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Chamber Travel Programs Unite Business Leaders

Chambers of commerce around the country have discovered chamber travel programs as a way of growing business opportunities, connecting members, raising money and creating affinity and loyalty among constituents.


Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce

Miami and Orlando are two Florida cities that most of the world knows about. Sarasota: maybe not so much. The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce wants to improve awareness of that city of 53,000 people located on the southwest coast of Florida. One of the ways it wants to do that is with a travel program.

The travelers are “an eclectic mix of people,” said Steve Queior, president and CEO of the chamber of commerce. “We’ve had some business owners, but also middle management in local companies, who love to travel and find more affinity traveling with people they know from the same region.”

Sarasota’s travel program has three goals. The first is to promote awareness of its global economy and international connectivity. The second is to give some of the 1,600 members a chance to get to know each other better. And the third is to increase nondues revenue to cover the cost of trips. Proceeds from past jaunts also helped finance some of the chamber’s other programs, like hosting a trade delegation from Panama or doing an outbound trade mission to Europe.

The Saratoga chamber has hosted diverse trips to places like Germany and China.


Montana Chamber of Commerce

Traveling for pleasure as well as for business purposes is a great way to get people from Montana to travel and think of the state globally. That’s what Webb Brown, president and CEO of the Montana Chamber of Commerce, thinks about his organization’s travel program.

Brown said a local chamber once organized a trip to China, and the state chamber was very impressed with the effort and the solid outcome.

“We have an international trade focus at the state chamber,” he said. “We try to promote international trade and incoming and outgoing trade missions, and certainly travel is part of that.”

It’s also a great way for them to raise nondues revenue to pay for the international efforts, he said. The state chamber organizes one or two international trips a year.

“We’ve done four trips to China, two to Cuba and one each to Israel and Brazil,” Brown said. “We’re now selling a trip this fall to Australia and New Zealand.”

The chamber prefers not run-of-the-mill trips, but unusual ones, destinations that are a little more difficult to reach. Members are asked for suggestions. Vietnam is being considered.

Some corporate people go on the trips, but the state doesn’t try to sell them as business trips.

“They’re prepackaged itineraries with tourist stops, not business trips. Once we included a few business meetings in China but dropped the idea as not very productive. We went back to making the trips entertaining and educational,” said Brown.

The China packages were extremely affordable (about $2,000 per person, inclusive), said Brown. Many couldn’t pass on it. They had 30 to 70 people on each trip.

“It’s a great little side business we’ve developed, and we plan to continue it and hope it proves beneficial for all involved,” he said.