Destination On The Left

Destination On The Left is a podcast focused on the travel and tourism industry that explores successful collaborations, creative marketing ideas and best practices. Interviews are a mix of Destination Marketers, Industry Leaders, Consultants and businesses in the industry. We explore consumer marketing programs and travel trade marketing programs. This podcast provides an opportunity for professionals in the travel & tourism industry to share what they have learned and successes that they have achieved.
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Jun 14, 2023

Passionate about custom travel and creating unique travel experiences for his clients, Tom Casey is a longtime expert on travel to Ireland and the British Isles and, more recently, has explored many regions of Scandinavia—including Norway, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands. Tom runs Old Sod Travel along with helping manage Scandinavian Travel.

On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Tom Casey about the business strategies that have made his travel companies successful, including focusing on your niche, hiring and nurturing a good team, and building reliable partnerships overseas. We also discuss how his business weathered the challenges of the pandemic to make 2023 their best year yet.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • Why Tom left the corporate world at age 50 to run his own business
  • How Tom’s companies have evolved over time and why finding the right niche was of huge importance to their core business strategy
  • Tom’s team’s commitment to creating exceptional travel experiences and how it really differentiates his company
  • What Tom is doing right now to make 2023 his strongest year yet, and the unique, authentic features of their brand
  • Some of the fabulous partnerships Tom has built with suppliers in Ireland, Scotland, and Scandinavia

Fine Tuning Your Niche

One of the key strategies that has fueled the growth of Tom Casey’s business is finding and honing in on a specific niche. Tom emphasizes the importance of fine-tuning what you want to do and excelling at it. This approach has allowed his company to focus more on delivering exceptional client experiences.

Old Sod Travel and Scandinavian Travel prioritize providing high-quality vacations, and because of this, they often invest in sending employees to business meetings and conferences in Ireland, Scotland, and Scandinavia, enabling them to gain firsthand experience and build confidence in selling their offerings to potential travelers. The positive feedback in the form of five-star reviews further reinforces the company’s commitment to delivering outstanding vacations and fuels their passion to continue excelling in their niche.

A Committed Team

Tom Casey’s business model includes a unique approach to his team, which has evolved over time. Initially, he hired stay-at-home mothers due to budget constraints, and one of them eventually became his business partner. They recruited friends with similar backgrounds, creating a social and enjoyable work environment. The workforce genuinely cares about clients and understands the travel style they sell, which aligns with their own experiences. This inherent understanding makes it easier for them to recommend luxury accommodations and convince clients that the extra expense is worth it for a truly satisfying experience.

Truly Customizable Tours

The flexibility granted to employees, such as working a few hours in the morning to communicate and collaborate, allows for customization and personalized trip planning. Unlike other companies that claim customization but offer limited options, Tom’s team goes the extra mile, traveling with clients and making themselves available whenever needed. Their commitment to building relationships and providing comfort to nervous first-time travelers sets them apart from the competition.


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Jun 7, 2023

Tristen Norman is the Head of Creative Insights, Americas at iStock and Getty Images. She operates as one-part visual anthropologist and two-parts data scientist working across disciplines to understand what motivates visual selection, identify trends within visual language, and use this data to help shape the development of Gettys creative content globally. Leveraging consumer research and social and cultural listening and pairing it with proprietary data, Tristen hones in on the valuable insights that feed the development of Getty Images’ own creative collections.

A passionate advocate for elevating marginalized voices within creative spaces, Tristen also plays a critical role in supporting and advancing initiatives and partnerships to champion diverse visual narratives at Getty Images and beyond.

Tristen’s experience stems from over nine years in creative design, market research, and brand strategy. Before joining Getty Images, Tristen was most recently a Senior Experience Strategist at Wunderman, where she was responsible for developing creative, data-driven omnichannel creative brand strategies for clients across various industries. Tristen earned her Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing from Temple.

On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Tristen Norman about how the era of ‘no normal’ has impacted content creators and what destination marketers can do to ensure they’re telling multilayered stories. We also discuss the importance of interrogating our content choices to improve our marketing and stress that it is the little choices that make the most significant impact.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • Why wellness is an ongoing content trend and how we can make it a universal experience
  • How to create multilayered stories to share with prospective visitors
  • The importance of remaining authentic as a brand
  • What kind of imagery consumers are looking to engage with
  • How to take a deep dive into your content and identify the gaps
  • How Getty Images’ VisualGPS tool can help you diversify your content library

Why Authenticity is Key

In today’s travel marketing landscape, authenticity has become paramount, and it’s essential for brands to share authentic images and narratives. Tristen explores the challenge of maintaining authenticity while telling layered stories and emphasizes the importance of investing time, resources, and energy in the process of authenticity.

Through image testing and surveys, Tristen’s team discovered that consumers respond most to images that represent slices of real life. These visuals should reflect diversity, different cultures, communities, and lived experiences.

Take a Step by Step Approach to Curating Your Content

DMOs and brands need to analyze their existing content and identify how they can best fill any gaps, such as concentrating on little-known attractions of their destination. Incremental changes can lead to a profound shift in the audience’s relationship with a destination. Rather than attempting to solve all the world’s problems at once, brands should take a step-by-step approach, assessing what’s available, what can be swapped in, and what resources might be needed. Starting with small, manageable changes is the key to building an authentic brand narrative that resonates with audiences.

Tools for Content Creators

When it comes to tools and resources for content creators and marketers in the travel industry, Tristen mentions several options available through Getty Images. She also shares how to stay updated with industry insights, trends, and conversations via their VisualGPS Insights tool, which provides data and insights on global visual content trends, helping marketers make informed choices.


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May 31, 2023

Wes Rhea is the CEO of Visit Stockton and has led destination marketing in Stockton, California, since 2005. A strong advocate of small destination marketing organizations, Wes is a past President of the Destination Marketing Association of the West. He has also served on the board of the California Travel Association, the Destination Marketing Association of the West Education and Research Foundation, and the Central Valley Tourism Association. Wes currently serves on US Travels Destinations Council, the Advocacy and Professional Development Committees at Destination International, and is the Rural Committee Chair at Visit California. Wes is best known for being an early adopter of new tourism tech and a big fan of data.

A Stockton native, Wes is committed to giving back to his community and currently serves on the board of the Stockton Maritime Museum, the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce, and the Airport Advisory Commission. Wes is married to Kristi, has two sons, and served ten years in the US Army.

On this episode of Destination on the Left, Wes Rhea shares his leadership philosophy and how it has empowered his team to adapt and thrive in any situation. We delve into the advantages of embracing technology and how incorporating video and graphic design services in-house has revolutionized their operations. Wes also provides insights on managing a destination with a negative perception, both internally and externally. He discusses the creative strategies his team employs to shift this perception, including leveraging Stockton’s status as the most diverse city in the nation.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • How the ten years that Wes served in the US Army has served him in leading his team
  • How embracing new technology and bringing video and graphic design services in-house transformed operations at Visit Stockton
  • Why the Visit Stockton funding model contributes to how they attract visitors to the city, and why they focus on more than just heads in beds
  • How Wes and his team work to overcome the challenge of a negative perception and becomes a cheerleader for the city
  • Stockton Flavorfest is an excellent example of effective collaboration between cities and tourism entities, allowing them to showcase the vibrancy of a community.

How Being a Veteran Has Helped Wes as a Leader

Wes believes that his experience in the Army has dramatically influenced his leadership style and ability to lead his team effectively. He highlights two key aspects that he attributes to his military background: team development and the ability to work under pressure and adapt. This mindset has translated into his approach as a CEO, where he values and appreciates every individual’s contribution to the team.

Stockton Flavorfest

Inspired by Stockton’s distinction as the most diverse city in the nation, Stockton Flavorfest was designed to celebrate the community’s diversity through food, arts, and cultural activities. The festival prioritized curated vendors, sustainable practices, and a cohesive visual identity. With the seed funding,

Visit Stockton was able to realize their vision, providing engaging entertainment such as Ballet Folklorico and Tahitian dancers, cooking demos, and free arts and crafts for children. The inaugural two-day event in 2022 surpassed expectations, attracting 12,000 attendees and earning Visit Stockton the prestigious Best New Festival award from the International Festival and Events Association.

Overcoming Negative Image

Visit Stockton faces the ongoing challenge of combating the negative perception surrounding the city. Despite being the 11th largest city in California, Stockton is plagued by higher violent crime rates, leading to discouraging comments from residents. However, the team at Visit Stockton remains determined to change the narrative.

They organize fun projects and initiatives, such as a campaign highlighting Stockton as the birthplace of the Fantastic Four. Although these efforts may not directly change people’s opinions or attract tourists, they create a sense of pride among residents and offer a feel-good factor for the team. Despite the daily battle against negativity, Visit Stockton embraces a proactive approach, thinking outside the box and working as cheerleaders for the city, showcasing its hidden gems and fostering positive experiences for visitors and locals alike.


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May 24, 2023

On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Claire Koenig about her role as Co-Chair of the Destinations International PR and Communications Committee. We discuss in detail the creation of the Public Relations Measurement Guidelines Handbook. Claire also shares the upcoming priorities of the Committee, including an update to the Crisis Handbook, work on reputational issues facing destinations, and how the Committee plans to help raise the comms profession up for destinations worldwide.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • Why the Destinations International PR and Communications Working Group was formed
  • Claire’s part in creating the Public Relations Measurement Guidelines Handbook
  • Why destinations should adopt the standards to refine and modernize their marketing processes
  • Outdated metrics and what we should be looking at these days to evaluate our PR efficacy
  • How the Barcelona Principles work to help destinations score their efforts
  • Next priorities for the Destinations International PR and Communications Committee

Understanding Metrics

In this episode of Destination on the Left, our guest Claire Koenig sheds light on PR for destinations and the need to move away from traditional metrics like Add Equivalency Value (AVE) and impressions. AVE measures the cost of buying an ad equivalent to the earned media coverage, but it fails to capture the true value and impact of earned media.

