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Talking at Contact around the table

Members and mentors

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postedNovember 6, 2023

It’s no accident that a mentoring relationship would thrive at an NTA event, as described in “A mentoring match,” which details the experiences of a Travel Exchange first-timer, Amina Watkins, and a TREX veteran, Pam Williams. 

Two elements of the NTA core values are collaboration and teamwork, as well as learning and innovation, according to NTA President Catherine Prather.

“I’ve always believed that NTA offers a nurturing environment where everyone is welcomed and encouraged to seek guidance and support from their colleagues,” she says. “Our tagline, ‘Together. We go further.’ is put into action at Contact and Travel Exchange, but also year-round during our webinars and member network virtual gatherings.”

Prather explains that networks were created for specific member categories because the discussions—about challenges, strategies, and successes—can flow more easily when everyone is on the same peer page. And at in-person events, many of the education sessions are led by NTA members because they are subject-matter experts.

“When you’re learning from a panel of peers, you know who to seek out later for one-to-one conversations and guidance,” Prather says. 

In the run-up to Travel Exchange ’24, the NTA Headquarters team added more ways for experienced members to guide new arrivals. 

“For many years, we’ve offered webinars with TREX veterans like Clayton Whitehead walking first-timers through various aspects of the show,” says Todd Probus, director of member solutions and education. “Then this year, we put together a more comprehensive series of video offerings targeted to specific types of first-timers.”

Probus says there are “TREXtips” conversations geared to DMOs, buyers, international receptive operators, and two types of tour suppliers: attractions and hotels. Another TREXtips conversation focuses on how to have successful appointments at Travel Exchange. All of these conversations, plus other helpful webinars for convention-goers, are available for viewing on the NTA Online education page.  




Positive mentoring experiences within NTA are not unique to Watkins and Williams, of course. Those relationships are as well-established as the 72-year-old association itself. And often, the exchange of information is like a baton, passed from one member to the next. Those who are mentors today might have been mentored themselves at the start of their careers. 

Debra Asberry at Contact
Debra Asberry listens to a colleague during a Travel Exchange luncheon.

“When I became a member of NTA and attended my first Travel Exchange in 2003, I was overwhelmed,” says Debra Asberry, president of Women Traveling Together. “It was a chance meeting with Anne Davis (Cruises and Tours Worldwide) on a bus ride to a TREX event when I got some excellent advice. Ann gave me pointers on working with international DMCs, and she shared some names she was working with. That was my first taste of mentorship.”

Nearly 20 years later, it was Asberry who was the voice of experience when she offered suggestions to another member, Lois Stoltzfus with Ohio Star Theater. 

Stoltzfus says she had been trying to entice operators to consider her destination and attraction, Ohio’s Amish Country, but her pitch was falling flat. Asberry explained that the activities Stoltzfus described were not what her travelers would enjoy.  

Lois Stoltzfus speaking at Contact
Lois Stoltzfus speaks during a sharing session at Contact '23 in Cheyenne. 

“The light came on!” Stoltzfus says. “I told Debra her travelers wouldn’t need to do any of those ideas, and we can offer upscale places and experiences her travelers would enjoy. I went right back and created an itinerary just for these travelers. Sometimes we get into a rut and need a little push to pull us out!”

Conversations like these are not part of a structured mentorship program; they just happen to hit home at the right time. 

Jay Smith at Contact
Jay Smith has a story for his peers at Contact, NTA's annual tour operator retreat.

“There are situations where I might be mentoring and don’t even know it,” says Jay Smith, owner of Sports Travel and Tours. “Once on a network call hosted by Todd Probus (NTA staff), a new member was unfamiliar with NTA events. I talked about expectations and described the nuggets you can take away from TREX and Contact. When I finished, Todd said, ‘Jay, you were mentoring and you didn’t even recognize it.’”

Longtime member Mark Hoffmann, owner of Sports Leisure Vacations, can list a dozen NTA members who helped him along the way, with advice on topics that include government advocacy, special service for tour groups, and leadership within the association. His biggest takeaway, though, was the importance of sharing.

“That is really the single most important thing about our association: people’s willingness to share, even with their competitors,” Hoffmann says. “Sometimes, another member will just offer assistance … or a speaker at a seminar can be a source. But don’t be afraid to ask questions. You can’t be afraid to put yourself out there.”

Asberry agrees. “The advice I’d give anyone is, ‘Don't be shy ... ask,’” she says. “You never know where the conversation may take you or your company.”

For more information about NTA events or resources for new members, visit

Photos by Normand Huberdeau