A Student's View: NTA TREX 17

By Emily Ayscue

If you have checked out NTA’s page for Travel Exchange ’17, you might have noticed TREX described as more than professional networking but a “chance for members to meet the travel world under one roof…and make lifelong friends while you’re at it”. This potential seemed achieved after seeing the keyword “relationships” noted five separate times in my conference notes. 

I observed three different types of relationships during TREX including those between TREX attendees, between myself and between the tourism industry and the rest of the world. 

Social capital dictates the currency of our industry. I witnessed many appointments shadowing my mentors where a portion of the time was spent sharing family photos or catching up on other personal developments. Even the appointments between new acquaintances were electric through the conduit of a love for travel and an altruistic desire to help one another succeed.  These authentic bonds inspire me to carry that tradition of the industry forward wherever my career path takes me.

Shadowing two mentors in different positions of the industry was an invaluable experience. Sitting with Lisa Itel at the Travel Oregon booth exposed me not only to their progressive programs such as “Travel Oregon Forever,” but also the symmetry between their state travel office and the other Oregon CVBs in this block on the trade show floor. This type of accessibility between organizations regardless of their scale of operation seems paramount in the pursuit of social capital.

As I walked around the trade show floor, I noticed a blackboard with people writing their goals for attending TREX. I grabbed a piece of chalk and wrote that I wanted to have connections we need in academia. In the bubble of academia, I sometimes feel disconnected from the industry that I love and study. The disconnect stems from a place of producing knowledge with uncertainty of who would use it. Our CVs are inundated with tourism research conferences, but TREX will be the first solely industry conference to fill those pages. I am proud of this experience, but invigorated to maintain industry engagements as part of my portfolio. This goal was especially inspired by my time with Melody Johnson, my second mentor. Her entrepreneurial journey has offered her many opportunities in the industry from owning and operating an inn on Mt. Hood to now running Falcon’s Crest Inc. In academia, we often read and write about entrepreneurs as the engine of innovation in tourism industry, but I am not sure how many of us receive the opportunity to spend time with one with their boots on the ground. What struck me the most about Melody was her upbeat attitude even when it was drawing close to quitting time on the floor. Noticing how full her appointment book was, I commented on how tired she must be. She promptly informed me “there is no time to be tired” and then invited me for some ice cream from the Oregon booth.

Honestly, I do not think she could be tired simply because how much she loves her job. In the bubble of academia, I sometimes feel disconnected from the industry that I love and study and do not really get to interact with the people who actually make it all work. Because of my mentoring opportunities, I have found this connection again and have recommitted myself to remain relevant to our industry through building relationships with those at every scale of its operations.

Before TREX, I also felt disconnected from fellow sustainable tourism researchers, because the field is young and growing. My connection with a fellow Tourism Cares scholar, E’Lisha Fogle, also working towards her sustainable tourism Ph.D. was beyond reassuring. While publications tend to dominate the currency of academia, for those with goals of extending the academy to stakeholders, relationships with like-minded colleagues is equally important.

It is exciting to have developed a friendship through TREX who shares the same pursuit of sustainable tourism development. The diversity of career goals and experiences of my other fellow Tourism Cares Scholars was equally impressive.

During our first student session “How to succeed in travel,” each Tourism Cares Scholar was able to talk a little bit about their career goals. From concert management, to finance for cruise lines, to education abroad, it seemed every aspect of the industry was covered. What struck me most was that a quarter of us around the table indicated the pursuit of a degree specifically focused on sustainable tourism development. The career specializations and pursuit of responsible tourism certainly speaks to the ever-evolving nature of this industry. One of my favorite times together was dining at Zia’s in The Hill Italian district. We dined, wined, and laughed the evening away before heading to the Tourism Rocks event. As we move forward, connecting through LinkedIn and Facebook, I have no doubt that we will all remain close allies towards building and supporting a tourism industry that future generations can also enjoy.

As noticed from my time on the Oregon block, the symmetry between everyone was unmistakable through the fast friendships we developed over the course of a few days. The gamut of educational backgrounds was also represented including bachelors, masters, and doctorate around the table speaking to the evolution and subsequent specializations of the industry

In many other fields, hierarchies persist based on the accumulation of knowledge, but I am proud to be a part of the field where experience is equally valued and where relationships matter more.

While we create relationships with each other over this uncanny passion to travel and provide hospitality to those on the move, we also have an inherent relationship with the communities that host us. These communities provide infrastructure, culture, and space for tourism to succeed. The work of organizations such as Tourism Cares who are committed to providing corporate social responsibility (CSR) training and support for the tourism industry is essential in identifying ways to give back to these communities in meaningful ways. The Tourism Cares workshop on “Engaging Clients in Giving and Meaning” sets an example for other tourism conferences, research and industry focused ones alike, where opportunities for conversations about how to integrate socially responsible practices into the industry can be had. The panel had an excellent array of industry stakeholders and of CSR initiatives implemented by each company represented.

I learned that CSR tends to optimally perform when initiatives meet the needs of our communities and reflect the values of the companies implementing them. Hard Rock Café has created their CSR groove in the industry with their charity “Hard Rock Heals.” With a goal to support music centric health and wellness programs and fund scholarships to cafes around the world described by panelist Tara Hippensteel, they seem to have found CSR in a way that truly represents their company. Communities are not always defined by physical borders. Sometimes, they exist across individuals with similar attributes, values and interests. Academic Travel Abroad panelist Kate Desvenain, spoke of their company’s focus on communities of diverse students traveling to non-western European countries through their “Fund for Education Abroad,” which exemplifies another type of CSR in which the industry can engage. Their company has also found ways to engage their employees in a socially responsible way by allotting a special day off for philanthropy pursuits.

Socially responsible initiatives could also mean contributing to the health of our environments for future generations to enjoy. In honor of the centennial of the National Park Service last year, Nish Patel from Mayflower Tours described how the company donated $5 per person for each National Park visited to Tourism Cares for restoration projects within the parks. Channeling their CSR through Tourism Cares exhibited solidarity within the industry and support for an organization whose mission is to help businesses implement their initiatives. To incorporate CSR into your business strategy, it has to make economic sense. Our panelist from Travel Oregon, Lisa Itel, described the “Travel Oregon Forever” fund which business owners can join to donate to projects all across the state to support the tourism industry in return for distinction through preferred marketing and other incentives. This example of CSR not only accomplishes the environmentally and socially responsible goals of tourism development in Oregon, but provides the economic incentives that make CSR economically feasible for these businesses. 

All of these internal and external relationships we forge in this industry provide us with social capital to accomplish our common goal, which was nicely said by Bruce Beckham: “In travel and tourism you make people’s dreams come true.” Through our commitment to authentic bonds and progressive development pathways such as CSR, I believe that we can continue fulfilling dreams in many years to come.