Fast Facts about Ronni Hannaman
Ronni Hannaman is the Executive Director at the Carson City Chamber of Commerce in Carson City, Nevada.
The Carson City Chamber of Commerce in Carson City, Nevada, started offering guided tours 10 years ago as part of a non-dues revenue initiative. The travel program has grown to 600 members and is open to the public, with some travelers joining tours from across the country.
Born: Wurzburg, Germany
Education: B.A. in English, Grossmont College
Employment: Hannaman held several previous jobs in travel-related fields, working as a flight attendant, director of visitor marketing for the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau, president of the Pennsylvania Travel Council and owner of a travel agency in San Diego. She started at the Carson City Chamber of Commerce in 2006.
Family: Married with two Cairn terriers
Hobbies: Travel, reading and writing
It’s 4 a.m. in Carson City, Nevada. Most chamber of commerce executive directors would still be in bed. Not Ronni Hannaman. Executive director for the Carson City COC, she believes in the chamber’s travel program so completely that she’s willing to wake up in the middle of the night to make sure her travelers feel cared for on their way to their next destination.
She regularly greets travel members using the chamber office’s free parking and group transportation to the airport for their next adventure, no matter the hour.
“We can provide them with a breakfast, and I’m here at 4 in the morning to say goodbye to them,” said Hannaman. “We give them a travel gift each time. We work with them from the time they book with us to the end.”
After bidding her travelers adieu, Hannaman then goes back to the many demands of her job as executive director before retiring for the day.
This level of commitment played a role in the immediate success of the chamber’s travel program, which Hannaman started 10 years ago. Today, about 600 travel members trust Hannaman and the chamber to take care of them on tours around the world.
Betting on Travel
When representatives from the tour company Collette approached Hannaman to start a travel program, she felt ready for the challenge. Her entire career had centered on travel in one way or another.
She spent time working for Sea World and the airlines as a flight attendant before a seven-year stint at the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau and 10 years as the president of the Pennsylvania Travel Council. Hannaman even opened a travel agency in San Diego and ran it for seven years before taking over the Carson City chamber in 2006.
“Travel has been my career,” said Hannaman. “When Collette introduced the idea of a travel program, I was very interested. The rest is history.”
Hannaman took a chance on a chamber travel program, although she knew of no other chambers in the state managing such a program. She tested the program with two trips the first year. The success of the two trips ensured that the program quickly became a permanent and important fixture for the chamber.
“We found the community was ready for organized trips,” said Hannaman. “Banks here did not offer travel programs as they do in the South and Midwest, so there was pent-up demand for group travel.”
The lack of travel agents in the area also led to more customers. Hannaman discovered a wealth of potential travelers who had the funds, but not the knowledge of how to organize a trip on their own.
Not all chamber travel programs take off immediately. Hannaman attributes a lot of the program’s popularity to something that differentiates her chamber travel program from many others: opening access to trips to the wider community.
“It has surprised me that not all chambers are doing this,” said Hannaman. “The trick is to not rely on our chamber members to be your travelers. There is no way we could have been so successful with just the chamber members. We reach out to the general public. We reach out to working people, too, but they don’t have the opportunity to travel like those that have retired.”
By opening the trips to the wider public, Hannaman can sell more trips, which increases the non-dues income revenue that is so valuable for chambers. The amount raised doesn’t just mean a little extra cash. Commissions from the travel program allowed the chamber to buy its current building.
The travel funds take pressure off the chamber to attract new members to survive. Hannaman estimates that the chamber would have to attract 200 new members per year to earn as much as the travel program.
Although Hannaman places top priority on the travel program, she acknowledges that her responsibilities to the chamber prevent her from going on every trip.
“Unlike some of the bank travel planners that go on all the tours, chamber planners can’t,” said Hannaman. “I’ve gone on a few of them. Sometimes, if a group is big enough, I will meet them somewhere along the line. I flew to London and met a group in Wales once. But I didn’t have two weeks to spend on a tour. Being on the West Coast, it’s harder to find the time for every trip. I try to go on one trip a year with a group.”
Inspiring at 89
In addition to the group travel tips Hannaman has learned over the years, she claims that her “secret weapon” is Marilyn Foster, a travel writer about to turn 90 in January. Hannaman refers to Foster as her travel ambassador, since Foster writes about her travel experiences with the chamber in a section of the local newspaper.
Foster is a consummate traveler who usually keeps two future trips pending.
“Her columns have gained us more widows and other older folks who thought they were too old to travel or felt uncomfortable traveling alone,” said Hannaman. “They feel that if she can travel, so can they.”
Though non-dues revenue factored significantly in the formation of the travel program, Hannaman said her purpose for the program doesn’t end there.
“I have traveled all my life,” said Hannaman. “It is very interesting for me to watch those who have never really traveled. I like to look at everything through their eyes. We are not just in it to make a commission. We want them to have a wonderful experience. The program gives the chamber a way to connect with the public at large.”
• If you are a chamber of commerce, consider travel programs as a non-dues income revenue generator.
• Take travel programs seriously. We treat our clients like gold and take care of them in any way we can.
• Offer the trips as a service to the public. Lots of people have the means to travel but don’t know how.