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The Group Travel Leader Small Market Meetings Going on Faith

Checking in with Katie Hardwick

Unusual Is Usual

After China, Hardwick started surveying the chamber members to see where they would most like to go. She weighs several factors when determining the next international trip, including member preferences and the destination’s exotic factor.

“We try to choose places that are off the beaten path,” said Hardwick. “We want places that you wouldn’t try to go on your own for the first time. Dubai was one of the most memorable of those.”

Since Lexington has strong ties to the horse industry, Hardwick asked the chamber’s travel company to give their Dubai itinerary a more equestrian theme. Chamber members got a tour of the Meydan Racecourse along with the highlights of Dubai.

Hardwick doesn’t consider just the location. She also considers the length of the international tours, since shorter trips mean more businesspeople can attend. Hardwick uses all of these factors to offer one big international trip a year, since she believes that any more would result in smaller passenger turnouts.

However, the chamber doesn’t focus solely on international travel. Hardwick also helps plan leadership visits, during which chamber members study the business practices from other cities.

“A lot of chambers do these types of trips as well,” said Hardwick. “We just got back from Charleston [South Carolina]. They are always two nights and three days.”

Ticket to Success

Since starting the travel program as a side moneymaking project, the chamber has seen other unexpected benefits, such as gaining new members, some of whom joined mainly so they can travel with the discounted chamber rate.

To continue this momentum, Hardwick advertises the tours to members and in local newspapers. She uses tour companies’ travel documents to create packaged booklets of information to build anticipation and educate travelers about the upcoming trip.

During the trip, the chamber doesn’t leave all the work up to the tour operators.

“One thing we might do differently than other companies offering travel is that we typically have one person from Commerce Lexington on each bus,” said Hardwick. “Every year something will happen that is out of your control. For example, in Dubai someone’s flight was canceled. We like to have someone on each bus to be a liaison when that happens.”

This practice helps keep Commerce Lexington at the focus of these culturally significant destinations so the trips don’t become just another tour.

“It’s not all business,” said Hardwick. “It’s making affordable travel to valuable places available to our members. We feel like we’re not only selling our tours but ourselves as well. It’s amazing the relationships and camaraderie that develops on these trips.”

Travel Tips

Be flexible. Anything can happen.

Maintain a high level of customer service.

Choose unique destinations. That will keep your travelers coming back.