Mr. Maryland: Rich Gilbert
For those of us who’ve been in the group travel industry awhile, when you think of Maryland you automatically think of Rich Gilbert. The small state operates on a tight budget, but its consistency in the marketplace, creative marketing efforts, cooperative programs, and partnerships have positioned Maryland to be successful in all it does.
Rich began his career with the Maryland Office of Tourism in May 1987, and today leads the sales efforts of their travel trade program. He is active in associations including the American Bus Association, Pennsylvania Bus, Maryland Motorcoach Association, and Baltimore Tourism Association. Rich has received numerous awards for his service and dedication in the group travel industry, and we all could learn from his unique and simple perspective on what it takes to succeed in this market.
What is the biggest challenge you face as a state DMO?
The biggest challenge is staying relevant within the government agency. Some states don’t see it as beneficial, and have eliminated the position. It’s extremely important for the business community, and they can be your biggest advocates.
The suppliers in the state of Maryland have such a great camaraderie. To what do you attribute this level of teamwork?
Maryland is one of the smaller states, and we have never had a sizeable budget, so you get creative. It is something that I learned and is just ingrained in us. It comes from cooperative marketing efforts, trade shows, sales missions, and hosting marketplaces. We work together several times throughout the year.
From a state DMO perspective, how do you foster strong partnerships with your supplier members?
A lot of people say it is leadership; sometimes, all you have to do is ask for help. With hosting large events like the American Bus Association Marketplace in 2010 and the African American Travel Conference in 2012, it’s necessary to pull partners in from around the state. Everyone knows it is important to get them to the state … then get them to the individual area.
What advice would you give to suppliers about how partnering could help grow their business?
Don’t limit yourself. Create partnerships from your immediate area and partners from different areas that can prove mutually beneficial.
What is the most rewarding experience working for a state DMO?
It may sound simple, but the small notes that say “Thanks, I booked my first group” or “Thanks, my group loved their tour” mean the most.
What is one of the funniest moments you’ve shared with one of your partners on the road?
Since I am lucky enough to travel with a mostly female contingent—and I do not want any husbands or boyfriends coming after me—Rich Gilbert Rule #1: What happens on the road, stays on the road!
Written by: Kasie Smith, president and publisher of Groups Today magazine.