Q&A With Tom Haberland of Valley Forge CVB
Having been a construction worker his whole life, Tom Haberland decided in 1989 that it was time to make a career move. He handed his résumé to a hotelier—and never looked back. The hotel manager gave Tom ninety days to prove himself; twenty-four years later, he continues to prove that decision right. Tom was, most recently, the Director of Tourism Sales for the Valley Forge Convention and Visitors Bureau, and he just finished celebrating his last year of serving the tour and travel industry. We had the chance to sit down and chat with Tom about his career, and about what advice he would leave the industry with as he retired at the end of 2013.
What advice would you give to new people entering the tour and travel market?
Get to know people. More so than any other industry, it's about relationships building. If you have a great relationship with an operator and you give them what they are looking for—even if someone else offers a better rate—they will stay with you. It’s not worth a couple extra dollars of saving to leave a good relationship.
What has helped you to be so successful?
You have to be open-minded, take advice from others who work for you, and, most importantly, be flexible. You must be flexible with tour operators and be able to bend. Find out what they want, and do your best to give it to them.
Valley Forge CVB has been successful with its marketing decisions. What advice would you give to other suppliers when planning their marketing budgets?
I’ve always been tough on the sales people I advertise with. Look for a media company that remembers to follow up with you and works with you. It’s important to be flexible and communicate about our editorial needs. A staff that listens and helps when they can, and communicates effectively when they can’t, is critical.
What do you want your legacy to be when you leave?
That I was tough but fair, kind, and I fought for what I believed in. I have three of the best sales managers one could ask for, and they don’t have to change anything. They are the best. They have made my job that much easier.
What type of training did you do to make your team the best at what they do?
Take what skills they already have and enhance it. Don't make them what they aren’t. If they aren't outgoing, don’t force it. If they have a strong attention to detail, let them be detailed, and develop on top of that.
What is special about Valley Forge?
We form a relationship with our clients and let them know that everything will get done. It’s hard to sell the first time, so our goal is to treat them well while we have them, so they don’t leave. We try to greet every group that comes to our area, provide gifts to each group, and send Christmas gifts to our top seventy operators, showing them our appreciation.
Tell our readers more about why you do the gifts for travelers on coaches.
As a CVB, reporting is critical to our overall success. So, we provide gifts to everyone on a group tour. If the hotel lets us know there’s a coach staying, we will make a welcome visit and provide the gifts. This incentivizes the hotel to report the groups, so we know if our marketing is working, and we are relentless about following up.
Any last words?
I’m going to miss it, especially the relationships I’ve built. As much as I’m looking forward to retirement, it will be sad saying good-bye.