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The Group Travel Leader Small Market Meetings Going on Faith

Checking in with Marlene Shirley

Fundraising and Enrichment

When Shirley began coordinating trips halfway around the globe, she had a vision to follow. The chamber travel program’s purpose revolved around raising nondues revenue and exposing locals to an unfamiliar culture with safe and reasonably priced tours.

“There are many options and tour groups around, but many are expensive,” said Shirley. “We have been able to give people the opportunity to travel in the safety of a group but at a reasonable price, and still maintain excellent service.”

Since foreign perspectives can broaden the mind, travel also helps the chamber’s mission statement to “develop and enhance our community through dynamic leadership.”

“Giving people the opportunity to travel helps them understand the world, which in turn helps them become better leaders,” said Shirley.

One of the first of these immersive experiences involved an acrobatics show in Shanghai for an introduction to the Chinese art forms of aerial walking, bowl balancing and high-flying trapeze acts. Cuba focused on interacting with the locals during a “people to people” program tour that included cooking demonstrations, musical performances and visiting teachers.

Shirley also felt that a trip to Cuba would be timely, as the American government has recently relaxed some of its restrictions on travel to the country.

“We wanted to give people the opportunity to see Cuba before it was westernized,” said Shirley. “They got to see the real Cuba and not the Americanized Cuba that develops once the chains move in.”

Creating ‘Travel Buddies’

To help gauge the interest in a trip, Shirley often organizes preview meetings beforehand for people to learn about the trip and sign up. For those who can’t attend the event, Shirley also posts a promotional video of the tour to the chamber’s website for a glimpse into the upcoming destination’s highlights.

Closer to the time of departure, Shirley creates an informational event where travelers can meet everyone and receive a packet of information.

“I always give them a list of commonly asked questions, so that way they can refer to it later,” said Shirley. “So if they can’t come to the meeting, they have that information as well. I have everything on there from a list of things to pack to the U.S. embassy’s phone number, just in case. You never know what information someone might need.”

Shirley has found that the most effective way to reach out to passengers after the trip is through a follow-up emailed link to pictures and the contact information of the other group members.

“There are some people that get together frequently because of one of our trips,” said Shirley. “They are now travel buddies.”

The travel program, which began as an add-on for Shirley’s job description, has now become a rewarding part of Shirley’s career because of these connections.

“The hardest part of planning travel is probably dealing with the travelers and all the attention to detail that is required to do that effectively,” said Shirley. “But that is also the best part. I love getting to know the travelers and giving them the opportunity to travel.”

Travel Tips

Be organized in everything you do.

Be prepared for the unexpected. Difficult situations rarely happen, but it is best to be prepared.

Above all, be patient.