Tag Archives: Destinations

Seeing the Awe, Not the Ugh.

Take me to the river. Széchenyi Chain Bridge, Budapest.

Take me to the river.   Széchenyi Chain Bridge, Budapest.

Back in the fourth grade one of the assignments given to my class was to research the history of a country.  I wanted England.  I was nine years old and I was really into English novels and all things British.   England was mine.

The teacher passed a hat around and asked us to pick a folded slip of paper from it and pass the hat to the student behind us.  My turn came and I dipped my hand into the hat, closed my eyes and willed England.  Instead, I got Hungary and the only thought that went through my head was—you gotta be kidding me (actually it was something else).

I asked my teacher if I could swap Hungary for England.  She said, no.  She was the teacher, I was the student, and this was Catholic school.  Back then, no really did mean no.   So I had myself a little pity party on the way home, got over my bad self and sucked it up that I was stuck with a country that I had no interest in, much less to write about.

I thought of that experience recently when I met with a group of travel counselors to discuss the value of them writing about their travels.   Many of them don’t think that they can write or they’re uncomfortable with the idea of it.  For others, there’s no interest or they just don’t see the value in it.  I get it, it’s not what they signed up for, it’s not in “the box” that’s their profession.  Throwing foreign stuff into the game of what we do every day and what we think we know can be startling and icky.

Recently, I wrote an article about developing your skills and interviewed career coach Kathy Gonzales.  She told me, “The thing that repulses you has gold inside.”  What exactly does she mean by that?  Basically, that we put roadblocks in front of ourselves that might prevent us from seeing an opportunity.  We assign an “ugh” instead of awe to an opportunity.   She also offered this advice, “Do something that you don’t want to do. Do something that you’re afraid to do because in the process of doing that you’ll open yourself up to removing certain blocks, you’ll open up perspectives, and you’ll learn something new.  Mostly, you’ll learn something that you thought you knew but don’t know.”

I get that doing something you don’t want to do is uncomfortable.  I also know that travel agents who take the first step and put pen to pad will discover a world inside themselves they didn’t know existed.  They’ll see the gold.

I reluctantly researched Hungary and the more I learned, the more I burned with curiosity about the place.   I begged my mom to make goulash but that wasn’t happening in our house.   In the end, I turned in my paper and turned out an A+.  It felt good, I felt good, I was on fire.

Decades later, I found myself in Hungary gazing at the magnificent stone, Széchenyi Chain Bridge that reaches over the Danube River connecting Buda to Pest.  I felt a connection to this place.  I also remembered my stubborn, younger self.  Funny how things shake out.

Yea, sometimes we have to push ourselves kicking and screaming into doing something we don’t want to do it.  But try it.  Give yourself a chance.  You just may discover you’re on fire.

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Discovering Southern Values.

Ruffner Nature Center in Birmingham.  (Photo credit:  A. Headrick)

Ruffner Nature Center’s view in Birmingham. (Photo credit: A. Headrick)

Travelers lucky enough to fly around the globe are always on the hunt for new and different experiences and perspectives. For anyone without a lot of time to spare or who like quick getaways, there are plenty of cities and towns in the good old U.S.A. offering amazing food, cultural and natural attractions, or historical value. One of them is Birmingham, Alabama. That’s right, Birmingham, Alabama.

Why Birmingham? Because this week in September marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement in this southern city and institutions are generating tourism by making civil rights relevant for a younger generation. That might sound like a strange thing for anyone who grew up during the Civil Rights Movement, or for those of us who grew up in racially mixed areas exposed to a generation of African-Americans that had to fight for their rights. It seems crazy that there are Americans who aren’t fully aware of the events that took place during what is probably the most turbulent period in American history, but there are. This year, Birmingham has seen an uptick in visitors—whether through school outings, individual travelers, or families who want their children to understand the facts and details of one of this country’s darkest periods.

