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Jerry Varner: It’s All About How Travel Makes You Feel

Jerry Varner, Owner of Making Memories Tours, started his company from scratch in late 2009 after going on a bus trip to Utah and Colorado with an antique car club group and feeling inspired. Prior to that trip, Varner had no travel industry experience.

"I hadn't been on a motorcoach since 1985, which was for my senior trip," Varner recalled. "With the advice and wisdom of my mother-in-law, who had done some tour director work years earlier, I decided to start this exciting chapter."

In the beginning, Varner was working with his mother-in-law out of a spare bedroom in his home as tour directors/trip builders, while his wife, Angie, was doing the books after her "real" job. Varner has since experienced great success and grew over the years.

"As of now, we have 15 people in full and part time positions, a 15-passenger shuttle van, a 28-passenger bus for small tours and shuttle driving, and we built a more than 4,000 square foot office building," he said. "We really haven't stopped changing. It's an ever-evolving situation, mostly learning how to communicate and updating processes better, but never forgetting that we're primarily in the relationship business."

Varner looks at the experiences Making Memories offers similarly to how he views his children: He loves them all and can't choose a favorite.

"The locations are important, but I've watched folks walk hand-in-hand in Central Park and weep because 'they finally made it,' and a group of friends laugh until they cry on a three-day tour to a flower festival somewhere," he said.

For Varner, the "where" isn't as important as how groups felt while they were there, and what he and his team did to help those memories come to life.

"I've learned if you have a heart of service—and you bend over backwards to take care of your folks—that when something goes sideways unexpectedly, 99.9% of them will give you much more grace and understanding than you ever dreamed," said Varner, who emphasized how DMOs and CVBs are a tour operator's "secret weapon" when it comes to ideas for tours, assistance with hotels or attractions, or help when you find yourself in a bind. "They can blow your mind with their creativity and make the tour director look like a rock star."

Varner has also enjoyed being involved with industry organizations and serving alongside other travel professionals, including his time serving on the National Tour Association (NTA) Board of Directors and his current position as NTA Vice President.

"In my previous career I've served on various boards, committees, etc. and I've never been around a group of people who have such a passion for serving their members," Varner said, encouraging industry newcomers to get involved. "You can do this—if you're willing to work hard and serve your customer! But you don't have to do it alone—that's what travel associations are for. If I hadn't joined NTA, I wouldn't have made it. I had people offer to help me with advice and counsel. This isn't brain surgery, but there are a lot of things you need to know, and you can't afford to reinvent the wheel too many times."


Before working in the travel industry, Varner was a dairy and chicken farmer his whole adult life, and still lives on the same farm in Missouri's Ozark Mountains.

Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for Groups Today.

This article originally appeared in the May/Jun '22 issue of Groups Today.


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