Last updated: 01:04 PM ET, Fri February 19 2016

TravelPulse One-on-One: Haybina Hao, Vice President of International Development, NTA

Tour Operator | National Tour Association (NTA) | David Cogswell | February 18, 2016

TravelPulse One-on-One: Haybina Hao, Vice President of International Development, NTA

Haybina Hao was born in Beijing and became involved in NTA soon after it had begun 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. In late 2015 Hao was promoted to vice president of international development.

TravelPulse: What international markets is NTA working with now?

Haybina Hao: I’ve been with NTA for six years and initially when I came on board the position was defined as international development. Back then, the international market was so new for NTA, we had to make a huge effort. We didn’t know exactly what to expect. We had the idea that it would be a broad international effort. But very quickly I found it was impossible to handle even the China market alone. It was an enormous effort. So my work started to become much more focused on China.

Now with eight years of working with this market, we have built a much stronger position. We are much more knowledgeable about this market. We have learned so much and we have seen great progress with our membership, with their business practices. So we are very happy.

Given my new title, one thing I would like to really support and grow is the Hispanic market. NTA has been working with this major emerging market in the past four or five years. But we didn’t have a lot of resources and I didn’t have a lot of time to devote to it. From now on I think we will be able to put more effort into the Hispanic market.

We have a very sizeable membership who are dealing with that market who are either based in the U.S. or they are based in Latin American countries. We would love to support them. We have lots of members who have that expertise, and I have the responsibility to help support the growth of that market.

TP: But you mentioned that the China market is so huge it has been hard to handle and still have time and resources to devote to other markets.

HH: Yes. The China market, we have to understand, is culturally very diverse, totally different from the typical North American culture. It’s politically very sensitive and you need to always be politically correct. It needs to be diplomatically appropriate. So it’s a very challenging market. In the very beginning we really didn’t have a lot of knowledge of that market. And that market itself was also evolving rapidly.

READ MORE: Explore the Winter Wonder of Harbin and China

TP: The number of China inbound tour operators in the membership of NTA has grown rapidly, hasn’t it?

HH: Yes. We have a little more than 200 now, not counting those who were enrolled in the program for some years and then left because their businesses changed or whatever. We also had many who dropped the program for whatever reason. If we include all the companies who have registered at one time with the China program I think that number would be doubled.  

TP: Do they have to pay anything extra to be part of that?

HH: Initially for any company that wanted to work with this market there was no additional charge. They just had to be a general NTA tour operator member. This year the membership fee is $495 to be a regular NTA member. If you would also want to participate in the China inbound program there is an additional $400 management fee for that.

Initially when we started this program in 2008, for three years we did not charge anything additional. Everyone who signed up for the program didn’t have any additional financial obligations. Then after three years we realized there is additional work to register, to serve them, everything we do. It does take the association’s resources to serve them. We could not continue to offer the services for free, because for those members who are not involved in program, it would be their resources too.

So starting from 2012, the fourth year, we added the management fee of $400. That fee has not changed.

TP: So that makes the number in the program more impressive because the operators plunked down almost as much as they pay to join the organization itself.  

HH: Absolutely. For the 200 registered companies it would be not quite double the financial impact, but they pay extra. And because of that it, I feel obligated to provide adequate services to them. There is a higher expectation because they are paying more, and we do need to serve them, to provide everything we can to serve this category particularly. Some of the things we offer, such as the New Orleans fam trip, are only open to China inbound operators. We do many things to provide special services, to help educate them, serve them and support their businesses.

TP: So there are more than 200 in the program now, how many total tour operators are members of NTA?

HH: As of the end of last year we had close to 700 tour operators. We also have 1,100 suppliers and 500 DMOs [destination marketing organizations] in more than 40 countries.

TP: It’s impressive that the 200 operators who are part of the China program make up a large part of the entire tour operator membership of NTA, and this has all taken shape over just the last few years.

HH: Yes, and it’s not just the tour operators, it’s also the suppliers who really want to work with the operators and want to engage this market. For example, Delta Air Lines and Norwegian Cruise Lines have been so consistent in working with NTA, investing their time, effort and resources to be with this group of operators. It’s the emerging market and the potential of the business that really is attractive and important for many suppliers. Best Western Hotels, Tanger Outlets, all of them continue to be here and to invest with this group of operators. This has been very important for them, one of their priorities.

TP: Is it only the tour operators who can be members of the China Inbound Program?

HH: Yes, only tour operators. There are three membership categories: tour operators, suppliers and DMOs [destination marketing organizations].

READ MORE: 5 Tips For Blending in With The Locals in China

TP: How much of your attention is on the China market?

HH: Up to this point it has been consuming most of my attention. The China inbound program has just been for those 200 operators in that program. But my work has been involved with both inbound and outbound, which is for the whole membership.

In addition, it involves serving any of our suppliers and DMOs, who are not part of the program. So my work is generally speaking to do with China market, operators, suppliers, DMOs, members in USA, Canada, China, Africa and Asian countries that are interested in the China market.

TP: Are the other international markets getting attention?

HH: Yes, the Hispanic market is really moving. We have had some effort with the Indian market. But in past few years we haven’t done much with India. But with Africa yes. We had the Product Development Tour to Ethiopia. We continue to receive requests from different African countries that want to engage NTA’s tour operators. So we are working with a couple of African countries on PDTs now, which we will reveal as we get the programs established. And we are also working some others.

TP: The operators interested in outbound China do not have to be part of the special program. What do you do for them?

HH: In 2016 we will have two outbound delegations to China, one in March and one in September. Each of them goes to one province. It’s for NTA’s buyers who are selling China to be there to see what they can do in terms of product development.  

We have also had product development trips to Ethiopia, Jordan and Mexico.

TP: The international development seems to be a really big part of what NTA is doing now. Do you have any way of measuring that?

HH: Yes, there is a perception that NTA has moved from domestic to international. But we have a global village now, and it becomes smaller and smaller. A country’s boundaries are not as important anymore when it comes to business. If we can break into those international markets, why not? Taking the China inbound program as an example, what we have done in last six or seven years was really to open this new market. And by opening it to help the industry, and help the USA open this market. We enlarged the pie size. It used to be 12 inches, now it’s possibly 18 inches. It’s a bigger pie. Rather than trying to work within the 12-inch pie and trying to get a larger marketshare, a larger slice of the pie, NTA helped to enlarge the pie. That benefits the entire industry.

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