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) opened in 1992 as an interpretive museum and research center.  BCRI is a cornerstone of this city and documents Birmingham’s role in the Civil Rights Movement.  Its mission is to promote civil and human rights worldwide.  Many of their education programs are geared towards young people with a goal to start a fire in the heels of the future. Their outreach education program reaches 20,000 people in various community spaces, and they have traveling exhibitions. The city gets its fair share of tour and convention groups, and individual travelers, who come to soak up the history by visiting BCRI and other historical places like the 16th Street Baptist Church, Bethel Baptist Church, and Kelly Ingram Park.

Kelly Ingram Park draws visitors to Birmingham.

Kelly Ingram Park draws visitors to Birmingham. (Photo credit: CLUI.)

For anyone pulling a weekender, there’s entertainment, outdoor activities, and nightlife. Whether your palate is high-brow or low-brow, you’ll find down home cooking and finger-licking barbecue, as well as some of the most exceptional food in the country. Over the past few years a handful of the city’s chefs were recognized with the James Beard Award and in Food + Wine. Its natural beauty is discovered at the 67-acre Birmingham Botanical Gardens, and five miles from the city is Ruffner Mountain Nature Center, a 1,000-acre preserve and urban forest with loads of hiking trails. State parks offer more opportunities to hike and bike year-round. Anyone into fishing will be happy to discover that Alabama is known as the “bass capital of the world.”

Birmingham shakes with history and It’s hard to go anywhere in the city without finding a place that’s significantly tied to the Civil Rights Movement. Its past is dark and complicated but the unity created by the brave, and mostly young, men and women during the Civil Rights Movement spurred a government to move this country forward.  It might not be a city that instantly comes to mind when you think about traveling in the U.S. but the historical and educational value, and southern hospitality,  you’ll find there is an excellent reason to visit.

It’s also one of the most affordable cities in the country.  If they don’t have it up their sleeve already, travel agents with the good habit of recommending destinations may want to add it to their list of places to visit in the U.S.

What Do Wildlife and Travel Advisors Have In Common?

King of the Serengeti.

King of the Serengeti.

Tourism is the number one driver in the economy of many countries, especially in Africa. Millions of travelers visit countries on that continent each year to experience the one thing most people blow off as a dream—a safari. The jungle is teeming with all sorts of wildlife but most travelers go to see the Big Five—the Cape buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion, and rhino. Few things compare to the thrill of seeing them up close and personal. It’s humbling. Sadly, over the past decade more and more of these animals are on the endangered species list because of the profit made from the illegal wildlife trade. Most notably, the elephant, the rhino, and the lion. Worldwide and local conservation organizations are doing their best to prevent their extinction but the future of these creatures doesn’t look good.

Young rhinos goofing around in South Africa.  (Photo by author.)

Young rhinos goofing around in South Africa. (Photo by author.)

One of the reasons is that the money poachers earn from slaughtering these animals provides a massive source of income. In turn, some of these profits are funneled to fund terrorist groups. It’s amazing what you’ll find when you follow the money, and you can learn more about this in Killing Lions, Buying Bombs.  I’m not certain of what the solution is to deter poaching, it’s multidimensional for sure but I do know that education plays a huge role.

Another is for the travel industry to recognize the direct threat it poses to its livelihood. Knowledge is power and travel advisors who stay informed and educated about conservation bring value to its efforts by being part of the conversation and raising awareness. Tourism generates billions of dollars to the industry each year from travelers who set their sights set on a safari. What would be the draw if these animals didn’t exist? Travel advisors matter. Every voice and advocate who partners with conservation efforts, on any level, matters.

Chillin' at Chobe in Botswana.  (Photo by author.)

Chillin’ at Chobe in Botswana. (Photo by author.)

On the flip side, the communities within these countries need to be educated about what the loss of tourist dollars would mean to their economy and livelihood. The money generated by tourism in these countries not only pays the people directly connected to the travel industry, but indirectly as well. If managed right, this money goes back into the infrastructure, schools, healthcare, and the protection of wildlife and its natural habitat.

