PHOTO: Haybina Hao, director of international development for NTA, participated in NTA's recent Product Development Trip to Ethiopia.
Haybina Hao was born in Beijing and became involved in NTA (the National Tour Association) during the time it was working with the U.S. and Chinese governments to help facilitate inbound U.S. travel from the Chinese mainland. She worked with Western Leisure, the Salt Lake City-based tour operator on its inbound China program, then later took the job as director of international development for NTA (formerly known as the National Tour Association).
Hao was the NTA representative on the NTA Ethiopia Product Development Trip (PDT) in late September. TravelPulse discussed the trip with her in an interview after she returned to the U.S.
TravelPulse: You first worked with NTA on its China inbound travel market initiative, right? Was that NTA’s first major international effort?
Haybina Hao: The China initiative was the first big international effort for NTA, in terms of the resources, staff time and impact on our members, and of course the results. It was a big long journey. We really did what we could to help move the market.
TP: That was pretty successful, right?
HH: I think it’s the industry understanding that it was. The Commerce Department was very happy because we actually had a grant from the Dept. of Commerce to promote the U.S.A. as a destination country in China, and we definitely achieved all the pre-set objectives.
Each quarter we have a survey of our operators based on their business volume, whatever number they give to us we report back to the Commerce Department and they were very pleased.
TP: Is that still ongoing?
HH: Yes, it’s still ongoing. What I mean by that is communications are still ongoing. We will be actively looking for other grant ideas, other business ideas. But we have ongoing communication with the Department of Commerce because Isabel Hill, the executive director for the National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO), was into the China market initiative from the very beginning.
She was the lead negotiator with the Chinese government. Even though she is now overseeing the entire U.S. travel industry, she still takes the China market as her baby. She makes so much effort and takes so much interest in watching this market evolve.
TP: Is NTA working with other international markets?
HH: My job is to help NTA’s international effort. China had been for the past four and a half years taking the majority of my effort and time, because in a way it’s a huge market, it’s a most complex market, culturally, politically and in every way. It does take a lot of my effort, but that doesn’t mean NTA is only handling China, because our members have different business interests in different markets across the world. So NTA needs to support our members' business interests and help them develop more products to serve the world.
So, my job is not only limited to China, not at all. I think I was very lucky to be assigned to go on the Ethiopia PDT because NTA has been running PDTs for many years and each time in the past it was most likely our Courier magazine editors, the professional writers who went on the trip, because one of the biggest results we needed to produce was a report on the trip so it can help our members develop new products to those countries.
This last year we made a little twist. For the first time we sent Kevin Wright [NTA’s director of growth markets] to the Israel and Jordan PDT. And this time it was my turn. We want to do this because we do believe in addition to writing articles there is much more to it, which is the business aspect.
By having people like Kevin and me going on the trips we can possibly do more on the business side, make more contributions. From the business development standpoint we hope to help our members more. As far as articles, we have guest journalists traveling with us. And at the end we are pulling together all the operators and hopefully they will contribute their viewpoint for a piece in Courier magazine from not just one person, but a number of people from their different viewpoints and how they want to pursue operating tours to Ethiopia for their businesses. It will be a different angle for them to talk about their PDT. I think it’s more interesting this way.
TP: I guess the long-term results will be hard determine, but initially would you say this trip was a success?
HH: Yes, definitely. I have to say I think this Ethiopia PDT is quite different from the previous ones. As far as I know the previous ones really focused on educating the operators, which is the basic idea for PDTs. And operators came back and developed products to sell those countries, they ran their tours and that’s it. But with this one the big difference is that this was sponsored by the Ethiopian Ministry of Culture and Tourism and they are not only looking for us to develop new products, but they are also hoping to hear from us more recommendations, how they can promote their country, what else we can do in addition to running tours. What else can we do to help them. On a national level there is such a need and demand and desire for more from NTA.
We had formal meetings with the Ethiopian Tour Operators Association and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and I don’t think we had the same kind of thing before. And the majority of those at the meeting with the tour operators were Ethiopian media, either TV, radio or newspaper, all media. So the country was watching this NTA PDT.
Our operators were very outspoken and gave them honest opinions. I think they liked that. I think that’s what they want, to have that opportunity for a couple of hours of sitting down with our operators. It was amazing. They took it very seriously. I don’t know what their next moves will be, but I’m sure it’s working. They are listening. They are trying to use that information, the comments we made, to map out the work plans to promote the country.
TP: Ethiopia has been hidden on the sidelines of international tourism for a long time, but it seems like the time has come for it to come to take center stage. The Ethiopian tourism industry seems to be earnestly setting out on this path, and the country has amazing tourism resources.
HH: Yes, their tourism resources are absolutely incredible. You see some other countries trying to do what Ethiopia is doing, but when a country has limited things to offer it will be tougher. But Ethiopia, look at what they have, across the country on every level. I was blown away.
One evening when we were sitting by a bonfire at Ben Abeba restaurant at the top of a mountain at Lalibela, I was in tears. I just couldn’t hold it. I thought, “Oh my goodness, this is so touching, the people, the culture, it is so educational." I listened to the owner telling the story of how he built Ben Abeba, and it was so amazing, amazing talent. And it is time. They are totally ready to do it.