Skip to main content

Reflections on TREX18

Breaking down barriers and inciting change at NTA's annual convention
Story by
posted January 9, 2019

As I walked through the rows of display booths towards the Travel Exchange show floor, it hit me. Something big was different. The walled aisles that we’ve grown so accustomed to were gone. Completely gone. In place of the familiar and comfortable pipe and drape and white skirted linens were bright green tablecloths and rows of empty, undivided aisles.

Only one thought went through my mind: How on earth was I going to find my appointments? That’s it … I was going to get lost. This wasn’t what I was used to. I’d never seen anything like it before. Around me I could hear other murmured whispers of “it’s different” and “we’ll see how I feel.”

I was apprehensive. I was resistant. It was change, and I wasn’t prepared for change. I felt myself putting up a mental wall and preparing to dislike the new setup purely on the principle that it was not the way that it’s always been done.

That thought made me stop cold in my tracks. I had just used my least favorite phrase in the world without thinking twice. I was ready to judge something before giving it a chance just because it “wasn’t the way it’s always been done.”

How many times have we heard that before? At work? In our personal lives? It’s a phrase that gets tossed around more often than any of us would like. My problem with the phrase is simple: If things are being done the way they’ve always been done, then nothing will ever change. And if we’re not changing, we’re not growing.

In our industry, change is inevitable. The travel business is constantly changing as buyers, destinations and customers interact with our products, which evolve with new markets, demographics and technology. We are constantly adapting the way we think about our destinations and tour offerings to attract new types of travelers looking for experiences, flexibility and independence—and we find new ways to engage and reinvigorate our existing clients and tried-and-true tours.

Change is all around us, but if we resist, how can we hope to move forward as individuals and as an industry?

First-time attendees are treated to an entertaining tour of the Travel Exchange floor by convention ambassador Clayton Whitehead.


I resolved right then and there in Milwaukee to start over, to embrace the openness and change, and to celebrate the fact that it was a clean break from the way things have always been done. It’s easy to resist change, but by embracing it and walking in with an open mind, I was able to see the beauty of what this change wrought.

It wasn’t about breaking down pipe and drape. It wasn’t about the bright green tablecloths. It was about breaking down the barriers of communication and creating a space that seemed to vibrate with energy.

Gone were the nods across the aisle, the quiet chatter and the furious scribbling in note books. Instead there were animated conversations happening between appointments, an excited buzz and chatter across tables and booths, and old and new friends hailing each other through the aisles.

Buyers and sellers alike were taking advantage of the open layout to stop by tables and give hugs or make introductions, and to relax with good conversation at the rocking chairs (which is one of my personal favorite hot spots). People were playing games right outside the appointment area or grabbing a snack on the go.

It felt more relaxed—less stiff and formal—and the layout seemed to invite the kind of casual conversation necessary for building a true relationship. It created an atmosphere of collaboration and conversation that permeated every other aspect of the conference: networking events, education sessions, engaging workshops like BIZnet and even the business card game during the opening luncheon.

It definitely seemed like collaboration and a new way of networking was the name of the game this year.

As I sat in the final supplier forum on the last day of Travel Exchange and we shared insights, key takeaways and next steps, I kept hearing a chorus of “communication,” “collaboration” and “working together.” One panelist said this was truly the theme of the week, and I really couldn’t agree more.

Throughout the event, and across multiple outlets, we all came together as one big team to share ideas, solve problems, break down barriers and discover new ways to do business and excite our travelers. It was fresh, exciting and reinvigorating to be celebrating and actively pursuing a more collaborative mindset.



We are in this together! We all want to provide the best-possible travel experience for our guests, and the way to do that is by breaking down those walls and opening up a new way of communication and collaboration.

By breaking down the literal barriers of the appointment floor, Travel Exchange ’18 also broke down the more figurative barriers between attendees. Instead of feeling like I was part of a group of suppliers and buyers, I felt more like a member of one big family—an integral part of giant wheel that wouldn’t turn without each individual piece working together.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I know I felt completely invigorated by the change. Sometimes welcoming change, as difficult as it may be, can lead to some of the best discoveries. For me, TREX18 was one of those experiences.

By embracing the new, I opened myself up to fresh ways of networking, met amazing new travel professionals and friends, and walked away with more connections than ever before. In an ever-changing industry, this was a change I was hugely excited to see.

I left feeling energized and reinvigorated by the new connections I made, the conversations we had, and collaborations that are on the horizon. I left feeling excited to see how far we can all grow together, to continue breaking down barriers, and to do things differently than the way they’ve always been done. More than anything, I left feeling encouraged by the sense of community and collaboration.

Our NTA community is thriving, it’s alive, and it’s up to us to keep up the momentum we all built in Milwaukee. The travel industry has always been like a big family, so with all of us moving forward and working together, how can we not win?

Alyssa Keshel is business development manager at American Music Theatre in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Photos by Normand Huberdeau