Over the past several months, numerous travel industry conferences have been canceled or have moved to a virtual format. Many others yet to be held have already moved to a virtual format stretching well into 2021.
Not so for the Select Traveler Conference and the Going On Faith Conference, niche meetings that have long addressed America’s most upscale travel planners and its faith-based travel planners. Following safety protocols to the letter, this combined meeting defied the odds and denied the virus another casualty.
More than 175 group travel planners and travel industry professionals came and stood for tourism when they gathered in French Lick, Indiana, August 19-21. Because of the pandemic, the two conferences were merged into a single meeting by conference partner Charlie Presley and his staff at The Group Travel Family.
A hardy band of travel industry buyers and sellers, all with faces masked, sanitizers at the ready and practicing social distancing, gathered at southern Indiana’s beautiful and historic French Lick Resort.
During the general session, Mac Lacy, also a conference partner, asked all delegates to stand and praised them for attending against all prevailing odds.
“Bringing the travel industry back from the worst health crisis in our lifetimes will require people with resilience and resolve,” he said. “You are such people. You didn’t have to be here. A lot of our travel friends are not. But one day you’ll be able to look back and say, ‘I was there.’”
Presley echoed that sentiment.
“This is the first travel conference of the year in the whole travel industry, and you are part of it,” he said. “That is absolutely wonderful. Thank you for doing that.”
Presley also commended the management of French Lick Resort for accepting this combined conference with just six weeks’ notice after the cities of Cheyenne, Wyoming, and then Wichita, Kansas, were forced to cancel the meetings.
“It was an easy decision to take these on, really,” said Joe Vezzoso, vice president of resort operations and sales. “We’ve worked with Charlie and Mac for years, and I think we’re all seeing improvement in the travel industry. This conference is a great way to show that the industry is back in business.”
Delegates enjoyed the large resort property. Many could be seen in the casino, playing golf, hiking trails or just enjoying the wide and peaceful veranda on the front side of French Lick Hotel. One night of the conference featured a dine-around. Many delegates walked one or two blocks into the town of French Lick to sample a surprising range of restaurants.
Major meal sponsors included Collette, U.S. Tours, the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum, Globus Family of Brands and the French Lick Resort. Several thousand six-minute appointments were held over two days in a large ballroom using eight-foot tables dissected by plexiglass sneeze guards.
Brenda Hall of Nighthawk Travel in Red Bay, Alabama, summed up well the optimism that prevailed among attendees of the industry’s first face-to-face meeting since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is my 20th year at Select Traveler Conference,” she said. “I want to learn what I can and cannot do in travel these days. I also enjoy meeting other people who love to travel. There’s such a wide world to see.”