We discuss why the value of being featured in prestigious publications like The New York Times or National Geographic Travel and Leisure goes beyond a monetary value, as it validates a destination and can have far-reaching benefits, such as attracting conventions and visitors.

Tailoring Measurement Practices

Claire also dives into the Barcelona Principles and how they offer a scoring system that allows destinations to tailor their measurement practices while creating uniformity across the industry. The Barcelona Principles encourage destinations to evaluate their earned media efforts using a scoring system. This involves breaking down the evaluation into different buckets and assessing factors such as the targeted markets reached, key messages conveyed the nature of the media placement, and the prominence of the destination within the coverage.

By calculating scores for these various elements, destinations can derive an overall vertical score demonstrating how their reputation is elevated through earned media generated by their tourism bureau. While measuring the impact of earned media on reputation is challenging due to its wide-ranging effects, the scoring system provides tangible numbers and enhances transparency in the PR and media relations process.

One significant benefit of adopting a scoring system, such as the one outlined in the Destination International Public Relations Measurement Guidelines Handbook. is that it allows PR professionals and DMOs to illustrate the value they bring.

Current Projects for the Destinations International PR and Communications Committee

Claire also highlights the importance of standardizing job descriptions and advocating for salary transparency in the field of travel and hospitality PR. By organizing job descriptions based on the budget size and creating standardized templates, managers and directors can effectively hire the right talent for their teams.


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May 17, 2023

On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with two amazing guests, Mayor Carlos Duffey of Jackson, Georgia, and Ike English of the Dauset Trails Nature Center, both of whom played a pivotal role in the Creeks Trail System and Butts County’s recent recognition with the Trailblazers Award from the Georgia CVB Association. We focus on their collaborative efforts, its positive impact on the city of Jackson, and the significance of having the right individuals involved in creating such transformative projects.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • Mayor Carlos Duffey shares why he was persuaded to run for public office
  • How Ike’s interest in nature and building trails led to his current project
  • When they first spotted the trend for people using outdoor trails and the collaboration across a variety of sectors
  • How they use the trails to connect residents and visitors and bring them into the city to use local businesses
  • Roadblocks Mayor Carlos and Ike had to work around in finding the right partners and bringing the trail project to completion

Connecting the Trail and the City

Mayor Carlos describes how he envisioned connecting every part of Jackson back to the town square to bring visitors and residents alike to sample the town’s restaurants, cafes, and boutiques. He shares how they can benefit from the economic impact of the trail and why the city is working with local transportation services to add new roundabouts and bike lanes that will provide safe access to the Trailhead.

2022 Trailblazer Award

Ike shares more about some of the roadblocks they hit and challenges they encountered when they first started building the trails, including convincing local landowners and residents who were less than enthusiastic about the project.

The pair share more details about their four trailheads, what kind of people are using the trails, and why their unique project won the 2022 Trailblazer Award. Mayor Carlos and Ike also dive into how they track numbers of trail users and why it’s essential for them to understand how they are being used so they can make plans for how to expand the network.

The Outdoor Capital of Georgia

Jackson is considered the outdoor capital of Georgia, thanks to its two state parks and the Dauset Trail. The city takes great pride in this title and wants to make the most of it by encouraging people to walk or bike rather than drive.

My guests share why the trails have been vital in promoting this vision, and the city is excited to see the enthusiasm around it. The younger generation is a particular focus, and the city hopes to introduce more children to the trails to develop their love for nature. The Dauset Trail already does an excellent job of engaging students, but the city wants to expand the outreach and make it a part of its future.


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May 10, 2023

Bonnie Hayes is the Director for Tourism Development for the City of Thomasville, a position she has held for seven years and thoroughly enjoys. Before working for the City, Bonnie was teaching Video Broadcast in the Thomasville School System as well as being the on-air host of Thomasville Today, a local event-focused TV program. Many people recognize her from the TV program or remember her holding puppies and other animals in her pet store, Pet Stop, which she opened when she arrived in Thomasville. A graduate of Florida State University, Bonnie is originally from the Florida panhandle but has called Thomasville home for over 25 years. When she has time, she works in her yard, takes care of her many pets, or travels with her husband and college-age twins.

Debra Smith is a retired teacher who taught in the Thomasville School System for 30 years. She retired at age 51, and after growing bored sitting at home, she knew she needed to do something. Debra decided to investigate food tours, and she went to Food Tour Pros in Chicago to learn how to do food tours. Her first tour was on March 24, 2013. As of today, Debra has hosted 1469 tours and 11800+ guests. Her company was named Small Business of the Year in 2018 and GA CVCB Travel Trail Blazers in 2022. Debra gives credit to her wonderful guides, who she couldn’t do this business without, and she notes that she has the best team!

On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Bonnie Hayes and Debra Smith about the power of collaboration between a tourism office and a local tour operator. We discuss the partnership between their two organizations, how they support each other, and how this collaboration led to an elevated visitor experience.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • How the partnership between Taste of Thomasville and the Visitors Centre has evolved
  • The process of shaping the food tour into an authentic tourist experience
  • Why Bonnie nominated Debra for the Trailblazer Award
  • Debra’s lessons learned from ten years in the travel and tourism business
  • The importance of being visible and asking questions
  • How Debra built her partnerships with local restaurants and why personal connection was so important in building those relationships
  • Upcoming events and festivals happening in Thomasville

The Value of Personal Connection

In the world of tourism, personal connections, collaborations, and partnerships are key to success. This is especially true for the tour industry, where visitors are looking for a unique and memorable experience. Debra, who has been running her Taste of Thomasville tour for ten years, understands this better than anyone. Bonnie Hayes, Director for Tourism Development for the City of Thomasville, also shares more about how her organization created a collaboration with Debra and how their partnership has evolved over the years.

An Innovative Tourism Experience

Debra and Bonnie have continued to shape the restaurant tour into a tourism product that appeals to a range of visitors. This meant creating not only a daytime tour on weekends but also an evening tour where guests could have drinks in a range of fun establishments. But their creativity didn’t stop there. When large groups come into town for events like the Victorian Christmas festival, Debra also curates specific experiences to entertain visitors during the day.

For her outstanding contributions to the tourism industry, Debra won the Trailblazer Award, which celebrates individuals who have significantly impacted the travel industry and helped shape how we experience new places. Debra’s dedication and creativity have undoubtedly earned her this recognition.

The Future for Taste of Thomasville

As the popularity of the food tour in Thomasville continues to grow, there are always new ideas and possibilities for expanding the experience. One such idea that has been on the mind of Debra and Bonnie is to incorporate more of the town’s art district, also known as the “bottom,” into the tour. This area has some great restaurants currently not included in the tour’s walking path, so the hope is to eventually create a third tour called “Breakfast on the Bottom,” which would showcase these establishments.

In addition to expanding the tour for adults, there are plans to continue offering tours geared toward children and high school students. The children’s tour has become particularly popular, with many elementary and middle schools taking field trips to participate. Meanwhile, the culinary tour for high school students allows them to learn from the owners and managers of local restaurants and get a behind-the-scenes look at the culinary industry.


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May 3, 2023

Josiah Brown’s mission in life is to “Inspire people forward.” After traveling 750,000+ miles promoting New York State as a travel destination and the industry that supports it, the New York Sherpa has a few stories to tell…

On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Josiah Brown about the trends and challenges facing the tourism industry in a post-COVID visitor economy. Josiah shares his philosophy on effective destination marketing, building quality of place, and the importance of the visitor economy in economic development. We also highlight the importance of metrics, staying relevant in the digital space, and tourism’s value as a catalyst for economic growth.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • Why rural communities often view tourism as a threat and lack understanding of its positive impact
  • Metrics you can use to measure your in-person engagement
  • How tourism can contribute to economic development and help to address workforce challenges and sustainability
  • The challenges faced by one or two-person departments in managing the future of the visitor economy
  • How to communicate effectively with rural communities to help them understand the workforce challenges of the future and how the visitor economy could help
  • The seven-pillar model of effective destination marketing and the importance of building quality of place

How Current Events Impact the Visitor Economy

On the podcast with Josiah, we explore the state of the visitor economy and how it has been affected by recent events. We discuss the challenges faced by rural communities who struggle with viewing tourism as an asset, the need for strategic communication around the visitor economy, and how the industry may fare in the coming years.

One key challenge highlighted is the negative perception some rural communities have of tourism. Many residents view visitors as a threat to their way of life and don’t understand the benefits that tourism can bring, such as fresh capital, investment, jobs, and increased quality of place. Josiah also discusses the importance of educating locals on the positive effects of tourism and demonstrating how visitors can help the community in many ways.

Strategic Communication

Another key theme is the need for strategic communication around the visitor economy. Josiah notes that so many people, particularly in rural communities, do not understand the workforce challenges of the future, the sustainability of their communities, or the success of a post-agricultural or post-industrial community, all of which rely on the visitor economy.

Josiah advocates for the seven pillars of destination management to promote the importance of tourism in economic development, which include strategies such as branding, marketing, sales, education, and a community calendar.

The Potential of Tourism

Finally, we explore the potential of the tourism industry in the coming years. While many industries may suffer from a recession, Josiah predicts that the tourism industry may not fare as badly because people are eager to travel again. He notes that there has been a wave of pent-up consumerism in the industry, with people valuing travel experiences more than before — which is why it’s so important to stay in the marketplace and bolster your brand’s visibility to ensure success in a post-COVID visitor economy.


