Belonging and Community

As leaders in the travel and tourism industry, the concept of community can take on various meanings. It might be rooted in the local community you call home or the one you tirelessly serve through your organization. Perhaps it’s the group you actively participate in or volunteer for, aligning yourself with a shared purpose. And let’s not forget our cherished “travel family” – those colleagues across the industry who feel like kindred spirits. Regardless of your perspective on community or where you find it, I firmly believe that being an integral part of a community, or even multiple communities, is essential for making a lasting impact. 

Have you ever walked into a room, joined a group or attended a tradeshow and felt like you finally found your people? If you have, you know what it is like to belong to a community that supports and uplifts you. Maybe your experience was similar to my first tradeshow – where you show up and you think they are your people – but you feel like an imposter or an outsider and you wonder if you really fit in. But you know if you keep showing up that you will become an insider and that you have found a place that aligns with your purpose.  

I am grateful for the many communities that I have found over the years and the support I have received from them. Finding the right community can make a huge difference in your personal and professional success.

Finding Community

Many of us in the travel, tourism & hospitality industry belong to associations and attend trade shows. These are great places to find like-minded people whose purpose aligns with yours. For example, I am preparing to attend American Bus Association’s annual Marketplace. The event is a place where business gets done on the show floor but it is also a place where relationships are made and deepened through shared experiences, one-on-one meetings, networking and educational sessions.  

Volunteering

Another place to find your community is through volunteer work. If you are part of industry associations, get involved. Consider joining a committee, volunteering your time at registration at a show, or working your way onto the board of directors. This will allow you to meet people from all over the world who share similar roles or passions as you and these networks can be invaluable to your personal and professional development. 

Peer Groups

Peer groups are more formal organizations created to help you to connect with others who have similar roles, organizations or interests as you. Your local destination marketing organization is a great place to look. Usually DMOs host stakeholder events, educational sessions or monthly meetings where you can find peers who will help and support you. One of my favorite examples of this at work is the Visitor Industry Council started by Visit Rochester in Rochester NY over 30 years ago. The VIC as it is known, is the membership arm of Visit Rochester. It is led by the members who engage in committees that direct programming for the DMO each year. The VIC meets monthly at a different location throughout the community and showcases member news, offers educational and networking opportunities. The mentorship that happens at these meetings and through the committee work is incredible to watch. I was recently at a VIC event and was excited to see so many new young professionals there alongside the more seasoned and experienced tourism and hospitality professionals in our region. 

Another place to find peer groups is through your chamber of commerce. Some chambers have formal councils for different interest areas like professional women, small businesses, tourism etc. Others offer leadership development programs and formal CEO groups. These are great resources for finding your community.  

Other places to look are national or international associations such as Accelerate Women Leaders in Travel, Travel Unity, or SKAL International.

Connecting with Your Community

So, you’ve found your community – a network of like-minded individuals who share your passions and professional endeavors. Now, the question is: How do you make the most out of this invaluable connection? Here are some best practices to help guide you:

Show up

The first step is simple yet powerful – be present. Attend events, meetings, and gatherings. Your physical or virtual presence reinforces your commitment to the community. You need to be there in order to develop a connection and to gain the benefits from belonging in the first place.  

Listen & Be Relentlessly Helpful

Engage with intention. Listen actively to the needs and challenges within your community. Offer your expertise, insights, and assistance generously. Be the person others can rely on. 

Relationships Over Transactions

Remember, it’s not about the sale or sealing the next business deal. Communities thrive on authentic relationships. Focus on serving others, and genuine connections will naturally lead to opportunities. 

Be Transparent

Openness fosters trust. Share your experiences, successes, and even setbacks. Transparency builds a more authentic community where members feel comfortable being themselves. Transparency is what will make you feel more connected.  

Communities without transparency feed what my friend Kris Kelso calls the Imposter. That little voice in your head that tells you that you are not good enough or that you do not belong. Kris says transparency starves the imposter. To hear more about overcoming the imposter, listen to my conversation with Kris on episode 220

Prioritize Time

Life and work can get busy, but prioritize spending time with your community. Whether it’s attending regular meet-ups or participating in online discussions, carving out time reinforces the importance you place on these connections. 

Lean on Your Community for Support

In challenging times, your community can be a pillar of strength. Take the recent global pandemic for instance. We saw firsthand how a rising tide lifts all boats when everyone came together to move through that uncertain time. Share your struggles, seek advice, and offer support. Your community is a valuable resource during both good times and down times. 

The Power of Community at Work

Our annual travel conference TAP Dance is an example of the power of community at work. The event was designed to cultivate and build a community of collaborators with the common purpose of creating travel products that will sell.

TAP Dance celebrates the collaboration opportunities between tour operators, destinations, attractions, and travel product suppliers. Suppliers meet with each TAP tour operator and discuss how best to bring business to their area. Many attendees tell us that this conference is a highlight each year as it is a perfect blend of productive business discussions, relationship-building, fun and an opportunity to experience the best of our host region. 

A distinctive facet of TAP Dance lies in our innovative approach to orchestrating supplier meetings with TAP tour operators. Each supplier attendee is thoughtfully assigned to regional groups, comprising three to four industry peers. Meetings last 25 minutes with engaging and focused discussions with TAP tour operator partners. During this time, suppliers can showcase their products or areas in a personal atmosphere for increased promotion throughout the TAP network. 

The Value of Community

Remember, the value you derive from your community is directly proportional to the effort you invest. By embodying these principles, you not only contribute to the collective success but also create a thriving environment where everyone benefits.  

Now, go out there, engage authentically, and watch your community flourish.