Creative Partnerships Make for Innovative Itineraries, with Sarah Imes

Episode 273

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Sarah Imes is an experienced Tourism professional with a demonstrated history of working in the event, hospitality, and tourism industry. Her current role is Tour & Travel Manager with Visit Ithaca.

Arriving in Ithaca for school and graduating (twice!) from Ithaca College, Sarah Imes fell in love with the area and began her career in radio sales before discovering hospitality. Two hotel sales jobs and a catering director gig later, she’s spent the last 6 + years with Visit Ithaca, sharing with travelers what makes Ithaca and the Finger Lakes Region magical.

On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Sarah Imes about why travel and tourism professionals need to prioritize building relationships, partnerships, and collaborations to move forward. We also dive into why listening is such an essential skill and how understanding how to build trust has helped her collaborate with others to build an experience that visitors love.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • How Sarah approaches sales and what she has learned during her career that impacts how she does her job today
  • Best practices that have helped Sarah build and cement relationships with neighboring counties
  • How Sarah makes Visit Ithaca stand out from the crowd amongst all the great destinations in her part of the world
  • Sarah shares her creative approach to packaging her destination for the tour and travel market
  • Examples of collaboration and coopetition in the wider New York area, including a truly innovative wine cruise partnership
  • How the Travel Alliance Partnership (TAP) regional pod has helped Sarah make connections with other destinations
  • The purpose of the Wine, Water, and Wonders program and how it enables international travelers to experience New York State
  • Steps Sarah takes to set her up for success when going into a new collaboration
  • How relationships with in-market stakeholders have changed and evolved as we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Sarah’s exciting future plans for Visit Ithaca

Make Your Destination Stand Out

As we move forward into a recovery phase for the travel and tourism industry, it’s critical to change your perspective and seek out complementary experiences. DMOs need to genuinely consider the point of view of the tour operator — listen to what the tour operator needs, how their business works, and what their customer is looking for from their trip.

When you understand your clients’ needs and put them at the forefront of your mind, it broadens your expertise in other areas. Sarah discusses how she embraces creativity and collaboration to bring visitors to her region and how she makes Ithaca stand out from the crowd now that travelers are eager to start exploring the world again. She describes some of the experiences and partnerships that she builds into the itineraries for tour operators.

Building Creative Itineraries

On the podcast, Sarah Imes shares her love of building relationships and describes her experience with Travel Alliance Partners (TAP). She explains how attending the TAP Dance event over the years has enabled her to be part of a supportive New York State pod that allows all of the member destinations to create wonderful itineraries stringing together all the different destinations through New York State.

Working together and organizing assets that paired well together into exceptional itineraries that tour operators could use for extended tours has created fantastic opportunities for both groups and individual travelers.

Valuable Relationships

Knowing your audience is, first and foremost, in being able to create an experience that they will love. The more you listen, the more you understand a tour operator’s business, the more you can tailor programs and become the go-to expert. You deepen relationships by really understanding who they’re marketing to, how they’re marketing, what their needs are, and responding to those needs.

Being able to tailor your elevator pitch, to speak, to the needs of the operator shows that you’re listening, that you know the resources you have around you, and who you can partner with to provide a unique experience is a crucial advantage of putting work into building genuine, long-standing relationships.


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