Fast Facts About Sonya Nash
Sonya Nash is the director of group and experiential sales and marketing for the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau in Elkhart, Indiana.
The Elkhart County, Indiana Convention and Visitors Bureau represents the communities of Elkhart, Goshen, Middlebury, Nappanee, Bristol and Wakarusa, which are known for their Amish culture. Its signature group experiences include the ABA “Best of the Best” Quilt Gardens along the Heritage Trail and the popular Brown Bag Backroads Tour.
Birthplace: Warsaw, Indiana
Education: Indiana University
Employment History: Nash worked at Amish Acres Historic Farms and Theatre in Nappanee for 13 years total. When Visit South Bend/Mishawaka had a position open, she went to work there for three years. When given the chance to move closer to home, she made the move to the Elkhart County, Indiana Convention and Visitors Bureau, where she has worked for 23 years.
Family: Nash has been married to her husband, Richard, for 16 years.
Hobbies: Nash is an amateur baker and loves to read and travel. When she and her husband first got married, they created a travel bucket list and each chose 10 things to do or see in each destination. They have worked their way through that list and a second list. They’re now on their third series of bucket list adventures.
Sonya Nash grew up on an Indiana farm, the youngest of four children and the only girl. She was also the first person in her family to attend college, getting a business degree from Indiana University at Bloomington. Approaching graduation, she started interviewing with companies like Apple and IBM, but she says she realized the field was not as exciting as she had hoped.
“I was doing interviews my senior year and sitting across from these people who were so boring, and I thought, ‘I don’t want to be like them,’” said Nash. “So I came home without a job, which as you can imagine was pretty interesting for my parents, being the only one to go to a four-year college and get a degree and come home without a job.”
During summers, Nash had worked at Amish Acres, a nearby attraction on the National Register of Historic Places that was very popular with groups. She started at the soda fountain, moved to the bakery, then became the assistant kitchen manager.
“It was my 21st birthday, I had just graduated from college, and I’m making sage dressing up to my elbows in the kitchen, and I thought, ‘Boy, you’ve really made it, way to go,’” she said. “But three months later, their salesperson walked out, and I volunteered for the job because it got me out of the kitchen. And guess what? I discovered a love of developing itineraries and working with groups.”
Bringing in the Buses
Amish Acres hadn’t done much in the arena of motorcoach travel, but Nash was tasked with figuring out how to bring buses to the area, so she went to the American Bus Association’s Marketplace when it was held in Indianapolis. There she not only figured out how to draw more tourists to Indiana’s Amish country but also fell in love with coordinating group travel.
“I haven’t missed an ABA Marketplace since that first one in the ’80s — I unknowingly fell into this industry and found this passion that matches my personality,” said Nash. “There weren’t many travel and tourism degrees back then, especially in Indiana. I discovered a different path for myself.”
Nash was soon creating itineraries for groups that included backroads tours, meal experiences, activities, theater reservations, lodging and more. After realizing she was working too many hours, she took a position in sales at Visit South Bend/Mishawaka, where she worked for three years. When a managerial position opened at the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau, she leapt at the chance to work closer to home and promote Amish culture. She’s been helping groups get the most out of their visit to the area for 23 years now.
“It’s constantly working with tour planners and paying attention to trends and building new experiences and listening,” said Nash. “Our communities offer a very rural, authentic cultural experience. What I’ve noticed over the years is that as our society is more tech-driven, the more interested people are to get back to an original American experience and reflect and relate to people who live and celebrate life on a daily basis.”
An Insider’s Perspective
Throughout the region, it’s easy for people to miss the best things that only locals know about because of the community relationships they’ve built.
“Nowadays, people can get online and go anyplace, but what makes a destination special for a group is the behind-the-scenes special arrangements, made by myself and other destination leaders with their destination partners,” said Nash. “We work with the soap maker, the coffee roaster and the winery to really tell their stories in an authentic way and bundle those experiences and make them special.”
Nash notes that she’s seen major changes in the group travel arena in the past few decades — where it used to be primarily seniors, now people of all ages not only want to travel together because of the camaraderie and safety but also because they appreciate the special access and exclusive experiences that come with travel in groups.
“I love that I can provide unusual experiences that connect with people’s passions and leave them with a greater appreciation and understanding of a place,” she said. “It’s really rewarding.”
1. The Polynesian Village, Island of Oahu, Hawaii: “Offers the most amazing immersive cultural experience. The VIP package is well worth the fee and truly showcases different Polynesian cultures from around the world.”
2. Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida: “Truly is the most ‘Magical Place on Earth,’ I grew up visiting this attraction annually with my parents, and it has so many great memories for me of fun, fantasy, festivity and enchantment.”
3. Italy: “The pizza and pasta, the cobblestone streets, the history, the art, the gelato and pastries. From Pompeii to the Amalfi Coast, from Rome to Tuscany, it’s all simply breathtaking and my personal favorite.”