Doug and Alison Robinson’s group visiting University of Michigan Football Stadium
No doubt, Doug Robinson scores a 10 on the creativity scale. When he heard through his local Rotary’s grapevine that the couple who directed the Hometown Community Travelers at Morton Community Bank in Morton, Illinois, were retiring, he didn’t choose the conventional route to apply for the job on behalf of himself and his wife, Alison.
“I created a card that included the message, ‘I understand there might be an opportunity to tell people where to go. Let’s talk,’” Robinson said. “The card also had a picture of a motorcoach, cruise ship and airplane. I sent that card to the co-CEO of the bank, also a member of our Rotary. When she realized Alison and I were serious about wanting the job, we were hired that afternoon.”
That bank official was well aware that the Robinsons were a perfect fit to lead the Hometown Community Travelers as it was Doug’s responsibility to coordinate the Rotary’s group study exchange, a program that hosts visitors from around the world.
“I arranged the living arrangements, tours and put together thorough professional folders. And as a schoolteacher for 25 years, Alison had been responsible for countless field trips with students,” said Robinson.
Dedication, dedication, dedication
This discriminating couple spent their first year on the job leading travel with a local motorcoach company that provided a travel service.
“But we soon became disenchanted relying on other opinions, and so we took it into our own hands to plan higher-end dining and accommodations,” said Robinson. “Domestically, we travel to most of the places in advance of taking our group to do the prep work and make sure there are no surprises.”
During their five years as travel leaders, there has been a handful of emergencies throughout the country and around the world that Alison claims have been proving grounds.
“Regardless of what it took to take care of someone, we did it,” she said. “Now everyone trusts that no matter what happens, we’ll be by their side.”
Hometown Community Travelers has no age and deposit requirements. The 350 members need only be a customers of the bank to have the opportunity to enjoy 15 trips a year, including three or four international and extended trips and a mystery trip that Robinson describes as “lavish.”
Listen, learn, and win a prize
One of the first trips the Robinsons took on their own was a familiarization tour in Canada. It was a learning experience that has continued to influence the kind of travel they create for their travelers.
“We were so impressed with not only the sights but the discussions on local folklore,” said Robinson. “We realized it was not only important to be entertained but to have an educational experience.”
As a result, these team leaders pride themselves on offering what they claim are “never cookie-cutter trips.”
“In fact, we used a professional graphics expert to create our logo, ‘DnA Signature Tours,’ not only reflecting our names but indicating that everything on our trips have our DNA all over them,” said Robinson. “And to this day, whether the destination is an hour away or across the pond to Austria, Switzerland and Germany, Alison does the research, designs trivia quizzes and gives prizes to the best guessers during the trip.”
Consequently, travelers pay close attention during visits to places such as the Jake Wolf Memorial Fish Hatchery, a museum and hatchery in Topeka, Illinois, that supplies rivers throughout the Midwest with nearly 20 species of fish. On a mystery tour to the Detroit area, group members were awed by an automotive plant tour, a river cruise, a historic homes tour and time in the famed Michigan Stadium at the University of Michigan, where many of them shouted “Go Blue!” as they ran from one goal line to the other.
“We stayed at the Dearborn Inn, an incredible historic property that was built on the grounds of the Ford Motor Company in 1931. And, another highlight on this trip was eating at Buddy’s Pizza, a Detroit institution since 1936 and one of the top five pizzerias in the country,” said Robinson.
Their annual sold-out-way-in-advance mystery trip is a four- or five-day excursion that always takes place over Flag Day, the day the Robinsons were married 44 years ago.
“These trips are typically to places people would not go to on their own,” said Robinson. “We don’t hold back, and arrange to dine and stay in the best establishments.”