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The Group Travel Leader Small Market Meetings Going on Faith

Optimism Energized the Select Traveler Conference

More than 60 upscale travel planners joined 90 domestic and international travel destinations at the 2022 Select Traveler Conference held March 28–30 in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Travel planners representing banks, chambers of commerce, alumni associations and similar high-end affinity groups are invited to the annual event.

“We all know that travel industry gatherings of all types remain pressed to reach their pre-pandemic attendances,” said conference partner Charlie Presley of the Group Travel Family, “but what this group lacked in size it made up for in energy. The delegates who attended were enthusiastic and were just happy to be face-to-face again. Mac and I heard from dozens of buyers and sellers alike that the enthusiasm for taking groups back out is overwhelming right now.”

“In our buyer breakout session, 83 percent of attendees expected to operate from six to 15 major trips or more in the coming year,” said conference partner Mac Lacy, “and 93% said their travelers were ready to travel right now. We wanted to know what our planners’ frames of mind were coming out of the pandemic and if any felt ‘emotionally worn out.’ They all described themselves as ready to travel again, and 60% said they were ‘as good as new and ready to go.’”

Visit Cheyenne hosted an opening Western-style honkytonk evening event at Outlaw Saloon, where delegates dined on fresh-smoked brisket and enjoyed live music and line dancing. Jim Walter and Andi Jaspersen of Visit Cheyenne managed the city’s hospitality efforts and offered sightseeing tours of its state capital sites, breweries, museums, Terry Bison Ranch and more. 

“I’m so glad you all have chosen to come to Cheyenne,” said Mayor Patrick Collins in his opening remarks. “We have thousands of hotel rooms available and hundreds more under construction. I’m hoping you Select Traveler planners will help us fill them.”

“We booked this conference two years ago, and when COVID hit, we thought we’d all go home for a couple of weeks and then it would be over. It wasn’t,” said Walter, vice president of marketing for Visit Cheyenne. “We had to cancel at the last minute. But now we’re back, and it’s great that travel is picking up again. Thanks for coming.”

Other major sponsors for meals included travel companies and destinations like Collette, U.S. Tours, Trips and next year’s host, Explore Branson. Two conference marketplace sessions were offered, and most travel planners had 50 or more appointments over the two days. 

The 2023 Select Traveler Conference takes place March 27–29 at the Chateau on the Lake resort in Branson, Missouri. For registration details, visit 

Sponsors Celebrate Travel’s Return

The conference’s opening night dinner was a honky-tonk affair held at the Outlaw Saloon and presented by Visit Cheyenne. Featuring a delicious smoked brisket dinner and live band, the event was a perfect introduction to Wyoming’s revered capital city. A couple dozen delegates took line dancing lessons from a local dance instructor, and many more than that bellied up to the bar to enjoy a libation compliments of the host city.

The following day offered a full slate of sponsored meals and events, beginning with a breakfast hosted by West Virginia-based U.S. Tours and Sharon Kruszka. 

“We’re back on track and ready to roll,” Kruszka told the gathering. “We’re promoting three distinct areas of travel. They are US Tours America, Select World Travel, and Voyages. We can’t wait to speak with all of you about restarting your travel.”

Collette, the internationally known 104-year-old travel company that has long been a sponsor at Select Traveler, hosted lunch. 

“Thanks for all your support through good times and bad,” said Jim Edwards of Collette. “It’s been a tough two years. We refunded $170 million to customers. Those people would not have traveled with us again if they knew they couldn’t get their money back. People had confidence in us; we delivered and business is now booming.”

Dinner that evening showcased Branson, Missouri, host city for the 2023 Select Traveler Conference. The evening was filled with entertainment and drawings for prizes that delivered the Branson brand.

“The Group Travel Family has managed this conference for many years,” said Lenni Neimeyer of Explore Branson. “They’re recognized for putting together conferences that bring quality travel buyers to meet quality travel sellers. We’re excited to host this conference next year.”

