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THESE LEADERS ARE DEVELOPING INNOVATIVE TOOLS AND CREATIVE APPLICATIONS TO HELP THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY THRIVE
In an industry filled with intelligent entrepreneurs, creative operators and talented marketers, there are a few who not only keep their finger on the pulse of the travel business but also are a driving force behind the heartbeat of their niche. These Titans of Tourism help guide and shape our industry in numerous ways, from supervising associations and building communities, to developing innovative tools and creative applications for existing practices. Leisure Group Travel has sought out five such Titans and asked them to share with us their insight on the changes and trends within their organizations and how it affects our industry at large.
President and Owner, MARS & Companies
A fearless and passionate travel enthusiast, Kate has always remained aggressively focused on groundbreaking product development and raising the industry standard. Today, the company’s reputation for high standards, top-notch service and support and aggressively priced products combine to add an incomparable intrinsic value to its customers around the world. MARS now operates more than 400 tours annually all over the world with a 98 percent client retention rate in partnerships within the travel trade.
WE WILL NEED TO BE ADEPT AT ADAPTING
BY KATE SCOPETTI
It’s safe to say it’s a different world. New fashion trends (cue the pajama pants + dress shirt & tie combo), online shopping, therapy pets, video conferencing, remote work, cyber security, virtual cocktail hours, people moving to the country, rising costs and supply shortages.
Distilleries making sanitizer, hoteliers making good use of empty rooms to renovate, motorcoach companies converting their garage to a maintenance garage for trucks, and the list goes on. We are a creative and resilient industry that obviously doesn’t shy away from difficult and hard work.
Our industry has done a fantastic job of navigating through what seemed an unsurmountable crisis but we’re going to need to continue to be adept at adapting.
Moving forward, we should keep in mind different is not bad. I often reference my experience during 9/11 as my mini-COVID training session. With Washington, D.C. being our largest destination at the time, we were deprived of any significant group travel for several years. I knew D.C. would suffer so I immediately began developing, and heavily promoting, other destinations perceived to be more “safe.” When the market finally returned to D.C. in 2005, we grew 40% in that year. We now had a wide range of tour products in various destinations AND we had the D.C. market. This was the beginning of MARS moving from a Mid- Atlantic receptive to a true wholesale tour operator offering tours to anywhere. This lesson was implemented as soon as the pandemic hit. I used the time of no tours to take many product development research trips, to aggressively grow our products, and discover unique and different ways to create them. We increased marketing. Not knowing when travel would return, we did know that by staying in front of it we would quickly rebound when travel did return. We are seeing the beginning of this phase now and have started to hire and train new team members so we are able to best serve our clients as they, too, emerge from this crisis.
Regarding travel, we’re optimistic and looking forward to a small business renaissance and resurgence of the Business Partnership prototype. We have several new clients due to their lack of staffing which we view as a huge opportunity to demonstrate the power of partnerships and how partnering with a tour team like the MARS team can help clients grow. It’s important to note we also support our clients with custom curated marketing materials. The past 20 months have really put us all through the test. However, what we’ve seen is a growing collective, seeking to partner together in new and creative ways. Whether that be through redesigning their internal hierarchy and partnering with receptives, outsourcing entire departments, or joining together and petitioning our government leaders to not forget travel and tourism, it’s exciting when looking at the larger picture ahead of us.
At MARS, we preach the Combine & Conquer: The Power of Partnership ideology. Harry Truman is quoted as saying, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” For us, as a wholesale, white-label tour operator, this is our mantra. To stand alongside those within our industry and succeed together.
We are also seeing a new traveler who seeks out unique and immersive experiences, including those of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We’re seeking out these experiences, and often creating them with partner suppliers to fulfill this desire of the new “travel seeker.” For example, Asian community tours that tell the story of survival and resilience from Vietnam to today in America and learning how to eat Pho and make spring rolls. Visiting communities of all ethnicities and connecting with their people, enjoying their foods, and learning about their culture and history. We are seeing booking levels currently at 70% of 2019 levels. This percentage will grow as more travel companies begin to put programs on their books for 2022 and 2023. I believe in the next 12 months we will see aggressive growth and we will see challenges. One thing I am sure of is we will return stronger and more resilient. Challenges will confront us, but we are ready. For more information, visit takeafuntrip.com.
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