Four Elements of a Successful Collaboration, with Melinda Huntley

Episode 268

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Melinda Huntley is passionate about the travel industry and the value it brings to communities. She is the executive director of the Ohio Travel Association, a nonprofit organization focused on understanding the needs and wants of the industry, then doing the work through collaboration. Ohio Travel Association members include museums, attractions, visitor bureaus, retail shops, hotels, restaurants, and other businesses wanting to attract travelers. The organization also manages Heartland Travel Showcase, a 14-state regional meeting place for buying and selling group tours. With career experience in public relations at Cedar Point, running a CVB along Lake Erie, and helping communities develop heritage and outdoor experiences through OSU’s Ohio Sea Grant College Program, Melinda has a unique understanding of opportunities for businesses and communities of any size.

On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Melinda Huntley about the four elements that she believes make for a successful collaboration and how to apply them in real situations. Melinda also shares details of the innovative Epic Destinations program that the Ohio Travel Association is developing and dives into the ever-changing travel and tourism industry landscape.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • Why Melinda moved from Biomedical Communications into the travel and tourism industry
  • Why Melinda believes that working at a DMO was a life-changing experience for her
  • The many different areas of expertise you end up learning as part of a destination marketing organization
  • How to pick a niche market and build a program around it
  • How the Ohio birding collaborative project came about
  • Being active in the local community helps you recognize new marketing opportunities
  • How seeking collaboration in the face of opposition helps solve significant problems
  • The importance of finding common ground in making partnerships successful
  • The four elements that comprise a collaboration that really works
  • Telling the whole story of a destination, spotting opportunities, and digging into the details
  • Why it’s critical to focus on your ‘why’
  • Recent projects that Melinda has been involved in that have leveraged collaboration
  • The Ohio Travel and Tourism Academy and what they do to help tourism professionals
  • The Heartland Travel Showcase, Epic Group Travel, and why Melinda became interested in the unique selling points of group travel

How to Achieve Successful Collaborations

On this show, we’re all about building partnerships with others that benefit everyone. My discussion with Melinda was so valuable, and she shared so many golden nuggets in our conversation. She describes the four elements that are absolutely critical to achieving a successful collaboration. We discuss why you need to invite others to the table, why you shouldn’t be afraid to give credit elsewhere, how to understand the vital role that perception plays, and the importance of seeking out the root cause of making a change. We discuss in detail how to apply each of these elements, and Melinda provides specific examples of how she has used them in her organization.

We dive deep into the importance of focusing on your ‘why’ as a travel and tourism organization and seeing the end goal as the key achievement. Melinda steps us through her recent Birding project — how it got off the ground and why inviting others to the table really helped the Ohio Travel Organization get it off the ground.

Building Skills

Pivoting and evolving are skills we have all had to embrace recently, and as a community, professionals in the travel and tourism have had to do it more than most. Melinda describes how asking your stakeholders what they need is an oft-missed step in a project and shares why when you seek guidance, you can really make a difference.

Focusing on your stakeholders and your customers wise is essential when you’re trying to draw focus to our destination, but often we are tripped up by not making our value clear. Melinda shares an example of when she had to take a pause when organizing a virtual conference and go back to the bones of what attendees really wanted from the event.

Getting Ready for Group Travel

Melinda shares why she’s so excited about the group tour market and the possibility of leveraging the trend towards transformative travel and developing group experiences that are unique. The demand for curated travel in someone has accelerated because of the events of the last few years, so there is a real opportunity for destinations to set themselves up for success.

We discuss the importance of innovating in the space and move on from how group travel looked 20 years ago. Melinda shares the Epic Group Experiences — a training and recognition program for group travel, and how her team developed a designation program to share standards and best practices. Planning for the future is exciting and organizations like Melinda’s really are at the forefront of building collaborative networks that move the travel industry forward.



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