It's safe to say the travel industry, along with the rest of the world, is changing. Along with these changes are evolutions in the way we think about our day-to-day operations, approaches to self-care and ideas for future growth and expansion.
To get some expert insight from an industry veteran with years of leadership wisdom, Groups Today caught up with Greg Takehara, CEO of Tourism Cares, for the next interview in our Q&A series, Ask the Exec.
The series serves as an opportunity to sit down with some of the most recognizable faces in industry leadership to get their perspectives on travel recovery, mental health, industry innovation and more. Keep reading to learn what insight Takehara had to share.
Groups Today: What opportunities do you see for the industry to build back better in the wake of the pandemic?
Greg Takehara: We were fortunate to learn valuable lessons from the pandemic and these must not be forgotten. We gained a sense of coming together as an industry, as a community, understanding that no one of us can meet today's challenges alone. In confronting climate action and the threats to the people and places of travel who provide us with the experiences that we sell, as well as our livelihoods, we must work together and meet aggressive goals to ensure we have a future. We must adopt and champion sustainability as being foundational to our business model and core values. We must embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion as cornerstones of our work.
Groups Today: When it comes to sustainability, how can leaders and business owners ensure they're taking the proper steps to move the industry forward in an environmentally conscious way?
Greg Takehara: There are so many resources and thought leaders. Get started, measure your progress, and seek help. Tourism Cares and movements such as B Corp foster a spirit of cooperation and support, lending best practices and real encouragement, that dispels any notion of competition. True leaders see the big picture, understand that we must all be part of this journey, and that we can all reap the rewards.
Groups Today: What's something you've done to benefit your mental health since the pandemic began?
Greg Takehara: My husband and I adopted senior rescue dogs over two years ago. They were then 13-year-old Shiba Inu brothers—Billy and Whitey—named after the famed Bulger brothers. They trained us to be conscientious and loving owners and gave us love and perspective while we managed our pandemic lives.
Groups Today: Similarly, how do you recommend businesses and organizations ensure their teams are prioritizing their mental health after the traumatic couple years we've had?
Greg Takehara: Listen to their voices, engage in journeys with them and support your local communities. There is so much engagement to be had, where support, encouragement and togetherness exist.
Groups Today: What's one prediction you would make about the industry in the next two years?
Greg Takehara: I think that progress will be made through radical collaboration. As mentioned above, there will be strong adoption of the principle that we cannot do the necessary work alone and that will be coupled with a sense of urgency.
Groups Today: As we move forward, what do our readers need to know about Tourism Cares?
Greg Takehara: Tourism Cares convenes, educates, and inspires our industry and we welcome all who seek to advance its collective impact. We use the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as guideposts for our work and we look to meet everyone where they are at on their sustainability journey. Tourism Cares has training and best practice tools to share, as well as convening spaces to help our members connect the dots and stay focused on the work necessary to ensure our longevity. We look to inspire and be inspired.
Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for Groups Today.
Tourism Manager | Visit Detroit
Though it took Jennifer Ollinger a few years to discover her niche working in tourism, she began her work on the Visit Detroit team 23 years ago. Like many, Ollinger was furloughed during the pandemic for five months, but has since returned to her role at Visit Detroit and currently promotes and sells Metro Detroit as a destination for group and FIT travel, both domestically and internationally. She also currently assists with visiting media doing travel related stories on the Motor City.
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!
Vice President and Owner | GoPegasus
Born in Brazil to a family of trailblazers in the travel industry, Claudia Menezes was exposed to the world of travel at a young age and her passion for the industry has only grown since. She has spent over 30 years founding and managing various tour companies, and has held the position of Vice President and Owner of GoPegasus alongside her husband since 2001.
Menezes is always looking for opportunities for innovation and, with her team, strives to push the boundaries to offer new ideas and experiences for groups, including a newly-launched program: Art on Wheels.
"The idea came from the fact that we have groups who are constantly on social media while loading into the buses," Menezes explained. "We thought, 'what if we make our buses into moving instagrammable walls of art?' The program has been a huge hit already and features one-of-a-kind works of art from local artists in partnership with United Arts, Orlando City Soccer, and more to come. This is just one of the ways that we look to constantly add to the overall experience. It's the little things that often make the biggest impact."
For Menezes, being part of the travel industry means coming in with passion—something she and her team do well.
"Everything we do at GoPegasus stems from this passion to bring someone's travel dreams to a realization," she said. "That's why we have worked hard to become the best at what we do; to truly build a company and brand recognized for exceptional guest service. At the end of the day, when someone is booking with us, we strive to be synonymous with loyalty, integrity and every experience we build for a group is centered around this."
While there have been many lessons along the way, Menezes believes that every challenge is simply an opportunity in disguise.
"This is the way we tackle each and every task and have stayed authentic to who we are while steadily building a successful business," she said. "To have others look to our success story is truly a dream come true. We know that if we do it right, it's not about instant reward but building a solid foundation and the benefit will come later."
When it comes to what others can do to be influencers in their own group travel circles, Menezes says it's all about networking.
"We've been incredibly active in the community since inception of the company and have found there's an opportunity in almost every business we come in contact with. It's not always about the bottom line," Menezes explains. "The majority of the time, we've found that the more value added through amazing community partners that we include for our groups, the better the overall experience. When you do good work and provide a solid foundation of service—especially when including your community partners—the business will come."
Like everyone, Menezes is looking forward to the rebound of the travel market in the wake of COVID-19. She acknowledges, however, how the pandemic provided an opportunity for a reset and the chance to reflect on what could be improved and how.
"We need to understand the power that we have as the travel industry and involve partners in all areas of the community to help showcase how travel can benefit everyone in any segment," she said. "We have to remind ourselves that our industry is one of the largest and we are ambassadors for change, global acceptance, and the preservation of culture by showcasing new experiences to groups everywhere from around the globe.
"We are an industry that is so essential in the world right now—our message is one of peace, enjoyment and happiness, and it's our job to continue to celebrate each other by exposing new people to new exciting experiences every day."
To read more about the rest of the 2022 Influencers of Group Travel, click here.
Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for Groups Today.