Rich Figueroa is the special events coordinator for the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, which is based just west of Green Bay. Figueroa shares his experiences and reactions from Travel Exchange 2017, the convention held by the National Tour Association in St. Louis, and also his thoughts before the next edition of the event, which took place in San Antonio in December 2017.
Notes following Travel Exchange in St. Louis (February 2017):
By the time I received approval to attend Travel Exchange in St. Louis, it was too late to request appointments, so I sat in the Circle Wisconsin booth and shared appointments with Wendy Dobrzynski. Events like this weren’t foreign to me, and it was pretty much what I expected.
I liked the way it was laid out, format-wise: DMOs have the first two days, and suppliers have the next two. I took appointments as a DMO for Oneida and set up additional appointments for the supplier exchange days. I went on the NTA website and researched some operators and walked the floor to make appointments with them. In all, I took about 30 appointments.
Considering I walked through the doors with zero appointments, I felt good about that.
On representing a Native American destination:
It was a positive experience, and people were very receptive to me as a Native American. I always find it fascinating when people react towards me like we’re a lost culture. It’s uplifting to hear them get excited about Native America and that there’s tourism product out there.
At the same time, I sink a bit. This is such a gold mine for tribal people nationwide, but many tribes want to protect their lands and way of life. I completely understand that. Non-tribal people try to mimic our culture and mass produce it for profit, and while Oneida Wisconsin doesn’t have too much of a problem with that, other tribes are hesitant to share the heritage. So, given that, tourism product is difficult to find for non-tribal people.
Preparing for Travel Exchange in San Antonio (December 2017):
Sitting in with Circle Wisconsin in St. Louis enabled me to get a feel for the flow of the event and see how things run. Based on that experience, I know what I need to bring and prepare ahead of time so that my solo experience as a DMO is a fulfilling one that Oneida Nation can profit from.
Some of the things I’ll need: a sales “one-sheeter,” visual advertising (pop-up displays) and a lead-capturing plan to enhance what I share with potential clients. Follow-up materials and data-capturing systems can help organize hard leads from the soft ones.
I’m heading to San Antonio with one of our hotel representatives, whose focus is motorcoach and group sales, and a representative from our local CVB. Together we can share leads and combine appointments to bring people to our area.
It’ll work this way: The CVB and I are DMOs, and the rep from our hotel is a supplier. I have about 18 appointments, and the CVB has 29 appointments. Of those 29, she has 25 that I can attend, which brings me to 43. And I’ll be able to go with my hotel rep on her 15 appointments. This will bring my overall appointments to 58 out of a maximum of 60—not to mention the additional appointments I make at the networking functions.
Travel Exchange should be a good show for me, my organization and the greater Green Bay area.
Top photo: Rich Figueroa of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin (right) with Amanda LaFave of the Green Bay Radisson Hotel & Conference Center.
Photo by Naim Hasan