Fast Facts about Marcie Hochhauser
Hochhauser is the Senior Vice President at the Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce in Walnut Creek, California.
Founded in 1926, the Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce is a member-driven association that promotes the Walnut Creek region of California. Comprising 800 firms and representing more than 3,000 employees, the chamber is one of the largest accredited chambers in the Bay Area. The travel program began in 2007 with a trip to China. The chamber doesn’t restrict membership to the travel program, which is now at 1,000 members.
Born: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Education: B.A. in communications and marketing from American University
Employment: Hochhauser started working at the chamber in 1980 as manager of member services. In her current role as senior vice president, she juggles many tasks along with the travel program, including the day-to-day operations of running the chamber.
Making Dreams Come True
In 2007, an opportunity for the Walnut Chamber of Commerce to lead a trip to China fell into Marcie Hochhauser’s lap.
“We were approached by a gentleman who was putting together trips to China,” said Hochhauser, senior vice president of the Walnut Chamber of Commerce. “They were very reasonable. We ended up sending six different trips to China over the course of several years. We sent hundreds of travelers.”
The China trips proved an instant hit. After this success, Hochhauser decided to start an ongoing chamber travel program. For some travel expertise, she reached out to a travel agency that helps organize a variety of travel programs offered to members and the community at large.
Today, the chamber helps make dreams come true for people from the local community and beyond by taking them on adventures around the world.
Before striking out into the group travel world, Hochhauser didn’t have a lot of international travel experience. Her previous trips had mainly stayed domestic, with a few Caribbean Cruises. However, the desire to explore the world was already strong.
“It had always been my dream to go to Italy,” said Hochhauser. “Now I have done that, and I just loved it. I also loved that we were able to offer this to the community so they could take advantage of the opportunity with me. Personally, I have made a lot of friends who travel with us now, which is wonderful.”
Despite her busy schedule at the chamber, Hochhauser travels on most of the group’s trips to give her travelers extra support.
“The tour guide plays a major role, of course,” said Hochhauser. “I make sure everybody is happy and that everything is going smoothly and no one is having any issues.”
Friend of a Friend
What started as a program for the local community soon spread through word-of-mouth.
“We have a couple who travels with us who have a brother and sister-in-law in Arizona who join them,” said Hochhauser. “The Arizona couple makes their own travel arrangements and meet us at the destination. We frequently pick up travelers throughout the country.”
Hochhauser wanted to open up the travel program to the community from day one. People from outside the chamber quickly signed up for the tours.
“The Walnut Creek is a regional chamber and not specific to the city,” said Hochhauser. “We didn’t want to limit it. We had friends who joined us; then they had friends who joined us. We’ve become very popular. I don’t think we’d have the numbers we do if we had limited it to chamber members.”
To keep up with the demand, the chamber expanded the program from one to two major trips a year: one in the spring and one in the fall. So far, the group has chosen only international trips, with the majority to Europe. Members also venture to more exotic locales, with past trips having included South Africa, Dubai and Thailand.
“It’s a great group,” said Hochhauser. “We have our database of travelers who have become friends. They look to us for where they are going next. They like that it’s safer and more economical in a group.”
To foster loyalty to the program, the chamber travel program hosts several social events. Every tour comes with a pretrip orientation with wine or cuisine from the upcoming destinations.
With two main trips a year, the pressure is on to choose the perfect two destinations from a world of options. Hochhauser relies on the chamber’s preferred tour operator’s suggestions and travelers’ preferences for ideas. She then examines which tours will be the most economical for her members.
For example, the chamber’s upcoming October trip to Portugal and Spain originated from a conversation with a Jet Vacations tour guide a year ago, when he outlined why the destination would be a perfect fit for the Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce.
“I would never have known to go there if he hadn’t mentioned that area,” said Hochhauser. “We’ve developed an amazing relationship with our tour operator.”
Hochhauser seeks unusual experiences to include in the chamber’s tours that the general public can’t access.
“We’ve stayed at an Italian farmhouse on a winery in the mountains where the owners cooked dinner for us,” said Hochhauser. “We just came back from Japan, where we rode a rickshaw to a private home. They made lunch for us in their house. We were spread throughout the house. Those kinds of things are unique and exciting. It’s not that the monuments and attractions aren’t amazing, but these special experiences give us insight into how the locals live.”
The chamber’s travel program is only a small part of Hochhauser’s total responsibilities. It would be easy to see how she might discard the program when the overwhelming number of travel-related issues came up time and again. However, Hochhauser values the program and its outreach mission.
“The travel program has created a lot of camaraderie and community involvement,” said Hochhauser. “It has made people more aware of the chamber. It’s a great marketing piece for us. The best part of the program is giving the opportunity for people to travel. We go to places they likely wouldn’t go on their own, and that is very satisfying.”
• Pack light.
• Inform travelers of terrain and difficulty of walking.
• Press the travel company for including the unusual in a tour.