Fast Facts about Katie Hardwick
assistant vice president of programs and events at Commerce Lexington Inc. located in Lexington, Kentucky
Located in central Kentucky, Commerce Lexington has 1,700 members. The chamber’s travel program began in 2011 as a way of raising non-dues revenue. Both members and nonmembers can travel with the chamber, although members receive a discount.
Born: Lexington, Kentucky
Education: Hardwick has a B.A. in communications and music from the University of Kentucky.
Employment: Hardwick transitioned from a 13-year job as a travel agent to working at Commerce Lexington. She has been with the chamber for 11 years.
Family: Hardwick is married and has two daughters.
Hobbies: Hardwick spends her free time playing the cello, watching old movies and traveling.
Taking a Chance
Unsure of how Commerce Lexington’s 1,700 members would react, Katie Hardwick offered the chamber’s first tour in 2011 to an ambitious first destination: China.
“We wanted to try travel as a non-dues-revenue option, so we decided to dip our toe into travel with a trip to China,” said Hardwick, assistant vice president of programs and events for Commerce Lexington in Lexington, Kentucky.
Sixty-six people signed up. After that trip, what started as a tentative venture became a runaway success.
“We were impressed with how many people wanted to go to China,” said Hardwick. “We set up some meetings, so there was a business side to it. But we had some people who only wanted to go on a leisure tour.”
Surprised at the immediate success of the program, Hardwick has continued to hone in on what makes their chamber travel program so strong with a carefully thought-out method to choosing, marketing and running future tours. The travel program is not just a way of raising funds for the chamber; it has also become a way to solidify relationships with its members.
Hardwick’s first venture into the travel industry world came several years earlier when she lucked into a job as a travel agent.
“My neighbors owned a travel agency, and they gave me my first job,” said Hardwick. “After three years there, I started working in corporate travel and loved it.”
After 13 years as a travel agent, Hardwick felt well versed in travel, although she had no idea she’d return to planning group trips when she joined the chamber 11 years ago. These days, Hardwick marvels at how she travels more now than she did as a travel agent.
“We had no idea our international trips were going to be so popular,” said Hardwick. “We have repeat travelers. We have some that have been on all of our trips. They have told their friends, so we get more that way.”
After the fruitful China trip, Hardwick next tried Cuba. The chamber took 90 people to Cuba the first time, but the overflowing demand made it necessary to add another date just to accommodate everyone. This proved to Hardwick that China wasn’t just a fluke. Instead, they were building something that could have an impact on the chamber long term.
Since then, the chamber members have also visited Vietnam, Cambodia, Croatia and Dubai, as well as gone on smaller trips that study cities across the United States.