Many of the top group travel planners from across the country have cleared their calendars to attend the annual Select Traveler Conference, March 27–29 at Chateau on the Lake Resort, Spa and Convention Center in Branson, Missouri.
Planners participate in the conference because they realize travel destinations providers covet planners who represent banks, chambers of commerce and college/alumni travel groups. In turn, members within those groups are eager to get out and tour. Plus, these planners have helped lead the post-pandemic revival of the travel industry.
Travel destination providers anxiously await the chance to do business with these planners at the conference and bring their travelers to their cities, states, historical sites, resorts and attractions.
“We are a little town of 12,000 people that welcomes 10 million visitors a year, and we love having people come in from all over the country and that includes travel planners and their clients,” said Yvonne Long, senior sales manager for the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s all about the experience and families and memories here in Branson, where we offer a real Middle America and Ozarks hospitality.”
Branson has been one of the nation’s premier group travel destinations for generations, with its famous Hwy 76 Entertainment District and dozens of attractions, ranging from theaters with a wide variety of entertainment options to exciting theme parks and boundless recreational offerings.
The Select Traveler Conference will occupy meeting and dining rooms at the Chateau on the Lake, a AAA Four Diamond-rated property located on the shore of Table Rock Lake. From the 300 sleeping rooms, guests will enjoy views of either the lake or the mountains.
The three-day conference begins with registration, where planners will meet the staff that will be assisting them. The travel destination vendors mall will open and representatives from a dozen cities, states and attractions will operate booths. It is a great place to pick up travel information and to have questions answered.
That evening, the opening night festivities will take place at the Chateau and include a wine reception sponsored by the Branson Chamber of Commerce and CVB. Dinner will be presented by the Chateau and no doubt will include a few surprises. Entertainment is being arranged, and guests can expect a performance from one of the 110 shows available at theaters around Branson, to give the visitors a taste of what the city offers.
Breakfasts and lunches are a good time for delegates to network and share knowledge and experiences. Getting perspectives from fellow planners from around the nation is valuable. Delegates will get to do that a lot at the conference.
Marketplace sessions are scheduled for days two and three at the conference. These are the main reasons planners will come to Branson. They will research destinations and meet face-to-face with their representatives. These six-minute appointments are a good start for planners hoping to fill their trip agendas in 2023 and beyond.
Seeing the Sites
One of the highlights of every Select Traveler Conference is the sightseeing tours of the host city. It is a great opportunity for that city because the local CVB gets to show a couple of busloads of travel directors many of the amenities that city has to offer. CVB representatives agree that showing off a location in person is much more vivid than showing pictures or videos.
Branson officials have planned three exceptional sightseeing tours, provided on a first-come, first-served basis. One stop will be at the Titanic Museum Attraction. The building is designed in the shape of the historic ship that hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic in 1912 and sank, claiming more than 1,500 lives. Inside, visitors will discover what it was like to wander the cabins, parlors, hallways and the grand staircase of the luxury liner. On display are more than 400 genuine artifacts from the great ship and its passengers. There is also a Titanic Memorial Room where 2,208 names line the walls.
The second sightseeing opportunity will be the Pink Jeep Adventure Tour, during which passengers in custom pink Wrangler Jeeps roll off-road past lakeside landmarks and beautiful vistas on the way up to Baird Mountain. Expert local guides will point out highlights of the mountain scenery and history.
The third sightseeing tour is going to take place at Lost Canyon Cave and Nature Trail. This trip will include a two-and-a-half-mile ride inside an electric cart through the nature trail ending at Lost Cave, which is four-stories tall with a cascading waterfall. The whole area can be seen from the floor or on balconies at each of the four levels.
Planners may also want to stay after the conference and participate in familiarization tours of the surrounding area. Details are available at the Branson CVB.
The reception and dinner on the second night of the conference will be held at McFarlain’s Family Restaurant located in the Branson IMAX Entertainment Complex. The eatery is famous for its Ozarks-inspired food and homemade pies. The delegates will then travel by motorcoach to the Clay Cooper Theater where The Haygoods will perform. This high-energy shop features six siblings who sing, dance and perform with up to 20 different instruments.
“The Haywoods show is another sampling of what Branson as a whole has to offer visitors,” said Long.
In addition to fulfilling appointments during the marketplace sessions, travel planners will be treated to some industry expertise from the conference speakers who represent a variety of travel companies and destinations around the United States. Sponsors also will show videos of their locations and tours in hopes of attracting travel groups.
The conference’s keynote speakers will help attendees learn more about the finer points of the travel industry. The Select Traveler Conference will present Bud Geissler of GroupCollect, a premier registration and payment technology platform for tour operators.
Geissler says travel planners can use this technology to help streamline their operations, convert leads into sales so the planner can reduce risk, both financially and in the trip details. It will also improve pre-trip and on-trip communication.
“Finding the right technology for you is important,” said Geissler. That means technology that covers all the bases. “You can use sunscreen to protect against burns,” Geissler continued. “But you know what it’s like if you miss a spot. It’s painful. The same is true for trip execution. You must cover every aspect of it.”
The travel world has changed since the pandemic, and Geissler says planners must be ready. “Our lives and our businesses look quite different than they did before,” he said. “Travelers have different expectations. Our lodging, attraction and transportation partners also have different expectations. The correct technology can provide multiple solutions.”
A Warm Welcome
The Branson Chamber of Commerce and CVB are pleased to host the Select Traveler Conference, where they will reveal all that Branson has to offer to a couple of hundred travel planners who in turn can influence their travel club members.
“These are our kind of people,” said Long. “They are the ones who over the decades have made us the top destination that we are today. We really thank them and welcome them.”