Everyone has that one person in their circle; that trusted individual you can go to for informed guidance, sage advice, valuable experience and more. That person who never fails to bring fresh ideas to the table and challenges what has always been in order to build something better.
In the group travel industry, these are the leaders who have risen to the surface as folks who are always willing to try new things, bolster innovation within the industry, drive others in a positive direction, and are recognizable among group travel professionals as someone who can be relied upon.
We asked our readers to share who among their industry peers should be recognized for their efforts in this realm. Those who were selected to be among the 2022 Influencers of Group Travel were featured in a recent issue of Groups Today. Keep reading to get to know them!
CEO | Civil Rights Trail Tours
Managing Director | Tourism Pathways
For 35 years, Leon Burnette has served as a Professional Tour Director and Logistics Manager for A-list music recording artists including the Commodores, Rick James, Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, Quincy Jones, and more. As CEO of Civil Rights Trail Tours, Leon Burnette uses Black heritage tourism as a tool for tourism sustainability, educational opportunities, and new job creation.
In addition, Burnette is the Managing Director and Architect of the Tourism Pathways Project, a group DEI tourism initiative working with group tour operators to help make structural changes in their recruiting, hiring and overall DEI efforts. Over the next five years, The Pathways Project aims to place 300 to 500 individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds in positions throughout the industry.
"I'm a Black man, who is also a group tour professional ... I'm almost standing alone in the group travel and tourism industry," Burnette said. "It means the world to be someone the industry listens to, seeks guidance and leadership from, and to feel supported in my vision for equity and inclusion in the group travel industry. I hope to continue promoting the benefits of travel and developing a sustainable pipeline of training and career opportunities to more individuals in Black colleges and Indian Nations across America."
Burnette explains that the mission of the Tourism Pathways Project is to change the color of the group travel industry by reducing the barriers for BIPOC individuals who want to pursue careers as group tourism professionals, whether they lack money, training or representation.
When it comes to what others can do to influence their own communities and professional circles, Burnette offered some insight.
"Be committed to respecting the socio-cultural authenticity of the communities tour operators visit, and preserve and support the history, culture and economies of their communities," Burnette said.
He emphasized the importance of providing unique authentic and cultural travel experiences that contribute to intercultural understanding and tolerance, along with promoting tourism career opportunities to underserved individuals in the communities they are based in and travel to.
According to Burnette, as travel continues to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, there are several ways the industry can grow to be better.
"Group tour operators should develop a sustained and long-term commitment to create more diverse itineraries, share more diverse stories, and hire diverse voices and storytellers that can design, lead and manage their group tour experiences and packages."
To read more about the rest of the 2022 Influencers of Group Travel, click here.
Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor of Groups Today.
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.
Carylann Assante, CAE is a lifelong learner with a passion for travel that began with her family's annual vacation. Her desire to travel led her to major in art and languages at Vanderbilt University, where she studied abroad in Spain and France.
While her original plan was to travel art collections, she switched to people when she began her career at a historic hotel in Washington DC. She specialized in meetings and events in the hospitality industry, student and youth programs in higher education and leading not-for-profits and associations. She eventually became the CEO of SYTA and the SYTA Youth Foundation and today leads this global association for student and youth travel.
Though Marcie Ellison Outerbridge, General Manager, Sales, Group Travel, Ellison Travel & Tours, officially joined her family business in 2004, her background in travel truly began in 1980 when her father started the company, known then as "It's a Small World Travel."
"Travel was a part of my life from then on, whether I was hopping on a day trip to Canada's Wonderland or joining a group trip with my Dad to NYC," Ellison Outerbridge explained. "My first job with Ellison was cleaning the office and eventually I worked there on Saturdays and in the summers."