In an era when many people change jobs more often than they change their sheets, Jim Edwards’ career is a testament to the power of loyalty.
Edwards, who is vice president of U.S. affinity development for Collette, has been with the company for 23 years. He started as a business development manager based in Tennessee, then moved up through the ranks to hold several other sales positions in the company. Today, he lives in Cleveland, and focuses on leading the company’s sales efforts in group travel niches.
“For the past four years, I’ve been working with leading our strategy for all the affinity partners we work with because each affinity group is different,” Edwards said. “They all have different reasons for why they offer travel to their members. It’s important that we meet each of their specific needs.”
That’s a skill Edwards picked up in the early part of his career, first working as a dietitian in hospitals and then moving on to nutrition and sales roles for Bally Total Fitness. He found that teaching people and meeting their needs were critical parts of the sales process. And he has since discovered that there’s no better way to do that than to show them the world.
“Travel is a great educator,” he said. “It has allowed me to really learn but also to really teach. Travel allows us to learn about people, culture and history.”
For that, he leans on the deep well of experience at Collette. The company has been in business for 102 years and employs professional tour designers who travel up to 250 days a year to discover new destinations and build itineraries based on their firsthand experiences.
In over two decades with the company, Edwards has found that destination innovation is always in demand with clients.
“People always want the next great destination,” he said. “Innovation allows us to put together packages in places like Finland, which is the next great northern lights destination. We’ve had that now for a few years, and it’s doing fantastic, especially with the alumni groups, who are looking for a little more intimate experience.”
He’s also finding that today’s group travelers see themselves differently than when he first started working in tourism. That point of view is reflected in the way they travel.
“We have so many baby boomers retiring, and they’re retiring in better health and more wealth,” he said. “There are more people that have that thirst for travel. And those travelers don’t want to be considered seniors.”
To stay in touch with the changing tastes and demands of new travelers, Edwards travels to about a dozen affinity conferences and events each year. And when he’s not on the road, you’re likely to find him attending one of his children’s sporting events or hiking in Cuyahoga Valley National Park with his wife.
“Family is hugely important to us,” he said. “When I’m home, I want to be there for my family. That’s part of the culture of Collette.”
“We really like to visit with our partners face to face and show we’re experts. There are so many tools now that make marketing easy. But we still do trip presentations and answer questions face to face. When someone is spending $4,000 per person, they may have a few questions before they’re ready to write a check.”