The rising extinction of these animals is alarming, but the article Through The Eyes Of The Maasai is inspiring. For starters, it made me want to book a flight to Kenya. But what really got my attention is how the Maasai, a semi-nomadic people, through education and collaboration with local and international communities realize that to keep their culture they have to shift their way of thinking and living. The Maasai occupy large tracks of land near game parks in Kenya and in northern Tanzania, live under a communal land management and use seasonal rotation to manage their livestock. The Masai Mara National Reserve is a huge draw for tourists who visit to experience the bonanza of wildlife, especially the wildebeest migration and to see the big cats. The camps that offer accommodation, some on Maasai land, to these visitors benefit tremendously. For tourists, the value of the trip is usually immeasurable.

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Masai Dance, Maasai Mara Reserve,Kenya. The higher you jump the more women you can marry.(Photo credit: Dmitri Markine Photography)

Whatever side of the tourism road you’re on, education is key to preserving not just the wildlife but the habitat and way of life within the countries most folks regard as “bucket list” destinations.

Everything—from the lion to the livestock herder—is connected.


Travel Agents Leave Valuable Gem Behind.

The idea for this blog came from travel journals I’ve kept over the years.  As a kid I kept journals and as a traveler I keep them.  One day I figured, why not do something with them?  Which got me thinking that I wish I’d had this idea earlier.   Creating and managing conferences and incentive programs for the largest travel agency on the planet took me to some incredible and inspirational places.  But as the saying goes—hindsight is twenty-twenty, and I can see clearly now that I left the best opportunity behind when I come home and didn’t write about my travels. If you’re in this business, it’s because you’ve got a thing for travel so why not share it?

When did the travel bug bite you?  Were you 6, 16 or 60?  It doesn’t matter, there’s no cure and if even if there were, you wouldn’t want it.   What does matter is that you’ve got stories to tell.  Whatever type of travel you specialize in, you hold a post that gives you the opportunity to do more than whatever your job description says you do.  Sure, your job is to sell travel. It’s to keep customers who are happy with the service you give them coming back and it’s to attract new ones.   But the reach of your talents isn’t limited to that narrow scope.  Are you following me?

Ever heard this saying? “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”  If not, think about it for a moment and give it a chance to settle in, get comfortable with it. In fact, maybe cut and paste that quote into bigger font and then print it and put it some place prominent where you’ll see it every day.  This is about changing the way you view your role. It’s about discovering that the biggest perk of your job isn’t the free or discounted travel you get—although that’s a great bonus– it’s about the knowledge and experiences you gain. You’re a travel ambassador and if you’re not capturing your trip experiences–through writing or photography or video–then you’re cheating yourself, your customers and your organization.  If you don’t take advantage of the travel you could be doing, then get yourself out there and start connecting to the places that’ll inspire you and make you an expert and an advocate.

If right about now you’re thinking—I’m not a writer”–I’m going to challenge you.  It’s not about creating something along the lines of The Sun Also Rises (although you might have that in you), just a suggestion that you get comfortable with the idea that this is something you can do.   If you already like to write but you’re afraid of putting yourself out there, then I hope this gives you the push you need.  In either case it may take some time but that’s okay.   The more you pack along this idea when you travel, the more you’ll see how much sense it makes.

Capturing your travel in writing will help your professional and personal development.  It will make you a better communicator because it’ll enhance your ability to share what a destination feels like, smells like and tastes like and that will inspire your customers to want to experience it.

Writing is an exploration that’ll take you places you didn’t know existed.  It’s a lifetime journey–if you want it to be– that’ll make you a better observer of every place you visit.  Whether you’re at home or abroad.

This blog is my own journey into communicating my travel experiences.  Am I skittish to put myself out there in unchartered territory?  Sure, but it’s an expedition I’m eager to take.

I know you have stories too.  Let’s find your voice and share it.