Discussing 2022’s Coming Challenges and Opportunities at the 37th Annual Vermont Tourism Summit (Part One), with Nicole Mahoney

Episode 258

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For this first episode in a special two-part series of Destination on the Left episodes, my team visited the Vermont Tourism Summit (without me!) to interview attendees about their experiences working in the travel and tourism industry, especially during the outbreak of and our gradual emergence from the global pandemic. The Vermont Tourism Summit draws one of the largest gatherings of tourism professionals in the state including owners, managers, and employees of the many businesses connected to this important segment of the economy. This year’s Summit was the 37th annual event and was held from November 17-18 at the Killington Grand Resort Hotel in Killington, VT.

I’m delighted to share the insights and experiences that the Vermont Tourism Summit attendees were willing to offer during their interviews with my team. In this first episode of a special two-part Destination On The Left series, you’ll hear from these seven extraordinary travel and tourism leaders and experts:

  • Ana Dan, Owner and General Manager of the Hyde Away Inn & Restaurant
  • Bob Schwartz, Director of Marketing & Sales at the Trapp Family Lodge
  • Carrie Simmons, Executive Director of the Stowe Area Association
  • Diane Stockton-Breese, Director of Member Services at Okemo Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce
  • Fred Cercena, CEO and Founder of GetAway Vacations
  • Jenny Dewar, Owner of Karin’s Place
  • Josh Palace, Sales Manager at Spirit of Ethan Allen

Discussing Challenges and Opportunities at the Vermont Tourism Summit

The Vermont Tourism Summit is an annual event that brings together area travel and tourism professionals, businesses, and destinations. This year’s event offered a one-of-a-kind opportunity to discuss the many challenges and opportunities Vermont area destinations are navigating in this uniquely challenging time. My team traveled to the Vermont Tourism Summit for this year’s gathering and they were able to speak with seven brilliant leaders, and here are the inspiring insights they had to share.

Ana Dan from Hyde Away Inn & Restaurant

Ana discusses the properties she owns and shares how her properties are navigating the challenge of the global pandemic by investing in technologies such as air filtration to restore traveler confidence as we emerge from the crisis. She shares how the flux of people entering and leaving travel and tourism work has created hiring challenges that her businesses are navigating by hiring foreign workers to fill vital positions. She talks about creating a welcoming community for these incoming workers, and she discusses the critical need for affordable housing for these incoming workers. She discusses allocating a few of the rooms in her inn for workers as a stopgap measure until housing accommodations are made available on a permanent basis.

Bob Schwartz from the Trapp Family Lodge

Bob shares what excites him most about the coming year and the opportunities it presents. He discusses how people’s increasing comfort with international travel is building toward a potentially great year for his organization. He explains why creating the best experience possible for visitors is an important key to attracting international travelers.

Carrie Simmons from Stowe Area Association

Carrie shares why Stowe, Vermont is excited about the coming ski season and the events her town will be able to offer in 2022 as we continue to move out of the pandemic over the course of the coming year. She also discusses how her team is ramping up for this expected coming increase in area travel.

Diane Stockton-Breese from Okemo Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce

Diane shares some of the highlights the Okemo Valley area offers across the twelve towns and villages her organization represents. She discusses a unique, pandemic-safe event her organization offered over the summer of 2021, and she shares how the event showcased many of the area’s visitor offerings. She talks about some of the key lessons her organization was able to draw from the festival that they will be able to take forward as the pandemic eases, and she shares her optimism for how the event will continue to grow in the future.

Fred Cercena from GetAway Vacations

Fred discusses why his main focus going into 2022 is the increasing amount of reservations that have been coming in from online travel agents rather than through direct reservations on their website. He shares how relying on sites like Airbnb and Expedia has created new challenges that need to be navigated. He highlights some of the programs and campaigns his organization has developed to increase the number of direct bookings. He also discusses how visitor loyalty to the area is a key concern he will be focusing on throughout the coming year.

Jenny Dewar from Karin’s Place

Jenny shares what excites her about her position as a short-term rental destination owner going into 2022, and she describes how government programs such as the PPP loan helped her businesses stay afloat through the challenges of 2020, and she shares how 2021 became a watershed year for her businesses. She describes why she is excited about her new position as the Executive Director of the Better Bennington Corporation and the opportunity the position presents for her to help in revitalizing downtown Bennington and in bringing new and returning events to the area. Jenny explains how hiring a “social media genius” has helped get the word out about the exciting things the Better Bennington Corporation is doing in the area.

Josh Palace from Spirit of Ethan Allen

Josh discusses how business boomed for his organization in 2021, even without access to travelers from Canada and other international locations, thanks to the outstanding job the state of Vermont has done in navigating the pandemic. He shares why he expects 2022 to be even bigger once international borders are fully reopened. He shares how digital partnerships have become cornerstones of his organization’s success, and he shares how the area’s more than 200 attractions have worked collaboratively to support each other through the pandemic crisis. He describes feeling like an ambassador for Vermont when encouraging travelers to take a closer look at the area’s other offerings. He explains why a strong sense of collaboration has been instrumental to his own success in his position.

Great Excitement for the Coming New Year

As each of these Vermont area travel and tourism leaders discussed, there’s an abiding sense of optimism for 2022 as life continues to move beyond the pandemic. Through key collaborations with area partners and through developing a better understanding of travelers’ safety needs and entertainment expectations, these organizations are each positioning themselves for a stellar new year!

I hope you enjoyed this first episode of our special two-part series from the Vermont Tourism Summit. I hope the positivity and optimism these leaders have shared with us inspire you as we wrap up 2021 and turn the page for a bright new year. Next week, we’ll hear from eight more remarkable Vermont travel and tourism experts, so I hope you’ll join the conversation!

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