The more I get to know you, the more I like you.
If you’ve been around tourism for more than a day or two, you know this business is built on relationships. We’re outgoing folks who enjoy meeting others. We’re talkative by nature. We’re “people people.” And many of our professional acquaintances end up becoming lifelong personal friends.
Meeting people has been one of the highlights of my career in travel journalism. In a good year, I’ll meet dozens — or maybe even a hundred — new people at conferences, trade shows and other tourism events. And I look forward to reuniting with many of those friends and colleagues as major tourism events ramp up again this fall and winter.
Many of the people I meet on the road work full time in travel, representing attractions, hotels, convention and visitors bureaus or other tourism marketing organizations. These professionals are ambassadors for their cities and states and go to great lengths to help groups discover and enjoy their destinations.
I’ve also met many tour operators, travel planners and group leaders — the people who do the hard work of planning, selling and executing trips. These folks are often entrepreneurs at heart, and their love of travel is contagious. That’s why they’re so successful in convincing other people to take trips with them.
In the past several years, our OnSite familiarization program has taken hundreds of these travel planners on research trips to places across the country and around the world. (You can see one of our latest adventures in the article “OnSite in Gallup” on page 10.) It’s been a pleasure for me to travel with these delegations, both to enjoy the destinations and to get to know the people responsible for making group travel happen.
As I talk to travel planners, I’m struck by their gumption, their adventurous spirits and their innovative thinking. Travel comes with plenty of uncertainty, and arranging trips for dozens of people isn’t without risk. But our readers don’t shy away from risk, because they know it’s far outweighed by the rewards of travel.
Over the past 18 months, the pandemic has affected group travel more than perhaps any other industry. But in spite of this harsh blow, travel planners haven’t given up. They’re rising to the challenge, keeping their companies open and taking trips for those who are still willing to go.
This doesn’t mean they haven’t faced some economic difficulty. Over the past few months, I’ve talked to a lot of travel planners who have had to get creative to make ends meet during the pandemic. Some took to driving Ubers or delivering groceries. Others have accepted part-time jobs — sometimes at visitor centers or attractions — to generate extra income. Last month, I met a travel planner who opened an art gallery and used it to exhibit her travel photography, hoping the images would inspire others to book travel soon.
These won’t be long-term arrangements, of course. People who love travel will find their way back to the road. And tourism entrepreneurs will find their way back to profitability.
Until then, though, they’re doing what it takes to keep their travel enterprises alive. They’re dreamers, not quitters.