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Five Minutes With ... Chris Shepler

President | Shepler's Mackinac Island Ferry

Shepler's Mackinac Island Ferry is the longest running ferry service to Michigan's Crown Jewel, Mackinac Island, and has been owned and operated by the Shepler family since 1945.

In his current role as President of Shepler's Mackinac Island Ferry, Chris Shepler seeks to lead the company in a direction that includes providing a fair wage, offering a work environment that allows cast members to have their voices heard and creating an experience their guests will remember.

On Changes and Challenges

Shepler's Mackinac Island Ferry has adapted in many ways to stay safe and open during the pandemic, for our guests and cast members. This meant incorporating COVID safety protocols, as well as keeping our physical environment safe when moving guests from point A to B, over land and water.

When COVID hit, our biggest fear—as we sat out from running our equipment for approximately 40 days—was wondering if we'd be able to open for the summer of 2020 and what it would look like if we did.

Adapting is exactly what we had to do—adapt to a different mentality of cleanliness. Being on time became secondary, being sanitized became top priority. Our protocols were developed through many conference calls, Zoom meetings and emails. We fogged our boats every one way, installed hand sanitizing stations, had signage to help guests remember to stay safe, and everyone had to wear a mask. Dock speeches were adapted to safety, crew adapted to wearing masks in 90-degree heat (bless them) and guests adapted to new protocols.

One interesting trend that's changed over the years is how the consumer purchases their experience, whether it's transportation, an overnight stay or food. I remember driving an hour to have a Big Mac when I was young. Now, you can order a Big Mac and have it delivered to your door. Tickets for events are purchased on a smartphone, which already has your card information saved. Tickets are often purchased while standing in line for the actual experience they're taking.

Then comes building the campaign to try and convince guests to come to your door (then hope like heck we did it correctly). One of our industry's greatest challenges is figuring out how to reverse the perception that travel consumer confidence is low.

On Opportunities

There's great optimism in the industry today, as we watch airports start to blossom again. Pent-up energy is high and I believe there's disposable income right now that's going to be used on travel. I also don't see non-negotiables like cleaning protocols going away anytime soon. We've also found that in some cases, less is more and we can do a job with two or three less people.

For Newcomers

My top two pieces of advice that every newcomer to the industry should know are: 1. Business is built on relationships—just know it will take time to develop those relationships. 2. Never overpromise and under-deliver ... never!

Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for Groups Today.

This article originally appeared in the May/Jun 2021 issue of Groups Today.

Photo courtesy of Shepler's Mackinac Island Ferry.


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