We value your thoughts and feedback and would love to hear from you. Leave us a review on your favorite streaming platform to let us know what you want to hear more of. Here is a quick tutorial on how to leave us a rating and review on iTunes!:

Apr 26, 2023

A marketing strategist for over 30 years, Susan Baier founded Audience Audit in 2009 to help organizations understand their best audiences based on attitudes and needs rather than just demographics or purchase behavior. She develops custom segmentation research for marketers and agencies around the world, supporting their efforts to create marketing initiatives that are more relevant, more efficient, and more impactful.

On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Susan Baier, my research partner in our latest research study on my favorite subject of collaboration. We share the insights uncovered about how to operationalize collaboration and why we were keen to understand all the ways that tourism, hospitality businesses, and DMOs are creating successful partnerships.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • The three different types of collaborators that were identified in the study
  • Why the study focused on understanding how organizations are operationalizing collaboration and integrating it into their daily and strategic business practices
  • The importance of collaboration as a business strategy
  • Key attitudes towards collaboration uncovered in the survey
  • Factors that contribute to a collaborative mindset, such as communication, open-mindedness, and active listening
  • How collaboration can support diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in organizations

Collaboration as a Strategy

Destination marketers understand the importance of collaboration as a strategy to achieve their goals. In our recent survey on attitudes towards building collaboration into internal systems, three distinct segments emerged.

The first group, prudent planners, believe in a formalized collaboration process that includes clearly defined goals, financial objectives, and communication channels. They emphasize the need for a contingency plan to address unforeseen circumstances and advocate for a designated person to manage collaborations. For prudent planners, collaboration is a process-oriented activity that requires a well-structured framework.

The second group of destination marketers is called enterprisers, and they are characterized by their love for collaboration. They are open-minded about the collaboration process and believe in allowing adjustments to happen organically. Enterprisers view collaborations as a competitive advantage and do not limit themselves to collaborating within the travel and tourism industry only but also with organizations outside the industry.

The third group, the selective spectators, are less proactive when it comes to collaborations. They only collaborate with organizations they have some connection with, and they take a reactive approach, waiting for others to offer collaboration opportunities. Selective spectators are less confident about their collaboration process and do not see the need for collaborators to share the same values.

Understanding these distinct segments is crucial for destination marketers to tailor their collaboration strategies for the best results.

Traits of a Collaborative Mindset

The survey found that most respondents plan to increase the number of collaborations they’re involved in. The study identified communication, open-mindedness, flexibility, active listening, and being a team player as factors that contribute to a collaborative mindset. Our study encourages destination marketers to think more intentionally about collaboration and identify the pieces of their process they follow when collaborating.


We value your thoughts and feedback and would love to hear from you. Leave us a review on your favorite streaming platform to let us know what you want to hear more of. Here is a quick tutorial on how to leave us a rating and review on iTunes!:

Apr 19, 2023

Travel writer and historian Rick Antonson has traveled on trains through twenty-eight
American states, across nine Canadian provinces, and in more than thirty-five countries. He is co-author of a book of railway stories, Whistle Posts West: Railway Tales From British Columbia, Alberta, and Yukon.

He and his two sons, Brent and Sean, circumnavigated the Northern Hemisphere by train over the course of five trips, traveling through countries as varied as Belarus, Mongolia, and North Korea. Rick and his wife, Janice, became engaged on a train in Alabama en route to New Orleans. Rick is the former president and CEO of Tourism Vancouver (now Destination Vancouver). He served as chair of the board for Destinations International, based in Bangkok, Thailand. He was vice president of Rocky Mountaineer during its start-up years in the early 1990s. Train Beyond the Mountains is his fifth travel narrative.

On this episode of Destination on the Left, Rick Antonson shares why he wrote his latest book, Train Beyond the Mountains, and the fresh perspective traveling with his 10-year-old grandson gave him. We also talk about intergenerational or legacy travel and why this market segment may be an overlooked opportunity for destination marketing organizations.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • Rick shares more about why he wrote his latest book, Train Beyond the Mountains, and why it’s his personal favorite
  • What cathedral thinking is, and what it means in the context of the travel industry
  • What we can learn from taking a moment to travel with family and learn from its younger members
  • Why having a travel companion so different from himself brought out stories Rick never would have found alone
  • How to market opportunities for multigenerational and legacy travel

A Fresh Perspective

Rick Antonson shares the story behind his new book, Train Beyond the Mountains, which documents his two-week trip with his grandson in the Canadian Rockies. The pair traveled on the Rocky Mountaineer train, and Rick shares why being on the train with his grandson sparked a lot of reflection. He realized that traveling with a child allows you to see the world through a different lens.

The Joy of Travel

Rick talks about the importance of travel writing in motivating and inspiring people to actually go and visit destinations. He shares some experiences from his travels, including a touching moment with his grandson on a train journey and a missed opportunity to learn the story of a fellow traveler.

He reflects on the Buddhist idea that we often assume we have more time than we do, and how COVID-19 has taught us never to take travel for granted. As a destination marketer, he encourages inviting people to experience new places and meet people who are different from themselves.

Legacy Travel

On the show, Rick also talks about the market opportunity of legacy travel. As each generation ages, there is a ticking legacy clock in the back of their mind, and leaving memories behind for their family becomes important. We dive into how destinations can better identify and market to legacy travelers, accommodate their needs, and ensure that activities are enjoyable and informative for all ages.


We value your thoughts and feedback and would love to hear from you. Leave us a review on your favorite streaming platform to let us know what you want to hear more of. Here is a quick tutorial on how to leave us a rating and review on iTunes!:

Apr 12, 2023

Passionate about the interconnection between food, agriculture, tourism, arts, and culture, Rebecca has been instrumental in developing tourism products, including Prince Edward County’s award-winning Taste Trail & Arts Trail and the Culinary Tourism Alliance’s Feast On® certification program.

In her role at the Culinary Tourism Alliance (CTA), Rebecca manages highly participatory and asset-based community development projects at the local, regional, provincial, and national levels. She oversees programming, partnership development and develops comprehensive marketing partnerships to increase awareness of Canada’s food tourism experiences.

Rebecca contributes her expertise to a variety of industry boards, including the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO) and the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) Sustainable Development Goals Working Group. She has written the curriculum for Centennial Colleges Food Tourism Post Graduate Program, contributed chapters to the 2nd UNWTO Global Report on Gastronomic Tourism, and produced a chapter on Transforming the Terroir into a Tourist Destination to the Routledge Handbook of Gastronomic Tourism (release date of fall 2019). Rebecca completed a Master of Arts in Global Leadership at Royal Roads University in 2021 with a specific interest in sustainable tourism. She is a part-time professor at George Brown College in their Food Tourism Entrepreneurship program.

Born and raised in Toronto, Rebecca spent her summers in rural Prince Edward County. In her grade 12 year, she sailed with West Island Colleges Class Afloat on a 156-foot-tall ship to 20 countries in Europe and Africa – an experience that rooted her passion for travel, adventure, and taste of place! Rebecca continues to split her time between Toronto (week) and Prince Edward County (weekends), sharing her adventures with her husband, two teenage sons, and silver labrador Blueberry.

On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Rebecca Mackenzie, the President and CEO of Culinary Tourism Alliance. In this enlightening conversation, Rebecca provides insightful definitions for culinary tourism and agri-tourism and shares her expertise on building partnerships and programs that are sustainable and beneficial for all involved.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • How destinations can leverage culinary and agritourism to stand out by defining their unique selling proposition and sharing their stories
  • Why successful culinary and agri-tourism programs are grassroots-driven, and DMOs should understand and own their particular taste of place to collaborate and showcase it to visitors
  • What culinary tourism is and how it reflects the history, heritage, and culture of a place
  • How marketing organizations can create a curated culinary tourism experience
  • How the Maple in the County event encouraged collaboration, bringing together five maple syrup producers under one brand and encouraging local businesses to create maple-themed products and experiences
  • Rebecca shares her insights and best practices for initiating and developing partnerships

The World of Culinary Tourism

In this episode, Rebecca Mackenzie, the President and CEO of Culinary Tourism Alliance, dives deep into the world of culinary and agri-tourism. Mackenzie shares her insights on how destinations can truly stand out by defining their unique selling proposition and sharing the stories of the people who grow, raise and craft their tastes of place. As Mackenzie explains, the reality is that no two ingredients are quite the same, and the way they are processed or celebrated reflects the culture of that place.

Successful culinary and agri-tourism programs are grassroots-driven, and business operators must fully understand and own their unique taste of place to collaborate and showcase it to visitors. By executing excellent multi-sensory experiences, destinations can leave lifelong impressions with visitors, ultimately keeping them competitive in a rapidly growing industry. So tune in to learn more about how to make your culinary and agri-tourism program outstanding in your field.

History, Heritage, and Culture

Rebecca explains that culinary tourism includes any travel experience where a person can learn about and consume food and drink that reflects a place’s history, heritage, and culture. While agritourism is primarily focused on the production side of food and beverage, culinary tourism goes a step further by providing visitors with an opportunity to taste the products grown and raised in the area.

This immersive experience allows visitors to understand the nuances of grape growing, production processes, and the people involved in the destination. From visiting farmers’ markets and specialty food retailers to attending cooking schools and festivals, there are numerous ways to experience the taste of the place.

Maple in the County

We also discuss the development of the Maple in the County event over 20 years ago in Prince Edward County, Canada. The event brought together five maple syrup producers under one brand, encouraging local businesses to create maple-themed products and experiences. The first year saw almost 100 businesses participate, leading to increased tourism and visitors spending longer in the area.


