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Ask the Exec: Catherine Prather, CTP

It's safe to say the travel industry, along with the rest of the world, is changing. Along with these changes are evolutions in the way we think about our day-to-day operations, approaches to self-care and ideas for future growth and expansion.

To get some expert insight from an industry veteran with years of leadership wisdom, Groups Today caught up with Catherine Prather, CTP, President of the National Tour Association (NTA), for the next interview in our new Q&A series, Ask the Exec. The series serves as an opportunity to sit down with some of the most recognizable faces in industry leadership to get their perspectives on travel recovery, mental health, industry innovation and more. Keep reading to learn what Prather had to share.

Groups Today: What opportunities do you see for the industry to build back better in the wake of the pandemic?

Catherine Prather: As we're all still emerging from the fog of the pandemic, this is a pivotal time because we can make—and need to make—some impactful shifts.

For one, we need to be an industry that is truly more diverse and inclusive with equitable opportunities for travelers and the professionals within travel, tourism and hospitality. This is a long journey with many avenues that speak to everything from bringing market access to underserved communities and introducing diverse tourism products to looking at workforce inequities. There's also the need to turn more attention to travel that's meaningful, responsible, sustainable. However you want to term it, the focus is on lessening the negative impact we leave on the destinations and communities of people we visit, and improving our purposeful action to make a positive difference.

I also think we need to hang on to a few of the things we learned during the pandemic, such as better focus on work-life balance and our ability to work very effectively from a remote status.

GT: When it comes to sustainability, how can leaders and business owners ensure they're taking the proper steps to move the industry forward in an environmentally conscious way?

CP: Even though work in sustainability needs to involve your entire organization, you're right to ask about the leaders and business owners because it takes the C-suite, the decision makers, to drive and support change like this. I am far from an expert on sustainability, and I imagine most of us are not. That's why it's extremely important we look to the experts, to those ahead of us in this arena, and to those who can serve as role models and guideposts. For NTA and for me, that's Tourism Cares, our official philanthropy. Tourism Cares focuses on being a catalyst for positive impact on the environment and in the communities we visit. They have the tools, the resources, the events and the community that bring awareness, make me think, cultivate understanding, motivate action, and help me see a better path forward for NTA, for our members, and for the industry overall.

GT: What's something you've done to benefit your mental health since the pandemic began?

CP: So much of this is related to giving myself grace. Grace to celebrate victories when they come along, grace to recognize when I'm tired or feeling burned out and need a break, and grace to seek out things that bring me joy—reading, spending time with family, cooking, being outside and being active. These things sound very simple, but when you're "go, go, go" and focused on work, it's easy to overlook the simple things.

GT: Similarly, how do you recommend businesses and organizations ensure their teams are prioritizing their mental health after the traumatic couple years we've had?

CP: On so many levels, the past two years have been very traumatic. There is so much we have been confronted with or experienced, and for some of us, in a much deeper and more personal way. There are programs, services, and tools that businesses can make available to their teams, but I think a lot of it comes down to a personal level—colleague-to-colleague and manager-to-employee—and it comes down to empathy. It comes down to being tuned in with what's going on in the world and bringing it down to a level as to how it could be affecting your folks ... and then talking about it.

With the war in Ukraine, the ongoing effects of COVID, and the recent tragedies related to gun violence and racism, I was feeling the heaviness. I brought it up with our NTA team to ask how everyone was doing. We had a good conversation, shared a few tears, and released what we were feeling. We're a small, tight-knit team, but even in a large corporation, this kind of connection can happen.

GT: What's one prediction you would make about the industry in the next two years?

CP: I'm going to call this more of a hope because it's something so many of us are working toward, and it's that we will have made significant, meaningful, and impactful strides to being a more sustainable, equitable, diverse and inclusive industry. So many individuals, businesses and organizations are taking purposeful actions, and this is also part of our newly released national travel and tourism strategy, so I do have great hope.

GT: As we move forward, what do our readers need to know about NTA?

CP: For seven-plus decades, NTA has been home to creative, resilient and dedicated travel professionals. Over the years, our members' focus has evolved to encompass packaged travel, which is both group and independent travel, and their product now spans the globe and covers travelers of all ages, lifestyles, race and ethnicities. Just as our members are innovators, NTA is constantly adapting and improving the way we connect, inform and educate our community. NTA is always ready to welcome new members to our community—the fresh ideas, new markets and valuable business partners that members need in order to succeed.

Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for Groups Today.


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