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The Group Travel Leader Small Market Meetings Going on Faith

Checking in with Sherri Lund

Sherri Lund is the office manager for the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce in Ottawa, Kansas.

The Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce is very active in a community of 12,500 people. The chamber began offering international trips in 2010 to increase nondues revenue. The program has approximately 325 members.

Born: Paola, Kansas

Employment: For 23 years, Lund worked for United Telephone, which eventually merged with Sprint. She later worked for a local real estate agent before starting at the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce in 2008.

Family: Lund married her husband, Dan, in 1982. They have two grown daughters and one grandchild.

Hobbies: Traveling, trying new things, shopping, and spending time with family and friends

When Sherri Lund arrived at the Select Traveler Conference in August, she wasn’t sure what to expect. She had never attended the group travel conference, so her first experience would take place during the pandemic.

“The conference was amazing,” said Lund, office manager of the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce. “I loved French Lick Resort. I’m currently working with three companies that I met there. It was certainly well worth attending.”

With all the chaos in the travel industry, Lund felt the conference was a boost of needed connection. Like many group travel planners, Lund has tapped her inner creativity to rethink the chamber’s travel program while continuing extensive customer service.

Sudden Career

Lund is no stranger to outside forces affecting her job. While she was working for a local real estate agent in 2008, the real estate market crashed, leaving her on the lookout for another career. Luckily, a job opened up at the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce. Lund had previously worked with the former president of the chamber on a real estate transaction, which helped her get the position.

In 2010 when the market started to improve, the chamber started researching ways to improve its budget.

“We were looking for ways to bring in nondues revenue rather than continuing to increase dues,” said Lund. “That’s when we decided to try our hand at putting trips together.”

Soon Lund started advertising in the local newspaper to attract nonmembers. The chamber’s first trip was a tour of China.

“I had never been involved in planning travel, so it was a whole new experience,” said Lund. “It was a little scary at first; I’ll be honest. But it all worked out fine. The travel program has been a good thing for the chamber.”

Underground Soldiers

After years of traveling with her chamber group, Lund has tons of travel memories from places far from Kansas, including Italy, Cuba and Austria. One standout memory came from a 2018 visit to the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an, China.

“The statues are incredible and breathtaking,” said Lund. “It is hard to even imagine it until you see all that was buried. When you see it in person, you know that your pictures don’t even compare.”

On tours, Lund makes sure the members are content while she leaves the travel details up to the tour company.

“I am there to answer any questions,” said Lund. “People come to you rather than the tour guide. I feel it is important for me to be able to help and listen to those who need assistance.”

When pandemic-related travel restrictions began in March, Lund had to reschedule group tours. However, rather than limiting her future tours, she began to think of ways to expand her program’s offerings.

“We had tossed around the idea of selling domestic trips before,” said Lund. “Then after the pandemic, some travelers told us they didn’t know if they were ready to travel internationally. That’s why we are looking more seriously at domestic trips as well as international. The travelers don’t want to give up travel.”

Lund received some help setting up this new tour style from the Select Traveler Conference. After learning the conference would be nearby in Wichita, Kansas, Lund decided to give it a try.

“A couple of weeks later we found out that it had been moved to French Lick, Indiana,” said Lund. “The cost was the same except for the travel part of it, so I got to go.

“Thanks to the conference, I’m going to a FAM trip to Branson, Missouri, which is four hours from us. I’ll be putting together a trip with them as well.”

Daring to Travel Domestic

Lund already had to balance the travel program with her other chamber duties. With her new goal of adding domestic trips, she must learn to build a group itinerary from scratch.

“One thing I have to figure out is how to put trips together without a travel company,” said Lund. “It will be more cost effective for us, but I have to learn the details of travel planning.”

Lund now has two itineraries she’s considering, including one to Oklahoma to visit TV and blog personality Ree Drummond, host of the show “The Pioneer Woman.”

No matter the destination, Lund plans to continue the main ingredient of her group’s success: relationship building.

“Throughout different job opportunities, working with people and providing good customer service were always very important to me,” said Lund. “The connections I have made at the chamber have been such a blessing. I just enjoy people so much.”

Getting to know the travelers has also helped market the program. Word spread about the chamber’s travel program. Now clients from five to six different states join the tours regularly. The chamber even brought people from Australia to join them on two different trips.

Lund believes that in the wake of COVID-19, prioritizing time with family and friends will be more important than ever.

“I love continuing to grow the friendships I’ve made,” said Lund. “We get together outside of our trips. We have dinner and just enjoy each other’s company. That’s been a highlight of working here.”

Travel Tips

Engage with your clients. Build relationships and earn their trust and friendship.

Listen to your clients’ suggestions and comments and follow up with their questions and concerns.

Work with a travel company that you trust and that will provide the support that is needed.