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Apr 5, 2023

Break the Ice Media team members Rhonda Cardenas and Brittany Lynn attended the Georgia CVB annual conference and discovered a wealth of inspirational stories and ideas that the state has to offer. With a positive momentum coming off of a strong 2022, there is a lot of optimism for a bright future in Georgia tourism.

The state’s beautiful outdoors continues to attract visitors, with state parks seeing large numbers of visitors and new apps featuring outdoor experiences like canoe and kayak trails. The conference attendees described the event as exciting, innovative, collaborative, and like a family, making it clear that Georgia’s tourism industry is evolving and staying relevant in a changing world.

In this episode, you’ll hear from seven Georgia tourism leaders:

Collaboration and Learning

The Annual Conference organized by GACVB offers an excellent chance for professionals in the tourism industry to upgrade their knowledge of destination marketing and management. At this conference, industry suppliers, travel and hospitality affiliates, and tourism professionals come together to discuss successes and explore solutions related to the travel and tourism industry. It is a fun and informative event that offers ample opportunities for collaboration and learning with like-minded professionals across the state.

Joe Marinelli – President, Visit Savannah

Joe shares one of the many successful partnerships that his organization has fostered in Savannah. He explains how they work closely with the leadership of the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport and formed an Air Service Task Force made up of representatives from the airport, Visit Savannah, and Hilton Head to attract new air service to the region. By working together, they have brought in new airlines and expanded the number of destinations the airport serves.

Kat Hoyt – Visitor Center President, Discover Darien

Kat shares why it’s about more than just visiting attractions, but getting outside and enjoying Georgia’s beautiful natural spaces. Whether it’s hiking through the mountains or paddling down a river, visitors are increasingly interested in connecting with nature and exploring the outdoors.

Kat also describes the potential she sees in the use of technology to enhance the visitor experience. For example, the riverkeepers are developing apps that offer information about canoe and kayak trails in the state. This kind of technology can help visitors plan their trips more effectively and make the most of the available destinations.

Sam McDuffie – Director of Tourism for Discover Dahlonega

Sam shares his successful collaboration and partnership experience in using Over-the-Top (OTT) Television for their destination’s tourism promotions. He emphasizes the importance of adapting to new technologies to cater to the ever-changing preferences of their target audience. With more people now using streaming devices for their TV viewing, his DMO has been trying to reach its target market by promoting its commercials and brand in streaming services through OTT TV.

Sandy White – President & CEO Alliance for Dade, Chamber of Commerce & Welcome Center

Sandy shares her excitement for tourism in Georgia in 2023 and notes that the trend of outdoor activities continues to gain momentum, with state parks seeing large numbers of visitors. She believes people are rediscovering the joys of road trips and staying close to home due to lingering concerns about air travel. As a result, small communities and outdoor destinations in Georgia are poised to benefit greatly. She also observes that the market is shifting towards more family-oriented weekend trips that involve outdoor activities.

Stephanie Stuckey – CEO of Stuckey’s Corporation

Stephanie believes their brand is all about the freedom and independence of exploring America, which is at the core of tourism. Stuckey is excited to see a revival of the road trip in the country, as people are enjoying the joy of getting in their cars and exploring. In terms of changes in the market, Stuckey has noticed an increasing interest in small-town America. The sense of belonging and connection to a place is becoming more important to travelers, which makes Stephanie optimistic about the future of tourism in America.

Steven Schumacher – President, Cartersville Bartow CVB

According to Steven Schumacher, one trend that’s new to the market and booming right now is the popularity of platforms like Airbnb for renting homes and cabins. In the past, hotels were always the main focus for CVBs to earn occupancy taxes. However, in recent years, with Airbnb’s contributions to CVB funding, it has expanded their reach to those who may not want a traditional hotel stay. By partnering with both hotels and home-sharing platforms, CVBs can attract a broader range of travelers. Steven believes this trend enhances their ability to appeal to people who are interested in experiencing destinations in a more home-like setting rather than a traditional hotel.

Tyler Bryant – President & CEO, Visit Hawkinsville

According to Tyler, the word that best describes the GACVB annual conference is “collaboration.” This conference is all about sharing and learning new ideas from each other and working together towards success. The attendees collaborate with one another to grow and prosper in the industry. He shares why the conference offers a great opportunity for professionals to network, exchange knowledge, and find ways to work together toward a common goal.

Forward Momentum for Georgia Destinations

Our attendance at the Georgia CVBS conference has revealed some exciting insights into the state’s tourism industry. Georgia is experiencing positive momentum after a successful 2022 with a promising outlook for 2023. Visitors are drawn to the state’s natural beauty, with outdoor experiences remaining a top priority for many. Furthermore, the revival of road trips and interest in small-town America is playing into Georgia’s strengths, making it a compelling destination for visitors. The state’s tourism industry is continuously evolving to remain relevant in a changing world, and we’re excited to see what the future holds for Georgia.

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Mar 29, 2023

Episode 323:

Michael Hensley was born and raised just outside of Detroit in Warren, Michigan. He studied at Saginaw Valley State University for four years and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 2017. After graduating, he stayed in the Great Lakes Bay Region to promote the region to tourists. He now serves as the Travel Marketing Manager, where he passionately works to show people why the Great Lakes Bay Region is such a special place to visit. This is done by creating programs to increase tourism traffic and strategically identify market segments.

Michael has been described as “enthusiastic and dedicated about his work” by friends and colleagues. Loyal to his newfound community, Michael makes sure every visitor feels right at home in the Great Lakes Bay Region.

On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Michael Hensley about his successful podcast, Go Great Lakes Bay, and how he’s using it to promote the region as a destination. We also discuss the challenges of launching a podcast and the benefits it can bring, such as expanding relationships with stakeholders and providing another valuable tool to support them.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • Michael’s story and how he got into tourism
  • The Great Lakes Bay podcast and the stories behind the show
  • We dive into what makes a podcast successful
  • Why the fear of failure often holds people back and how Michael moved through it
  • Successful examples of collaboration, including their partnership with the Saginaw Spirit hockey team
  • Perspective on the evolution of destination marketing organizations

Sharing Local Stories

Michael Hensley shares his passion for communicating the stories of the people and places that make the Great Lakes Bay Region a great place to live, work, worship, play, and learn. In the Great Lakes Bay podcast, Michael and his team feature the people who own and operate local businesses, sharing the stories behind the places visitors love to frequent.

From Grandpa Tiny’s Farm in Frankenmuth to other local businesses, Michael brings to light the people behind the places that make the region special. By sharing these stories, Michael hopes to inspire listeners to view the destination through the same lens he did and fall in love with it too.

Podcasting as a Marketing Tool

Michael reveals that the idea for the podcast was not originally his but something that his predecessor started. However, after stumbling upon the file and listening to a few episodes, he saw the potential in continuing the podcast. The first year was rough, but after receiving advice from other professionals in the industry, he realized the importance of consistency and decided to aim for a weekly release.

The partnership with a radio station in Detroit helped alleviate the stress of producing and distributing the podcast, allowing him to focus on recording interviews. Although he had never interviewed anyone before, he overcame his fear and developed a skill for it. Despite the commitment, he enjoys producing the podcast and views it as a priority each week.

Moving Forward Step by Step

Fear is a common emotion that can hold us back from pursuing our goals and aspirations. Michael’s experience with starting the show is an excellent example of overcoming our fears and pushing through to achieve our desired outcome. He admits to having fears about not being a good interviewer or the show not working out. However, he didn’t let those fears stop him and took a leap of faith.

Michael’s willingness to take risks, try new things, and persist through challenges is an inspiration. For anyone who is struggling to overcome their fears, his advice is to start by identifying what’s holding you back and then take small steps to move forward.


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Mar 22, 2023

Jennifer J Fondrevay is the founder of Day1 Ready™, a consultancy that advises forward-thinking business leaders, owners, and C-Suite executives on how to prepare for the human capital challenges of M&A. As a Fortune 500 C-Suite “survivor” of three multibillion-dollar acquisitions, Jennifer has been on all sides of the deal equation. She saw countless growth strategies fail due to a workforce that couldn’t pivot and adapt as quickly as leadership anticipated.

When her Harvard Business Review (HBR) article “After a Merger, Don’t Let “Us vs. Them” Thinking Ruin the Company” went viral, Jennifer recognized the power and interest in a human-centric approach to business transformation, where employees are at the heart of the change. She shares her expertise as a contributor to Forbes, Harvard Business Review, Thrive Global, American Marketing Association, Middle Market Growth; and as a frequent podcast guest and keynote speaker for HR conferences, associations, and Fortune 500 companies.

On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Jennifer J Fondrevay about navigating uncertainty and embracing transformation. In our conversation, Jennifer shares best practices for entering into a partnership and explores the similarities between M&A and collaboration and how the principles and processes of both can be applied to achieve success in any transformational journey.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • What happens when you bring two cultures together after a merger, and how to avoid some of the typical challenges
  • Why it’s critical to be intentional about your values when planning a partnership
  • The importance of getting past your ego when making key decisions
  • Why you have to ensure that customer experience is your North Star to maximize a collaboration’s success
  • Jennifer shares her wisdom for leaders and teams looking to navigate the complexities of mergers and acquisitions

Helping Partnerships Thrive

Jennifer shares valuable insights for leaders and their teams considering a merger or acquisition, emphasizing the importance of respect for the other company. Drawing on the analogy of a successful marriage, Jennifer highlights that partnerships thrive on both sides bringing out the best in each other and recognizing the value each brings to the partnership.

She stresses the need for humility and respect when entering into a partnership and cautions against letting ego drive decision-making, which can lead to unsuccessful deals. Jennifer’s advice is a must-listen for anyone looking to enter into a successful partnership.

