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Profiles

Five Minutes With ... Jennifer Ollinger

Tourism Manager | Visit Detroit

Though it took Jennifer Ollinger a few years to discover her niche working in tourism, she began her work on the Visit Detroit team 23 years ago. Like many, Ollinger was furloughed during the pandemic for five months, but has since returned to her role at Visit Detroit and currently promotes and sells Metro Detroit as a destination for group and FIT travel, both domestically and internationally. She also currently assists with visiting media doing travel related stories on the Motor City.

Judi Tichenor: Creating a Student Travel Legacy

Judi Tichenor's travel industry journey extends back into the early '80s. A nurse at the time, she took a trip to Washington, DC as part of a nurses lobbying group and fell in love with the nation's capital city.

Ask the Exec: Catherine Prather, CTP

It's safe to say the travel industry, along with the rest of the world, is changing. Along with these changes are evolutions in the way we think about our day-to-day operations, approaches to self-care and ideas for future growth and expansion.

Influencers of Group Travel: Claudia Menezes

Everyone has that one person in their circle; that trusted individual you can go to for informed guidance, sage advice, valuable experience and more. That person who never fails to bring fresh ideas to the table and challenges what has always been in order to build something better.

In the group travel industry, these are the leaders who have risen to the surface as folks who are always willing to try new things, bolster innovation within the industry, drive others in a positive direction, and are recognizable among group travel professionals as someone who can be relied upon.

We asked our readers to share who among their industry peers should be recognized for their efforts in this realm. Those who were selected to be among the 2022 Influencers of Group Travel were featured in a recent issue of Groups Today. Keep reading to get to know them!

 


 

Claudia Menezes
Vice President and Owner | GoPegasus

Born in Brazil to a family of trailblazers in the travel industry, Claudia Menezes was exposed to the world of travel at a young age and her passion for the industry has only grown since. She has spent over 30 years founding and managing various tour companies, and has held the position of Vice President and Owner of GoPegasus alongside her husband since 2001.

Menezes is always looking for opportunities for innovation and, with her team, strives to push the boundaries to offer new ideas and experiences for groups, including a newly-launched program: Art on Wheels.

"The idea came from the fact that we have groups who are constantly on social media while loading into the buses," Menezes explained. "We thought, 'what if we make our buses into moving instagrammable walls of art?' The program has been a huge hit already and features one-of-a-kind works of art from local artists in partnership with United Arts, Orlando City Soccer, and more to come. This is just one of the ways that we look to constantly add to the overall experience. It's the little things that often make the biggest impact."

For Menezes, being part of the travel industry means coming in with passion—something she and her team do well.

"Everything we do at GoPegasus stems from this passion to bring someone's travel dreams to a realization," she said. "That's why we have worked hard to become the best at what we do; to truly build a company and brand recognized for exceptional guest service. At the end of the day, when someone is booking with us, we strive to be synonymous with loyalty, integrity and every experience we build for a group is centered around this."

While there have been many lessons along the way, Menezes believes that every challenge is simply an opportunity in disguise.

"This is the way we tackle each and every task and have stayed authentic to who we are while steadily building a successful business," she said. "To have others look to our success story is truly a dream come true. We know that if we do it right, it's not about instant reward but building a solid foundation and the benefit will come later."

When it comes to what others can do to be influencers in their own group travel circles, Menezes says it's all about networking.

"We've been incredibly active in the community since inception of the company and have found there's an opportunity in almost every business we come in contact with. It's not always about the bottom line," Menezes explains. "The majority of the time, we've found that the more value added through amazing community partners that we include for our groups, the better the overall experience. When you do good work and provide a solid foundation of service—especially when including your community partners—the business will come."

Like everyone, Menezes is looking forward to the rebound of the travel market in the wake of COVID-19. She acknowledges, however, how the pandemic provided an opportunity for a reset and the chance to reflect on what could be improved and how.

"We need to understand the power that we have as the travel industry and involve partners in all areas of the community to help showcase how travel can benefit everyone in any segment," she said. "We have to remind ourselves that our industry is one of the largest and we are ambassadors for change, global acceptance, and the preservation of culture by showcasing new experiences to groups everywhere from around the globe.

"We are an industry that is so essential in the world right now—our message is one of peace, enjoyment and happiness, and it's our job to continue to celebrate each other by exposing new people to new exciting experiences every day."

To read more about the rest of the 2022 Influencers of Group Travel, click here.

Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for Groups Today.

 

Influencers of Group Travel: Melea Hames

Everyone has that one person in their circle; that trusted individual you can go to for informed guidance, sage advice, valuable experience and more. That person who never fails to bring fresh ideas to the table and challenges what has always been in order to build something better.

In the group travel industry, these are the leaders who have risen to the surface as folks who are always willing to try new things, bolster innovation within the industry, drive others in a positive direction, and are recognizable among group travel professionals as someone who can be relied upon.

We asked our readers to share who among their industry peers should be recognized for their efforts in this realm. Those who were selected to be among the 2022 Influencers of Group Travel were featured in a recent issue of Groups Today. Keep reading to get to know them!

 


 

Melea Hames
Social Media Manager | Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association

A social media manager in the tourism industry for 12 years at Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association (AMLA), Melea Hames uses social media to build connections and engage travelers and those in the industry. She brings fresh ideas to the forefront through the creation of compelling social content and blog posts, in addition to coordinating the North Alabama Ambassador Program and speaking at various events about social media.

Hames recently became the host of AMLA's new podcast, "Unexpected Adventures in North Alabama," which highlights all the places in the region people might not know about yet. During the early days of the pandemic, Hames also created a series of "When Business Returns to Usual" blog posts focused on the different areas in the northern Alabama region.

"I feel that these blogs resonated with people because it gave them something to look forward to," Hames said.

Just last year, Hames created her very own social media marketing agency with a friend called M and M Social. She loves to write, travel, walk in the park (she walked over 600 miles in 2020), go to Auburn games and read books about WWII.

With a background in education, Hames thinks it's important to share what you're doing in your businesses with your friends and colleagues.

"On our business pages, we're reaching our visitors and locals, but our friends and colleagues can be a valuable resource for us, as well," Hames said. "And your friends and colleagues are your biggest cheerleaders, so share what you're doing to inspire others in your circle. It's an honor that others in the travel industry look to me for guidance and assurance. The one thing I tried most to focus on during the beginning of the pandemic was hope, because I felt that was what people wanted most of all."

Hames hopes to continue to influence the group travel sphere by providing great social media content—road trips to take, outdoor activities, travel tips, etc.—which can hopefully inspire others.

As the industry moves forward and further into recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, Hames says education on treating the outdoors with respect is key.

"One issue we had during the beginning of the pandemic was an abundance of newcomers to the outdoors, which created a problem with many of our outdoor locations being 'loved to death,'" Hames said.

She explains how the increased amount of trash left outdoors led the organization to partner with Leave No Trace to help educate those new to the outdoors on the importance of being good stewards of nature.

"I would love to see more of this type of education for our visitors and locals," she said. "Sure, we want people to get outdoors, but we also want everyone doing their part to protect these beautiful outdoor spaces."

To read more about the rest of the 2022 Influencers of Group Travel, click here.

Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for Groups Today.

 

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