August 28

Tourism Conference Insider

Each year there are approximately 89,000 tourism industry conferences held all over the world. Sacramento is a pretty big deal so I go to about five of them.  In fact, I just got back from Quebec City where I attended the National Tour Association (NTA) conference known as “Contact.”

First let’s take a minute to appreciate how perfect the name “Contact” is. Obviously, the point of any conference is to make contact with other folks in the industry, so it’s got that going for it. But then, as a huge bonus, you get the initials of the association right smack in the of the word: CONTACT. The whole time I was at the show, I just kept thinking about how pumped the marketing people must have been at the official conference-naming meeting. High fives all-around!

On the downside, the conference has nothing to do with the 1997 Matthew McConaughey/Jodie Foster movie of the same name…at least not until I get myself on the board.

Anyhow, I thought I’d give you a little glimpse of what goes on at these shows.

First, you have to get there and Quebec City is a little tricky to get to from Sacramento. And it’s even trickier if you are super-dedicated to earning American Airlines miles. I flew overnight from Sacramento to Phoenix to Philadelphia to Quebec and arrived – without having slept a wink – at 10:30am.

Of course, since it was so early in the day, no rooms were ready at the hotel. And that was fine. I walked around the city for a bit and it was very French and really pretty. I drank coffee and ate pie which is a good way to start a visit to any city. It was raining, but I didn’t mind.

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Later, when my room still wasn’t ready and I was in a zombie-like trance, I simply sat in the lobby drinking wine straight from the bottle (had to buy a souvenir “Canada” opener). Turns out – and this is a real pro tourism tip right here – they will find a room for you real quick if you sit in the lobby and look like this:

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After a quick catnap, it was time to do actual tourism work….which contrary to popular opinion is a thing that actually exists.

When I travel for work to a place like Quebec people always ask something like “Is Quebec a big market for Sacramento?” And, no, probably it isn’t. But this is a convention! I’m not just wandering around Quebec handing out Old Sacramento flyers, I’m meeting with industry professionals from all over the world who could very well influence people to visit our fine city.

As proof, here’s a photo of part of my finger at a seminar conducted by Erik Wolf from the World Food Travel Association about what motivates the culinary traveler.

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For the record, Mr. Wolf, one of the top food travel experts in the whole world, said some very nice things about Sacramento’s food scene in his presentation. I’m taking credit for that.

There are seminars, round tables, research, networking sessions and one-on-one meetings with tour suppliers where I tell them all about Sacramento. That’s what happens at these shows. Real and actual work with charts and graphs and stuff. It isn’t all just eating pie and drinking wine straight from the bottle and staying out too late and making awful decisions…although that is like 90% of it (NOTE: If you are my boss, this last part is a joke).

There are tourism conferences specifically for student travel, senior travel, bus travel, domestic travel, international travel, and every other kind of travel.

This may come as a surprise, but a lot of people don’t know much about Sacramento. They don’t know John Sutter or the Pony Express, they don’t know Magpie Cafe, they’ve never had Ginger Elizabeth’s macacron ice cream sandwich or sipped on a Track 7 Panic IPA while watching the sun set over the American River. They don’t even know we have over 30 miles worth of paved bike trail, 11,000 hotel rooms, a billion wineries and the nicest, most beautiful people in whole world.

So that’s what I’m doing at these conferences, sharing Sacramento with the world.

I’m considering googling some tourism stats and putting them in this paragraph to show how absolutely immense the hospitality industry is and the role these conferences play in making it that way, but maybe you can just take my word for it and we can both be saved a lot of trouble.

The gist is that the hospitality industry is a huge part of the global economy and when I attend these conferences I’m out there fighting for Sacramento’s slice of the pie….and, hey, if there’s actual pie involved, even better.

 

 

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