the state in 20 minutes.

In my other Sales Missions, I heard about new, themed itineraries and learned by listening to questions from other operators. It was all very helpful for planning tours.

So many other components of Travel Exchange 2019 were great, too, from the Icebreaker to the ’80s dance party … Pam Inman leaving (sniff, sniff) and Catherine Prather coming (what a great speech) … Chairman Paul Larsen also leaving and new Chairman Jim Warren coming on.

Thank you, NTA and Fort Worth, for Travel Exchange 2019. What a good show!

Christen M. Eliason is a tour consultant for The Group Tour Company in Washington, D.C.

Top photo: The Virginia Sales Mission
Photo by Normand Huberdeau