Finding Your North Star

On the podcast, we discuss the importance of being intentional and self-aware of your value when entering into a merger or acquisition. She emphasizes the need to keep the customer at the forefront of any decision-making process, using the example of a successful acquisition where a junior product manager reminded the team to focus on the customer’s needs rather than their own egos.

Jennifer highlights that keeping the customer as the North Star can help diminish the impact of ego in business and keep teams focused on the true reason for their work. She has some great golden nuggets of wisdom that provide valuable guidance for leaders and teams looking to navigate the complexities of mergers and acquisitions.

Unique Opportunities

Jennifer emphasizes the importance of the people piece in M&A; she says that there is no specific playbook for these types of deals, as each one has its unique opportunities and challenges. However, she encourages people to be intentional and contribute to the evolution of their organization.

Jennifer suggests bringing your particular skills to the partnership, embracing uncertainty, and looking for new opportunities. She also talks about the importance of collaboration, letting go of old ways, and contributing to the new vision.


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Mar 15, 2023

Welcome back to our special two-part series from the ABA Marketplace Roadshow edition! In this week’s episode, we continue our exploration of the positive energy and optimism that pervades this year’s event. We discuss a range of topics, from the importance of collaboration in creating unforgettable experiences for visitors to the growing trend of slow travel and the benefits of spending more time in a single destination. So join us as we continue to explore the future of tour and travel in this exciting and dynamic industry.

In this episode, you’ll hear from:

  • Jacob Servais – Hall of Fame and Stadium Tour Sales Executive at Green Bay Packers
  • Juan Pablo Suarez – Travel Trade Manager Ottawa Tourism
  • Julie Dautrich – Tourism Sales Manager at Discover Lancaster
  • Keith Snode – Lead Navigator (COO) at Group Travel Odyssey & Chief Operating Officer (COO)
  • Kaleidoscope Adventures
  • Stacy Thornton – Senior Manager, Tourism Sales Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau
  • Tina Mt. Pleasant – Director of Travel Trade Sales at Destination Niagara USA

Golden Nuggets from the American Bus Association’s Annual Marketplace

The American Bus Association marketplace roadshow is an annual event that brings together tour and travel professionals from across the United States and worldwide. The event is designed to provide a unique forum for networking, education, and collaboration, with a focus on the latest trends and best practices in the industry. During the marketplace, attendees have the opportunity to meet with representatives from a wide range of travel-related companies and participate in educational seminars, learn about new products and services, and build relationships with others in the field. Whether you’re a seasoned industry veteran or just starting out in the world of tour and travel, the ABA marketplace roadshow is the perfect place to connect, learn, and grow.

Jacob Servais – Hall of Fame and Stadium Tour Sales Executive at Green Bay Packers

Jacob talks about looking toward the future of the travel industry and some of the factors he is keeping a close eye on, particularly in the motorcoach and tourism sector. One of the biggest challenges that has arisen is the fluctuating gas prices. This has affected school groups, rec groups, and senior centers who rely heavily on transportation. However, partnerships and collaborations are helping to alleviate this issue. For instance, the Green Bay Packers Foundation provides a transportation grant for school groups, which not only assists in getting students to Lambeau but also supports bus companies.

Juan Pablo Suarez – Travel Trade Manager Ottawa Tourism

Juan Pablo discusses how the group travel industry is evolving and facing many challenges due to the impact of the pandemic. He shares that one of the noticeable changes is that people are looking to truly experience a destination rather than just seeing it. This means that travelers are looking for a more immersive experience and are embracing the trend of slow travel. Instead of rushing through multiple destinations in a short period of time, travelers are looking to spend more time in a few select places. This trend benefits destinations, as visitors can stay longer and explore more attractions, leading to a better overall experience.

Julie Dautrich – Tourism Sales Manager at Discover Lancaster

According to Julie, the word energizing perfectly describes the ABA Marketplace Roadshow because it has brought a new level of excitement and enthusiasm to the travel industry. The event is an excellent platform for tourism professionals to network and connect with potential clients. The sheer number of appointments and meetings, coupled with the energy and passion of attendees, creates a vibrant and dynamic atmosphere. The energy and enthusiasm at the ABA marketplace are infectious, making it an event everyone in the travel industry should attend.

Keith Snode – Lead Navigator (COO) at Group Travel Odyssey & Chief Operating Officer (COO) Kaleidoscope Adventures

The changes in the group travel industry are significant, and Keith shares why it’s so fascinating to see how things are evolving. One of the biggest changes is in how people are buying group travel experiences. Keith discusses how pre-formed groups used to work with a single group leader, and the focus was on the group as a whole rather than on the individual travelers and how COVID-19 has changed that, so now there is a unique touchpoint with each individual traveler. We dive into how the integration of technology into group travel has revolutionized the way business is done and why it’s exciting to see how these changes will shape the industry.

Stacy Thornton – Senior Manager, Tourism Sales Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau

Stacy shares with me why she is so excited about what’s on the horizon for her organization, Meet Boston. She discusses how their new brand captures the city’s spirit and why she can’t wait to see how that will translate into their marketing and outreach efforts. Stacy also shares what she’s most looking forward to, including reclaiming some sense of normalcy and being able to travel freely again, explore new destinations, and meet new people.

Tina Mt. Pleasant – Director of Travel Trade Sales at Destination Niagara USA

It’s heartwarming to hear about the family-like atmosphere at ABA Marketplace. The strong relationships they have built over the years make attendees feel like they are part of a close-knit family. Tina shares how the amazing conversations that happen at the event can bring people together and create such a warm and welcoming environment. It’s clear that this feeling of camaraderie is a unique aspect of ABA Marketplace Roadshow and one that keeps people coming back year after year. It’s a testament to the power of community and how important it is to feel connected to others, especially in the travel industry.

A Positive Future

Our guests highlight how technology is rapidly transforming the sector and the exciting opportunities this presents for innovative tour and travel companies. Plus, we hear firsthand about the product development initiatives that are creating new and exciting experiences in some of the world’s most iconic destinations. As a fun way to wrap things up, I also asked each of our guests to sum up their experience of the ABA Marketplace Roadshow in just one word – listen in to hear their inspiring responses, which include words like energizing, essential, and family.

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Mar 8, 2023

For this first episode in a special two-part Destination on the Left series, I’m joining you from the American Bus Association’s Annual Marketplace in Detroit. What stands out in my interviews with the following industry leaders is how positive everyone feels about 2023 and the future of the tour and travel sector. My guests share their golden nuggets about what they are most looking forward to, the changes they see in the market, how collaboration has helped them, and trends on the horizon that they are excited to be part of.

In this episode, you’ll hear from these extraordinary leaders:

  • Amy DeFrancesco– National Sales Executive at Drury Hotels
  • Ryan Sanders – Vice President of Operations and Sales for the Motorcoach Family of Brands
  • Chelsea Lerud – Executive Director of Iowa Travel Industry Partners
  • Dagny Ashley – Director of Tourism at City of Quincy
  • Gary Hahn – Vice President of Marketing and Communications National Comedy Center
  • Inna Cramer – Sales Director at Rocky Mountaineer

Group Travel Insight from American Bus Association’s Annual Marketplace

The American Bus Association’s Annual Marketplace is an exceptional event that brings together motorcoach and tour operators, as well as industry suppliers, providing them with an opportunity to connect and establish new relationships to advance their businesses. Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing some of the distinguished attendees at the Annual Marketplace, where I gained insights into how building partnerships and actively seeking collaborations has transformed their industry in recent years. Join me as we delve deeper into the importance of collaboration in shaping the future of the motorcoach and tour operator industry.

Amy DeFrancesco- National Sales Executive at Drury Hotels

Amy shares the importance of collaboration in the hospitality industry. She notes the rebound from the pandemic and the return of international travelers as key areas of growth. She also dives into the issues of booking window shrinkage in the industry and discusses its pros and cons, including better market awareness and pressures on the operational team.

Amy also shares her pride that Drury Hotels has been awarded the highest guest satisfaction in the upper midscale chain for the 17th consecutive year. The recent opening of their largest hotel on Disney property in December 2022 is a testament to their continued growth. Amy emphasizes that what drew them to their partners is their shared values of high standards and integrity, which makes for great collaborations.

Ryan Sanders – Vice President of Operations and Sales for the Motorcoach Family of Brands

In the travel industry, attending events and trade shows is crucial for networking and staying up-to-date with industry changes. Ryan shares his experience of attending appointments and events at the ABA conference, where he was impressed with the resilience of the industry organizations, including ABA. Despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic, these organizations have managed to survive and support their members, ensuring that industry professionals can continue to connect and collaborate — which is why his word of the conference is “evolving.”

Chelsea Lerud – Executive Director of Iowa Travel Industry Partners

Chelsea shares that in terms of group travel, they’re seeing some exciting changes in the market. Specifically, in Iowa, they are noticing that travelers are using the state as a stopover on their way to their final destination. While Iowa may not be their ultimate goal, the team at Iowa Travel Industry Partners is excited to capture visitors at a few key locations. A strategy that encourages travelers to take a longer trip and explore more of what Iowa has to offer. She goes on to comment that “It’s exciting to see the evolution of group travel, and we’re thrilled to be a part of it.”

Dagny Ashley – Director of Tourism at City of Quincy

Dagny, of Tourism at City of Quincy, is excited for 2023 and getting back to the business of travel. After a tough few years for both the hospitality industry and suppliers, her organization is looking forward to a positive outlook for the year ahead. With last year already showing signs of recovery, Dagny is confident that visitors are eager to hit the road again and start traveling. This sentiment has been echoed by others at the ABA event, with a shared sense of excitement for the year ahead and a feeling of returning to a new normal in the travel industry.

