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Education resource for the group travel supplier


Wednesday, 30 January 2013 16:34

First Attraction Announced as ABA Marketplace Chairman

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For sixty-eight years, Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry Service has been transporting travelers to Mackinac Island. Chris Shepler takes the helm of his family business, now with its third generation of leadership. And ABA members—if they don’t know him already—will get to know him even better as he leads the 2014 ABA Marketplace into Nashville. We had a chance to sit down and chat with Chris about what we could expect at Marketplace, his advice for group travel suppliers, and what he feels led to his selection as the first attraction chairman of ABA Marketplace.

 What could suppliers expect for Marketplace 2014?

Nashville is one of the coolest cities in the world—a great destination—and our association will be downtown for the first time in their new convention center. Butch Spyridon, the president of Nashville CVB, and his team are excited to have ABA, and attendees will be in for a huge surprise. From the honky-tonks downtown to the Southern cuisine, it’s easy to get excited about going to Nashville. 

From a business opportunities perspective, ABA does a great job at listening to the Marketplace Advisory Committee. The MAC will figure out what worked and what didn’t, and adjust accordingly for 2014. The information they glean will help them strategically plan for the best possible platform for suppliers, DMOs, and tour operators. Change will be expected, but that will come from feedback from this year.

You are the first supplier to be named Marketplace chairman. To what do you attribute your successes as a supplier in the group travel industry?

Longevity and consistency. My first conference was Buffalo in 1990, where my dad introduced me to everyone. It didn't take me long to figure out that it’s important to be visible, establish relationships, and be consistent. I’ve been to twenty-three ABA and NTA conventions. It didn’t happen overnight. I come at the beginning of conferences and stayed through the end. So many things spark the visibility of your company, from volunteering, attending breakfasts and lunches—and even going to the bathroom. If you’re always around, you’ll be bound to meet people and expand your network. I started volunteering with the organizations and saying “yes” when people asked me to get involved. It didn’t happen overnight. In fact, it took about ten to twelve years to start being asked. But it was worth it. The professional development as an individual from the educational seminars, networking, and relationship building is important. We understand it’s about relationship building, and we live by that creed and know that every contact is potential business.

What advice would you give to other group travel suppliers?

Volunteer as much as you can, as it forges relationships. The group travel industry, more so than any other industry, is built on relationships. And the relationship you build with suppliers is equally important as the relationship with operators. Getting to know everyone in the association builds momentum. Other suppliers and operators will provide testimonials—“If you’re going to Mackinac, he's the guy to use.” People need to know they are being taken care of. It’s like the Facebook concept: They have friends and can make introductions—the more tentacles you have out there leads to potential introductions that could lead to business. The more people you know, the more opportunities you have for business relationships.

In addition to relationships, suppliers need to understand ROI doesn't happen overnight in this industry. You might be working on a piece of business for five years before you get it. Be upfront and honest with your boss about the realistic expectations of the market. But remember, once you get that business, if you have a good relationship and treat them well, they will be with you for the long haul. 

And lastly, don't be afraid to stick your hand out, say “hello,” and introduce yourself. When you sit at a table for lunch, walk around and introduce yourself to everyone at the table. You never know where your next business might come from.

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