Cathy Stokes, CTIS: A One Woman Show on the Go
Right out of college, Cathy Stokes, CTIS, began working with seniors through her local Parks and Recreation department's adult program. Despite not having any travel experience at the time, Stokes dove right in when those in the program expressed their willingness to hit the road.
"My first overnight motorcoach trip was to Disney World in the fall of 1983—I've been organizing motorcoach trips ever since!" said Stokes, who today is a tour planner and owner of Lawrenceville, Georgia-based Seniors On The Go Travel, which she established in 2000.
"My old boss said, 'whatever you do, keep those seniors on the go.' That's where the name comes from and I've been happy to have kept my promise to him."
As the sole person responsible for all the company's planning, IT, finances, sales, maintenance and even tour direction, Stokes offers seniors approximately 20 day trips a year in and around Georgia, along with around 12 overnight trips in the U.S. She also partners with several national companies to offer overseas trips and cruises. And though business can be hectic at times, Stokes is completely committed to the travel industry.
"It's been a perfect fit for me. I love the planning process and fitting the pieces together for trips," she said, emphasizing a focus on laughter. "It's great to learn while we're on tour, but keeping it fun is really important, too!"
As her business has grown over the years, Stokes has stayed involved by joining industry organizations and attending trade shows, including obtaining her CTIS with ABA. She knows the importance of staying in the know when it comes to the changing tides, whether it's being aware of new trends and emerging destinations, or learning major changes in technology.
"The internet has completely changed the planning process and it's also given my travelers new information, as well," Stokes said. "They are much more informed and their expectations on tours have definitely increased."
Notable experiences abound in Stokes' memory: A hot air balloon ride at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, a train ride on the Italian coast, seeing Denali come into focus just around the bend at Denali National Park, and plenty more. But ultimately, something else sticks out most in her mind.
"Some of my fondest travel memories are the fun mystery trips, like visiting a mule farm in Tennessee, enjoying sunset cocktails atop a historic hotel on the Gulf Coast, dancing with a bluegrass band in Virginia, and other moments where you experience pure joy with your group," Stokes explained. "Those are the absolute best for me when you know you've brought them an experience they truly love."
Stokes says those in the industry have to stay positive and persistent, and suggests building connections with other travel professionals and CVBs/DMOs.
"Things change all the time and things are going to come up that you didn't expect. You just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other and walk your way through all of it," she said. "I'm lucky to have a very loyal travel group that continues to join me on tours. Building and keeping those relationships is so important. It's kept me on the road."
CATHY'S FUN FACT:
"Until you meet me in person, you don't realize that I'm 6'2"! I definitely stand out in a crowd and my group can always find me!"
Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for Groups Today.
This article originally appeared in the Mar/Apr '22 issue of Groups Today.