Trips provided breakfast on the conference’s last day, and Damon Anderson spoke to the gathering.

“Going with Trips is like going with your family,” Anderson said. “All your clients become part of our family. You can always depend on us for excellent value and good service. That’s what we’ve built our reputation on for 30 years.”

Breakout Session Builds Camaraderie Among Buyers

The buyer breakout session in Cheyenne was ably managed by Jill Allen of Platte Valley Bank in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, and Fran Rietveld of First Dakota National Bank in Yankton, South Dakota.

A longstanding staple of the conference’s opening day, the breakout session offered more than three dozen buyers the opportunity to discuss their travel programs, the effects of the pandemic, ideas for restarting their travel and other key topics. The session lasted almost two hours, and all attendees received the collective results of their conversations a couple of weeks later via email.

 “This session starts the conference off on a high note,” said Select Traveler publisher Mac Lacy. “This is the only opportunity most of these planners have all year to sit down with peers and share ideas in a noncompetitive environment. They take the session seriously, but they also enjoy the camaraderie it engenders throughout the rest of the week. Hats off to Fran and Jill for their preparation as moderators.”

The highlights of the session were the planners’ shared optimism about traveling again with their groups in 2022 and 2023; their resolve to move past the pandemic emotionally and regain their can-do attitudes for traveling; and their collective identification of can’t-miss destinations for their groups, both domestic and international.  

Throughout the session, the theme of offering personal attention to group travelers came up repeatedly.

 “Know your community,” said Lori Jackson of LAJ Tours in Fairfield, Pennsylvania, during one discussion. “Most of our travelers live in our area, so we see them at the supermarket and everywhere else. We stay in touch with them without being in touch with them.”

Select Traveler Conference Fresh Energy for Travel Cheyenne

Following a severe travel interruption that lasted more than two years, the optimism expressed by buyers and sellers alike was contagious in Cheyenne. The marketplace sessions were energetic, and destination representatives were pleased with the receptiveness they felt from these upscale travel planners.  

Here are just a few comments from both:

“I want to reconnect with the people I know here and start traveling again. I hope to keep doing this for another dozen years or more and continue my career while traveling to see the rest of the world.”

— Dawn Carver, Dawn’s Fabulous Tours, and longtime bank travel director, Yorkville, Illinois

“I like networking with people to find out what they do to spur interest in travel in their communities and getting new trip ideas from these vendors.”

— Peggy Fuller, Citizens Progressive Bank, Rayville, Louisiana

“This is my first time to the show. I’ve got so many appointments and there is a lot of networking going on. I have new relationships for the future and so much information to bring back. If I book one tour, the ROI will be worth it.”

— Irene Hodge, Lafayette CVB, Lafayette, Louisiana

“It’s my first time to Select Traveler, and the quality of my appointments was outstanding.  It’s been a nice conference as far as the food and entertainment go, too.”

— Dona Webb, Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, Canon City, Colorado

“We always seem to work with the same companies, so it’s nice to come and see what other companies offer. I want to connect with people like me who do the same things to learn about their trips.”

— Jill Allen, Platte Valley Bank, Scottsbluff, Nebraska

Thanks to These Sponsors

Visit Cheyenne – Host City

Explore Branson – 2023 Host City

Collette – Luncheon

Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism – Stepping Stones

EF/Go Ahead Tours – Name Badges

Panama City Beach CVB – Sponsor

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration – Sponsor

Group Travel Guy – Showcase

Huntsville/Madison County CVB – Phone Chargers

Israel Tourism –  Know Your Sponsors

Lincoln CVB – Padfolios

Mayflower Tours & Cruises – Showcase

Overseas Adventure Travel – Sponsor

Select Traveler Magazine – Sponsor

Star Destinations – Presentation

Travel + Leisure – Sponsor

Trips – Breakfast

US Tours – Breakfast

Little America Hotel – Host Hotel

Diamond Tours – Sponsor

Step and Repeat LA – Sponsor