Gary Hahn – Vice President of Marketing and Communications National Comedy Center

Gary discusses how group travel is evolving and changing — according to Gary, they are seeing a broader demographic of visitors, including young people and students. They are also noticing more individuals from the over-50 crowd, which tends to be the motorcoach crowd that enjoys visiting museums. Gary is excited to see this change, as it presents new opportunities for engagement, especially given the technology present in their museum.

Gary shares details of an upcoming collaboration hosting of the Pennsylvania Bus Association’s annual conference in Chautauqua County. This is an exciting opportunity for the attraction, as it’s their first time bringing in the association for a conference.

Inna Cramer – Sales Director at Rocky Mountaineer

Inna, Director of Sales for Rocky Mountaineer, shared her insights on the evolving group travel industry in an interview. She mentioned that they are seeing smaller groups of families and friends wanting to travel together, as well as like-minded individuals wanting to connect and enjoy the train experience. When asked to describe ABA Marketplace in one word, Inna went for “connections.” She loves the word because it represents the opportunity to see old friends, establish new connections, and work together with industry partners to make an impact in the travel and tourism industry.

A Positive Future

After speaking with my industry expert guests, it is clear that the tour and travel sector is looking towards a positive future in 2023. My guests shared their thoughts on the changes they see in the market, trends they are keeping an eye on, and how collaboration has helped them to drive more sales, extend relationships, and build brand awareness. Niche travel, hidden gems, and a focus on remaining adaptive and agile in a constantly changing world were also discussed. Additionally, the guests had some great insights into the importance of collaboration and how it can help drive business growth.

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Mar 1, 2023

Amy is the fourth generation to call Wyoming home and the third generation to graduate from the University of Wyoming. Wyoming is Amy’s home. She also holds a Master of Tourism Management degree from Colorado State University and completed two internships with the Walt Disney College Program as an undergrad, one where she earned not only her “ears” but a Ducktorate Degree as well.

She embraces the opportunity to share all that Wyoming has to offer with others. From its iconic national parks, amazing scenery, incredible outdoor experiences, fascinating history, and Western Hospitality, to her, Wyoming truly is like no other place on earth, and someplace everyone should experience! In her spare time, she likes to hike, kayak, check out breweries, and dabble with photography. She also writes a column for a local newspaper called Wandering Amylessly, where she shares about life lessons she learns through travel.

On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Amy Larsen about how her team is collaborating with neighboring states to develop innovative travel products and promote lesser-known destinations. Amy also shares her outside-the-box thinking in developing winter products for group tours in Wyoming.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • Amy shares the story of how she ended up working in destination marketing via a Disney internship program
  • How Amy helps create buzz around a bucket list destination like Yellowstone National Park and tempt visitors to explore other parts of Wyoming
  • Creative ways that Amy and her team have overcome the challenge of attracting motorcoach tours to small historic destinations with small restaurants by partnering with caterers and other service providers
  • Exciting future plans for the Wyoming Office of Tourism, including winter itineraries and creating fun outdoor experiences for visitors
  • The coopetitions that Amy is particularly proud of, including the Western Migration tour collaboration with Nebraska and the tours they created with Colorado
  • Amy’s thoughts on how the role of DMOs is evolving and how they can support visitors and local communities

Showcasing Wyoming

In the most recent episode of Destination on the Left, guest Amy emphasized the many natural attractions that draw tourists to Wyoming, such as Yellowstone National Park, which has over half the world’s thermal features within its boundaries and the iconic American symbols like the Tetons and Devil’s Tower. She also shares how her team capitalizes on visitors’ enthusiasm for those locations to showcase the rest of the state.

Creating Unforgettable Experiences

Amy spoke about the rich history of small towns in Wyoming, including the Outlaws like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the Wild Bunch, early pioneers, and mountain men who lived in the Rocky Mountain region. She shares why the challenge for small towns is attracting tourists, particularly in the motorcoach industry, as they may not have big enough restaurants to feed all the visitors expected.

To address this, Amy suggests being creative and finding caterers in these communities who can put on dinners for visitors, such as holding a dinner for 50 people in the branding room at the fairgrounds in Torrington, which showcases every brand from Goshen County and featuring a multigenerational rancher who shared his story. Amy emphasizes the importance of finding the person who wants to tell the story and getting small towns to realize their potential and be creative in showcasing their history to visitors.

Inter-State Coopetition

On the podcast, Amy also shares a couple of exciting examples of coopetition, including partnerships with Nebraska and Colorado to develop itineraries that showcase the historical places of the states. By combining their resources, they were able to create unique experiences that bring more business to all three states. It’s so exciting to see how these collaborations are creating new opportunities for group tours and expanding the travel industry in unique ways.


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Feb 22, 2023

Olivia Novak is the marketing manager for Discover Lancaster. Helping people is Olivia’s passion, and being a resource for others as they plan their trips to Lancaster appeals to that passion. Lancaster, PA, is an up-and-coming destination with so much to offer; from heritage to adventure, there truly is something for everyone.

Olivia’s background in sports has strengthened her understanding of the human desire for experiences. As a former college athlete and Final Four National Tournament participant, she has seen firsthand how to build one moment into a larger-than-life experience.

On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Olivia Novak about Visit Lancaster’s successful partnership with the Baltimore Ravens and how her small DMO negotiated the relationship. She also offers great advice for young professionals starting out in the tourism industry and shares more about the accessibility project that they are in the midst of launching to make sure their destination is open to all abilities.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • How Visit Lancaster is standing out from the crowd by partnering with professional sports teams such as the Baltimore Ravens
  • Olivia shares her advice for destination marketers interested in tapping into the sports world
  • Projects that Olivia and Visit Lancaster are excited about in 2023, particularly sharing more information about their destination’s accessible attractions
  • The importance of trust, leaning on your team, and believing in where you’re going when you’re coping with challenges
  • How Visit Lancaster has successfully collaborated with neighboring destinations to create the Keystone Crossroads trail to attract more visitors to the region
  • Olivia’s thoughts on how to move forward and develop your career as a young professional in destination marketing

Trusting the Right Opportunity Will Present Itself

Olivia shares her insights on the negotiation process in the destination marketing world. She emphasizes the importance of customizing packages to fit the needs of both parties, especially for smaller destinations. Olivia encourages destinations to have open conversations and find a mutually beneficial agreement with organizations, whether it’s a sports team or any other larger entity.

Olivia also discusses her strategic decisions on which events Discover Lancaster wanted to invest their time and energy into and the importance of being confident in saying no to opportunities that aren’t right for you.

Accessible Lancaster

Olivia discusses her efforts to promote Lancaster as an accessible destination for all visitors. This involved creating resources, such as a comprehensive and accurate guide on their website, highlighting accessible attractions, hotels, restaurants, and activities. She also shares more about their collaboration with Tempest, an agency that specializes in creating accessible guides for destinations.

We talked about the DMO’s efforts to partner with local influencers, including a wheelchair user and a family that focuses on accessible travel due to their son’s Spinal Bifida. The goal is to craft staycation experiences for these influencers and have them share their experiences with the public.

Community Focused

Finally, Olivia emphasizes that Lancaster County and its businesses are an integral part of the fabric of the community and need to be represented in the resources provided by the Visitor’s Bureau. She acknowledges that the bureau currently only represents a small portion of the community and outlines the plans to center the needs of the community as a whole in their offering going forward.


We value your thoughts and feedback and would love to hear from you. Leave us a review on your favorite streaming platform to let us know what you want to hear more of. Here is a quick tutorial on how to leave us a rating and review on iTunes!:

Feb 15, 2023

Julie Ellis is an author, professional speaker, and leadership coach to corporate leaders and scaling Entrepreneurs. Julie provides her unique experience and expertise to her coaching clients, gained through 25 years of working first in the corporate world and then as a leading Canadian entrepreneur. She is a co-founder of award-winning Mabel’s Labels, one of Canada’s greatest small business success stories.

Julie’s book, Big Gorgeous Goals, is written for women entrepreneurs who want to step out of the small box they find themselves in and set world domination in their sights. In discussion with over a dozen women entrepreneurs, Julie explores their stories of why and how they have achieved great things in their lives and careers and pairs that knowledge with her own stories of how she built, grew, and sold her business to a giant in her industry.

On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Julie Ellis about how setting big gorgeous goals allows you to step into your own brilliance and consider your personal and professional ambitions in a new way.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • About Julie’s first business, how she built it, and why she ultimately decided to move in another direction
  • Why Julie was inspired to write Big Gorgeous Goals: How Bold Women Achieve Great Things
  • What we can do to avoid feeling trapped in small thinking
  • How to identify and chase your big, gorgeous goals
  • Some of the ways to get ourselves unstuck including having people you can collaborate with
  • Why there is no better time than now to start thinking about your big gorgeous goals

Accomplishing Your Goals

After talking to other women who have accomplished big things, Julie Ellis, Co-Founder of award-winning Mabel’s Labels, learned that those huge achievements are only a part of their story and that the processes and support systems that sustain them are often overlooked.

Julie’s book, Big Gorgeous Goals: How Bold Women Achieve Great Things, highlights not only big achievements but also the unseen support and effort that goes into them.

Think Big!

Julie believes that during uncertain times, people tend to think small and put their biggest goals and dreams on the sidelines. She believes that big gorgeous goals often remain unachieved because of missing ingredients such as money, time, knowledge, or support.

When someone is successful in their current life, they avoid pursuing their biggest goals because they worry that those goals will test their confidence and push them out of their comfort zone. Chasing big goals requires bravery and overcoming obstacles, and Julie encourages people not to give up on their dreams and keep pushing toward them.

