Fast Facts about Marlene Shirley
Shawnee Chamber of Commerce
Located in a suburb of Kansas City in Johnson County, the Shawnee Chamber of Commerce thrives on a close-knit community with the amenities of a metropolitan area. The chamber recently began offering travel opportunities to its 650 members and the local public.
Born: Pueblo, Colorado
Education: B.A. in social studies education at MidAmerica Nazarene University
Employment: Shirley started as a title processor before working in accounting at an engineering company. In 2011, she became the executive assistant at the chamber.
Family: Married, with one daughter
Hobbies: Shirley enjoys reading, spending time with family and volunteering at her church and her daughter’s school.
Travel Director Profile
When Marlene Shirley received the intimidating task of starting a travel program for the Shawnee Chamber of Commerce, she felt unprepared at first.
“I was willing to try it,” said Shirley, executive assistant for the Shawnee Chamber of Commerce. “There was no model to follow. Our president wanted to try it out, so we just started.”
Shirley dived right in, running ads in the local newspaper, as well as the chamber’s membership directory and website. Through trial and error, Shirley discovered what worked and didn’t work for her 650 chamber members.
Since this bold start in 2013, the chamber travelers have trekked through exotic and beloved destinations in China, Italy, Ireland and Cuba.
Ready, Set, Travel
Luckily, Shirley had some travel background, planning business trips for an engineering firm. This taught her some of the organizational basics, although leisure group travel proved its own challenge.
She fits in time to plan these group trips in addition to her other work in administrative accounting for the chamber. She typically plans one big trip a year, having tried multiple trips a year in the past with less success.
Though Shirley started marketing the chamber’s trips with various avenues, she found the most effective tool was also the oldest.
“Most of the trips sold through word of mouth,” said Shirley. “People telling their friends were the biggest help.”
Shirley started not only encouraging travelers to talk about the tours to their friends, but also listening to them after trips to determine where to go next.
“When the current trip is happening, we ask people what they are interested in next,” said Shirley. “Then we also look at different options, such as what is popular, where we have gone before and what would be the next big thing.”
Shirley relies on trustworthy tour operator partners to handle the logistics involved in international group travel.
“All the tour operators have different itineraries, though basic similarities; so we look at that first,” said Shirley. “We look at the price and the length of the trip. We want to see that our members get the most for their money.”