Innovators of the Year 2015

In a field where changes in technology, economy, and client interests are continuous, travel professionals must constantly innovate.

Groups Today applauds the field's top innovators, who were nominated by readers and confirmed by the Groups Today editorial board. Here's a look at the nominees who are "keeping on top of their game" in this challenging and rewarding field.

SALLY D. BERRY CTP, CMP | Tourism Sales and Marketing Manager, Corning Museum of Glass
"The key to being innovative is to keep an open mind and always be open to learning. I listen to industry webinars, follow LinkedIn groups, and receive Google Alerts for relevant tourism topics. Networking is a powerful tool and I often get great ideas from my peers, as well." 

NICK CALDERAZZO | President, Twin Travel Concepts
"Adaptability and flexibility are the keys to success in today's environment. Only through listening carefully to your clients and peers can you create products that will sell. We all need experienced partners who give us that competitive edge."

DAN GLEASON, CTIS | Director of Sales, Quad Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau/AgriTours Illinois
"It's important to stay in touch with the market trends/issues. It helps you know what tour planners look for in order to anticipate their needs to best serve them. Also, customization is a necessity. What works for one planner is not going to work for another." ­

DEA HOOVER | Founder/Principal, Are We There Yet?, LLC
"We offer unique experiences, unlike anything available to the independent traveler. Otherwise, why travel with a group? The answer should always be that the group tour offers experiential dining, customized tours unavailable to FITs, and the efficiency achieved by a planned itinerary, while allowing for a leisurely pace."

STEPHANIE LUCAS | Group Tourism Manager, Visit Charlotte
"My main focus is on the Experiential Tourism program, where groups visit to learn and explore, but more importantly, experience an attraction. I create customizable itineraries to engage sensory levels by turning tourists into participants, creating memories that last beyond their trip. I work with partners to build these unique, hands-on experiences that will in turn attract more group visitors to Charlotte." 

FRANCES MANZITTO, CTIS | Director of Tourism Sales, Visit Clarksville
"We have to be constantly creating new events to market to groups and always looking for new, innovative partnerships. We've created packages like our Heroes, Hometowns and Legends package, which brings concerts to town just to perform for groups. We've also partnered with US Tours to bring two unlikely events together—our Heroes, Hometowns and Legends package and Bob's Welcome Home Vietnam event. These two events are for very different markets, but somehow make sense to combine." 

RAGAN MYERS | Tourism & Events Coordinator, City of Long Beach, Washington
"One our best innovations is the Long Beach Package Travel. When visitors arrive by coach, a six-foot red carpet runner is rolled out for guests as they walk off the bus. They are greeted by the mayor, city council, and business owners welcoming them and extending an invitation to enjoy their visit to Washington's Long Beach Peninsula. The welcome also includes a Washington Wine and Cheese Reception, hosted by the mayor of Long Beach!"

MIKE NIELAND | Tour Manager, Blue Marble Journeys
"The best way to promote my faith-based business is to attend travel conferences such as FTA Day and Going On Faith, which keep me current and facilitate networking with travel leaders from around the country. It's all about building relationships with clients and the organizations. Blue Marble Journeys encourages people to grow their Christian faith through travel experiences with a biblical worldview. We assist churches, small groups, pastors, and individuals with making connections through Christian outreach, travel, and missions." 

TIM PATRICK, CTC | Director of Product Development, Mayflower Tours
"In my twenty-five years of developing group tour travel itineraries, I have learned that a good DMO is worth their weight in gold when looking for new ideas. Industry trade publications and regional trade shows also help to uncover components that can define a program and bring it to life." 

JUSTIN M. SHULER | Founder/President, Group Travel Network
"I have a daily regiment personally designed to help GTN stay abreast of student travel opportunities including, but not limited to, being a member of the only student specific trade organization: SYTA. SYTA not only allows us the opportunity to form strong relationships and learn from suppliers worldwide, but also allows us to learn from others within our industry."

DIONNE WILLIAMS | Director of National Sales, The National Conference Center
"Networking with peers in the industry, current clients, and prospects is priceless! Following industry and business trends is also very important. Lastly, organization! You can't achieve the goal without a clear vision of your path."


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