Get Out of Your Own Way

When pursuing big goals, there are so many things that can stand in our way. We can be tempted to fill our calendars with commitments and wear our “busy” badge as a symbol of achievement. This can lead to a lack of time to reflect, dream, and pursue our desires. Julie shares why creating space in our lives is essential to make room for reflection, exploration, and chasing our goals.


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Feb 8, 2023

Jill Delaney is the President and CEO of Discover Albany, previously known as the Albany County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Discover Albany represents hundreds of local businesses and attractions and assists each year in hundreds of regional meetings, events, and destination promotion. Discover Albany also operates the Discover Albany Visitors Center and the Albany International Airport Information Center and serves as Albany County’s Official Film Commission and Sports Commission.

Jill previously served as the President and CEO of the New York State Tourism Industry Association (NYSTIA), a statewide organization serving Tourism Promotion Agencies like Discover Albany as well as attractions and service providers.

Jill currently serves as the Legislative Chair of the NYS Destination Marketing Organization. She is also a board member of the Empire State Society of Association Executives (ESSAE), Co-Chair of the Destinations International Small Destinations Council, and VP of the Capital-Saratoga Tourism Region. She is a member of the Hudson Valley Tourism Board, the Albany Institute of History and Art Community Engagement Committee, the Capital Region Sports Foundation, and the Albany Airport Master Planning Committee, and serves her alma mater as President of the University at Albany Alumni Association as well as the University Council.
Jill and her husband, Michael, live in Clifton Park with their three children.

On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Jill Delaney, President, and CEO of Discover Albany, about their Discover My Albany campaign and how it has led to the DMO standing out in a way that goes beyond visitor numbers and into economic development and destination management. We also discuss their renewed focus on community partnership and how Discover Albany serves as the official Film and Sports Commission for Albany County.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • How Jill is promoting Albany’s unique attributes as a way to attract more visitors
  • How they launched the ongoing resident-led series called “Discover My Albany” to promote the city
  • Albany’s role as a key economic driver for the county
  • Why they made the decision during the pandemic to keep all staff and figure out the finances as they went
  • Why collaboration with neighboring counties of Long Island and Schenectady is vital to keeping up to date
  • Details of the Destination East trade show and how they impressed event planners from all over the country with the collaboration and teamwork within New York State

Promoting Albany’s Unique Attributes

Albany has decided to lean into its unique attributes to attract visitors. The city boasts a solid community, a low cost of living, and an abundance of fascinating history and architecture. To promote the city, Albany has launched an ongoing resident-led series called “Discover My Albany.”

The series weaves personal stories from all parts of Albany County into the visitors’ guide and features videos by locals showcasing their favorite places and what they love about living and working in the city.

Emerging as a Key Economic Driver for the County

During the pandemic, Discover Albany made the hard choice to keep all of their staff and figure out the finances as they went. This decision proved to be beneficial as it allowed them to focus on new challenges, such as attracting filmmakers and sports teams to the city. As a result, the county executive and legislature chair officially designated Discover Albany as their official Film Commission and Sports Commission.

Collaboration is the Key to Success

Collaboration is key for Discover Albany, and Jill shares how they work with neighboring counties to be stronger together. Recently, they were selected to sponsor and host Destination East, a trade show organized by Northeast Meeting Group.

This collaborative effort impressed meeting planners from all over the country and showed how well New York State works together to get the job done and ensure the best outcome for clients.


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Feb 1, 2023

Todd Wynne-Parry brings a wealth of global senior leadership knowledge and insight developed over more than 20 years of reporting directly to CEOs and Boards in industries that range from luxury, lifestyle, and outdoor hospitality to investing, consulting, and financial analysis.

As a CGO, EVP, SVP, and Executive Committee member, he has helmed major expansion, post-merger integration, and growth initiatives for the world’s premier hospitality brands, including, AutoCamp, Two Roads Hospitality (formerly Commune Hotels & Resorts), Global Acquisitions and Development, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), and Starwood Hotels and Resorts.

Specializing in brand expansions and M&A in Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas, Todd has closed deals and developed contracts that generated upwards of $30 million in enterprise value annually and built relationships with key decision-makers across a wide range of global and regional, and city markets globally.

On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Todd Wynne-Parry, and we do a deep dive into the developing outdoor hospitality sector. In our conversation, Todd walks us through the attributes and appeal of nature-based locations and offers solutions to some of the industry’s roadblocks and challenges.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • How Todd found his niche in the outdoor hospitality sector
  • How the outdoor hospitality sector has evolved
  • Features of a great outdoor hospitality location and how to curate a fantastic guest experience
  • Todd gives us a framework for brands interested in adding outdoor hospitality experiences
  • How marketers should be thinking about outdoor experiences within the broader travel and tourism offering
  • Some fantastic examples of successful outdoor ventures that are leading the way for the future of outdoor hospitality

Growth of the Outdoor Hospitality Sector

Outdoor hospitality is a wide-ranging sector that can be divided into two main categories: the lower end of the price point, such as RV parks, and the higher end ultra-luxe options. Although where guests are staying is only part of the experience. The most important thing is to be immersed in nature in a way that allows them to take a bridging step out of their comfort zone.

Incorporating Outdoor Experiences

The outdoor hospitality sector can also benefit land in unexpected ways, such as being an additional source of income for wineries and farms. Wineries can use outdoor experiences to add a new business line and boost profits, while farms can use events on their land to support regenerative farming.

Todd shares an example of a farm in Kentucky called Martin Acres, owned by an ex-slave’s descendants and is part of the Kentucky bourbon trail. The farm is now in its fourth generation and is exploring ways to incorporate outdoor hospitality to host family reunions and generate income.

Enhancing Well-being

Being outside in nature is an important aspect of enhancing our well-being. Todd discusses why the sector’s evolution allows people to escape the city and connect with nature, their partners, or their families. Instagram-worthy shots are also a great way to increase the destination’s visibility on social media.

However, there are some speed bumps to consider, such as labor and workforce issues and environmental concerns on the road to developing as an outdoor destination. Todd shares some ways brands can overcome these challenges on the podcast.


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Jan 25, 2023

Samantha Cole is the Director of Public Relations at Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board. The Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board is a nonprofit, membership-based sales and marketing organization that aggressively promotes the Valley Forge area and Montgomery County as a convention site and leisure visitor destination by encouraging patronage of its 500-plus member hotels, restaurants, attractions, and services.

On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Samantha Coles about some of the creative campaigns her destination is running right now, including using instafamous dogs, and we explore how marketing to niches helps the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board stand out.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • How Samantha got her start in the travel and tourism industry and how it linked to her interest in digital marketing
  • Advice for aspiring or entry-level marketers
  • Why you should never be afraid to reach out to people on LinkedIn
  • Why making data-driven decisions is essential to the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board
  • Fun influencer marketing ideas that Samantha has leveraged
  • The award-winning Make it Main Street campaign and how this true backyard tourism campaign spotlights locally owned small businesses across the county
  • The Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board’s partnership with Philadelphia and Chester County to brand themselves as the countryside of Philadelphia
  • Samantha talks about the upcoming February campaign focused on Valentine’s Day and romantic getaways.
  • The evolution of how DMOs work to serve the community in addition to attracting visitors

Building a Network Lays the Groundwork for Future Collaboration

How social media can support DMOs is an ever-changing landscape. Samantha explains how networking as an organization and as an individual helps you expand your reach and serve your clients. So many people are hesitant about reaching out to people and connecting with people on LinkedIn or other social media platforms but making those links is a great way to lay the foundation for future partnerships.

Communicating with Neighboring Organisations

Samantha shares her advice for our listeners thinking about entering into a collaboration or seeking a partner to collaborate with in 2023. Communication is critical in setting collaborations up for success — that includes going back to basics and reaching out to people locally who might even do the same job as you for a neighboring DMO. You could also prioritize building relationships by scheduling regular catch-ups with other local organizations and keeping them updated about your plans going forward.

Data-Driven Decisions

For Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board making data-driven decisions is top of mind right now. Samantha shares how her destination is leveraging geolocation data tracking to figure out how they can better serve their visitors’ needs by honing their target markets. She also shares why her proudest influencer hire to date is a Bernese mountain dog from Philadelphia and how that pupper is helping them showcase what Montgomery County has to offer.


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Jan 18, 2023

Greg Star is the Co-Founder of Carvertise, an advertising company that enables companies to advertise on private commuter vehicles. This is so companies can advertise in a novel, targeted, and grassroots way while everyday people can earn additional passive income for advertising for a brand they like and support.

On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Greg Star about how Carvertize helps destinations stand out and increase ROI through creative advertising. We also discuss several creative examples of destinations that have leveraged his methods.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • How Carvertise evolved from a college project into a sophisticated business
  • The technology and analytics behind finding the right cars to advertise on
  • The efficiencies of bringing the printing in-house
  • When Greg realized that his company could help the travel and tourism industry
  • How Carvertise helps destinations stand out from the crowd
  • Some case studies of how Carvertise’s clients, including a Pride Parade and a College Football organization, have used them to stay top of mind with their target market
  • The metrics Greg measures to evaluate the success of Carvertise’s campaigns
  • What ‘mindshare’ means to Greg, and how the term epitomizes collaboration for him

Data-Driven Insights

In advertising, you have to be creative, but you also have to pay attention to the data. Greg Star shares how his company Carvertise digs into the analytics of each client’s campaign to understand how to make an intelligent match between drivers and advertisers and how they present that information to their clients.

Greg also discusses how the company has evolved over the last ten years and what kind of infrastructure they have built on the backend to get to a point where technology and data intelligence insights are driving them forward.

