Sometimes in life, you just have to take the plunge.
Carey Miller, office administrator for the Manatee Chamber of Commerce in Bradenton, Florida, takes this kind of challenge literally. Seven years ago, Miller got married underwater.
As enthusiastic scuba divers, Miller and her long-time boyfriend, Jason, decided they would take a Caribbean cruise and forgo all the fuss typically involved in planning a wedding.
“We got married underwater at our first port stop in the Grand Cayman islands by writing and signing our vows on a slate,” Miller said. “We then had the rest of the trip to enjoy a honeymoon.”
Consequently, it made sense that when the Manatee chamber started its Travel With the Chamber program in 2010, Miller was chosen as its manager.
Traveling With Friends and Family
While the Manatee chamber’s travel program is still relatively new, its worldwide journeys have received rave reviews, and the venture is considered successful, according to the chamber’s president.
“The program was started for a source of non-dues income,” said chamber president Bob Bartz. “We are supported by dues, and we need to make those dues affordable for all of our members, including nonprofit organizations. The travel program has been a good addition to our finances, not adding huge amounts of money, but every little bit helps.
“From our first trip, our chamber travels have been described as phenomenal. To these destinations where you prefer to go with a tour group, people have been thrilled.”
The chamber first heard about chamber travel programs through the American Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE), a national organization dedicated to enhancing the professional growth, career development and management effectiveness of chamber executives and professional staff.
“The ACCE was promoting trips to China by Citslinc, a tour company,” said Miller. “Through Citslinc, we took two trips to China in two years and had over 100 members travel. Since then, it has been our policy to take two trips a year to a variety of destinations.”
Although chamber members invite anyone to travel with them —they have had travelers from as far away as New York and Texas — members enjoy a lower price. Miller, who handles the program’s advertising and manages “all points on travel,” said much of the program’s success is due to word of mouth.
“First, people like to travel with others that they know and like,” she said. “So at this point, when we announce an upcoming trip, people call each other and ask, ‘Are you going? Great, let’s go together.’”
Miller said they have had teenagers and people in their 20s travel, typically children of their members.
“Parents see it as an opportunity for them to learn history and culture. One girl was 9 when she went to China, and someone said she was better behaved than some of the adults,” she said with a laugh.
Since the program’s inception, the chamber has also traveled to Tuscany, Italy; Budapest, Hungary; Prague; Cuba; Scotland; Ireland; Spain; Costa Rica; Austria; and Germany.
“Most trips come with a preset itinerary, and we have learned that is good for us,” said Miller. “Trying to customize a trip strictly for us and advertising it as such has not worked out when we didn’t meet the minimum number of travelers with a tour operator and our customized part of the trip was eliminated.
“However, we appreciate that free time during our travels is when people sometimes get to see those places and venues that are personally important to them, as was the case when on one occasion, a side trip to another country was added on the fly because there was enough interest.”
Fathoming the Oceans
Miller is enthusiastic about her chamber’s travel program not only because of the added source of revenue, but also for the camaraderie that has also been a benefit.
“Some of our members have certainly gotten to know each other better,” she said. “And some of our retired members in the community have become members just to travel, and now they volunteer at our events. It’s been nice.”
Bartz agreed but laughed when he admitted that one of the main reasons he travels is at his wife’s request.
“She is the main reason I go. But on our trip to Tuscany, we were thrilled to make new friends, eat the best food and drink the best wine. It was a trip of a lifetime.
“However, I’m glad to say that Carey is the one going on our Australia and Fiji trip in 2015. First, she is a diver, but also, she is younger and can endure that long travel.”
Not only is the Manatee chamber traveling to Australia and Fiji in 2015, but also, next year will be the group’s first domestic trip as California’s wine country is on the agenda.
“The Australia and Fiji trip sold out the first night at the informational meeting,” Miller said. “We have people on a waiting list.”
Miller, who continues to scuba dive with her husband in the Caribbean whenever they have the opportunity, is especially excited about the prospects of diving in Australia’s famed Great Barrier Reef.
But will she take another daring plunge if there are great white sharks in the area?
“Absolutely,” she said. “That is exactly what I’m hoping to see.”