Identifying Opportunities

Carvertise started as a small project founded by college students, and since then, it has evolved into a successful company that allows organizations to advertise their products and services creatively. The company’s co-founder, Greg, explains how they got their organization off the ground by paying close attention to the Delaware governor’s public schedule, attending events, building a business network, and ultimately connecting with the Delaware director of tourism.


DMOs are looking to stand out in a crowded market, and an essential part of doing so is identifying their ideal market. Carvertise helps destinations reach their audience creatively via market activation – the process of directing local event-goers to complimentary activities or attractions. Greg shares details of how Carvertise is agile enough to hit the streets exactly where those ideal visitors are and promote other attractions they’ll love.


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Jan 11, 2023

Patrick Harrison is Chief Marketing Officer for Visit Tampa Bay. Through an innovative and aggressive approach, he has spearheaded the DMOs marketing transformation. His campaigns have been honored with over 30 US and International marketing and PR awards, including multiple Adrian Awards, and he was named a Top 25 Extraordinary Mind by HSMAI in 2019.
Before joining Visit Tampa Bay, he spent 25+ years at agencies in the U.S. and U.K. He holds a Masters’s Degree in Communications, with an emphasis in Propaganda, from the University of Leeds.

Patrick currently serves on several boards, including Destination Internationals Global Leadership and Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Committees, as well as PR & Communications Task Force and Equity, US Travel Marketing committee, among others.

On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Patrick Harrison about how Tampa Bay is evolving into a premier destination. We also discuss the importance of getting everyone to row in the same direction, why the right mindset is critical, and how and why Visit Tampa Bay is becoming its own publishing company.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • How Patrick’s travels brought him to Tampa and led him to the travel and tourism industry
  • How having successful sports teams have helped put Tampa front and center in people’s minds
  • The experience of working with the NFL to make the Superbowl happen successfully in Tampa
  • Why you can’t stop marketing during a recession
  • How Visit Tampa Bay continued to promote their small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Why it’s so crucial to Patrick to serve the African American, Hispanic, LGBTQ, and accessible populations
  • Why Visit Tampa Bay turned to publishing their own local guidebooks
  • Patrick’s new podcast and how he advocates for his local community on his show

Sports and Tourism

Patrick describes how being home to successful sports teams impacts Tampa’s popularity with visitors. He shares how they collaborate with partners on and off the sports field and why they are such a popular destination for visiting teams from the USA and beyond. Patrick also shares his experience working with the NFL during the COVID-19 pandemic and how the team made it safe for local residents to attend the Superbowl events and start to feel more positive about getting on with life.

A Mindset Shift

We discuss how a big community event can bring local people together and shift people into a more positive mindset. Patrick emphasizes the importance of pulling together to keep your destination top of mind, even when potential visitors aren’t able to make it to you right away. Whether or not we’re headed into a recession, you can’t stop marketing your destination because if you stop, you need an awful lot of runway to get started again — in Patrick’s words, “you have to keep humming along.”

Stay True to Yourself

It is vital to know who you are and understand your authentic story as a destination before you can figure out how to position your story for various different markets. There are so many markets you can promote yourself in as a destination depending on your history and how you have developed over time. Visit Tampa Bay are in the middle of an exciting time where they are enjoying the expansion process, and Patrick shares how they are expanding their reach to create an additional 200 million dollars in hotel revenue.


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Jan 4, 2023

Renée Areng leads Brookhaven as the inaugural Executive Director for the Brookhaven Convention and Visitors Bureau, now Explore Brookhaven since 2018.

Previously, Areng served with three destination marketing organizations: most recently, Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast. Throughout her leadership, Areng increased all metrics, including visitation and overall revenue for non-gaming hotels. Additionally, she unified all messaging in marketing and sales, increasing all digital and social metrics.

Most recently, Areng consulted with Destination Organizations on strategic planning, accreditation, streamlining databases, and increasing visitation. Clients include Visit South Walton, Louisiana’s Northshore, Tupelo CVB, Visit Mobile, Jeff Davis Chamber, and CVB, Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou, and Pat Harrison Waterway District. Before joining the Mississippi Gulf Coast, she served as Executive Vice President for Visit Baton Rouge, and she served in statewide and national political arenas.

Areng is a cum laude graduate of the University of Louisiana with a BA in Public Administration and French. She earned her Certified Destination Marketing Executive (CDME) designation from Destinations International in 2007 and served on the CDME review committee in 2018. She has led five organizations through six accreditations through Destinations International’s DMAP program.

On this Destination on the Left episode, I talk with Renee Areng about her experience building a destination marketing organization from the ground up. We discuss the key ingredients needed for the successful formation of her DMO located just outside the Atlanta Metro Area and how they proved instrumental in creating the right environment for the organization to thrive.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • Why Renee was eager to join her current team in Brookhaven, Georgia
  • What’s so fascinating about working in a newly created destination
  • The unique structure of tourism in Georgia and how Renee is helping her organization punch above its weight class to stand out among Georgia’s 200 DMOs
  • How the branding strategy helped Brookhaven stand out from closeby Atlanta
  • Why it’s so important that Brookhaven is considered a viable voice at the table
  • The challenges of launching Explore Brookhaven during a global pandemic
  • Why often the most challenging part of a collaboration is getting the egos out of the equation
  • Some examples of when Renee has helped create some fantastic partnerships
  • How to connect with Renee and discover more about Explore Brookhaven

Taking Their Place at the Table

Renee shares why she believes it is so important that Brookhaven is considered a viable voice at the table. She describes why it was critical for the brand new DMO to scale to where they are being taken as seriously as the more prominent destinations in Georgia, such as Macon, Savannah, and Atlanta. Renee also shares more about her role on the board for Destinations International and how it is helping Explore Brookhaven get the recognition they deserve.

Evolving as a Destination Organization

Did you know that Renee’s breakout session at the Destination International Annual Convention in Toronto was one of the best attended at the event with standing room only?

She shares why she is so passionate about understanding how destination organizations are evolving and why she was eager to get her teeth into the opportunity that taking the reins at Explore Brookhaven offered. Renee explains the topics discussed during that session and why being clear about your value proposition is critical.

An Agile Industry

I loved speaking with Renee about how the evolving workforce is going to change the existing workplace and why it’s so necessary to recognize the need for change. The travel and tourism industry is more flexible now than it’s ever been, and Renee shares why the sector is now much more focused on the influence they have in the community rather than the number of heads in beds.


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Dec 28, 2022

I’m sharing more insights from the group travel industry in the second episode of a special three-part series of Destination on the Left episodes from the National Tour Associations Travel Exchange in Reno. I’m excited to share their thoughts on key trends and challenges as we move into 2023.

In this episode, you’ll hear from:

Group Travel Wisdom The National Tour Associations Travel Exchange

I have loved talking with all the amazing, experienced group tour specialists at the NTA about how they envision the future of their sector. During our short interviews, I also asked them about current trends they are seeing in the industry, where their challenges lie, and the one word they would use to describe their experience of the National Tour Associations Travel Exchange. You’ll be fascinated by their answers!

Jim Warren, US Group Specialist at Anderson Vacations

Jim reflects on trends that Anderson Vacations has been seeing in the group travel industry, including the customer desire for smaller groups. He describes how they have leveraged that trend and started to develop smaller group experiences of between 12 and 20 people and why they are keen to move that trend forward.

Lorna Davis, Global Sales Manager at Travel Oregon

In her mini-interview, Lorna talked to me about the number one issue that Travel Oregon is facing right now and how they are moving through that challenge. She describes some of the ways they endeavor to meet the demands of group travel customers despite often struggling with adequate staffing. Lorna also shares the need to be genuinely hospitable and greet guests with a smile no matter what’s going on behind the scenes.
Mark Brodeur, International Tourism & Group Sales Director at Visit Rhode Island

Mark’s word to describe the NTA Travel Exchange is ‘opportunity’. He shares why he loves participating in the knowledge exchange that the event allows and how it helps Visit Rhode Island stay abreast of current trends in the group travel industry. He also digs into some of the trends his destination is seeing right now, including creating personalized experiences within the group travel niche.

Nick Calderazzo, President at Twin Travel Concepts

In our conversation, Nick reveals that his organization is seeing later bookings and reflects on why people are waiting longer to make decisions. He also shares the changes he has seen in the senior group travel market, particularly their growing comfort with looking for and booking their travel online and the need to build unique, off-the-beaten-track experiences.

Peter Pantuso, President & CEO at ABA

According to Peter Pantuso, expectations in the group travel niche are changing. He discusses how they are creating individualized experiences for guests within a group tour and likens the experience to a cruise where people are traveling together but also have the opportunity to split into smaller groups to satisfy different interests. Peter firmly believes that understanding the need to provide something for everyone will be a key theme in 2023.

Ryan Robutka, Senior Manager for Market Development at Via Rail Canada

One of the challenges Ryan Robutka of Via Rail Canada has faced over the past couple of years is doing more with less. He describes how despite their staff being extremely stretched, they have been able to come through and offer the experience that travelers are looking for. They have committed to protecting the core experience their travelers are looking for in addition to catering to some of the more recent trends in the group travel industry.

Todd Read, Trade & Consumer Sales Manager at SoIN Tourism

Todd and I discuss the future of group travel, including the greater need for flexibility. He shares what SoIN Tourism can do as a DMO to help group travel organizations set up fantastic experiences for guests and how their intimate knowledge of their destination can help. As he says, ‘you can’t just sit back and do what you’ve always done.’

2023 and Beyond in the Group Travel Sector

My guests make it clear that the future outlook for the group tour industry is bright, and its evolution is opening up new opportunities for all stakeholders. They highlight the small group trend that started before the pandemic and continues today, and how that trend opens up new destinations in group travel. We also discuss the importance of remaining flexible and continuing to change with the industry, and move through challenges with grace.

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