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Brooke Hamlett at Contact Tucson, Arizona

Connecting at Contact

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posted June 4, 2019
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Full circle.

That’s the phrase that best describes Contact 2019 in Tucson for me. You see, while I attended this year’s Contact as a new tour operator member with my role at Pleasurebent Tours, I actually hosted NTA’s Dawn Pettus and Katey Pease for their first scouting trip to Tucson back in 2016, when I worked for Visit Tucson. Now Courier has asked me to share my experience of moving from a DMO to “the other side.”

First let me set the stage for you at my first Travel Exchange, back in my DMO days. The year was 2014. The place: Los Angeles. Pam Inman was soon to take the reins from the interim leader of NTA, Catherine Prather. (Fast forward to the change-of-leadership announcement at Contact 2019, and you have one of my full-circle moments!)

I had started my DMO job just a few weeks prior to the show. I’ll be forever grateful to my Arizona city and state DMO colleagues for showing me the ropes. There is sense of teamwork that you develop with your state colleagues (in our state, at least, and probably in most). Over the next few years, I learned from not only them, but from DMO members from many other places as well.

Lesson No. 1 from the DMO side: Work together.

Truth be told, I was already coming from “the other side” at that 2014 TREX, having worked for an international receptive operator prior to landing at Visit Tucson. I could already empathize with operators’ frustration with long hotel contracts. I could anticipate their requests for net rates, group dining menus and royalty-free photos. I had been in their shoes.

And I noticed that successful DMO members, even if they hadn’t been on the other side, took the time to analyze their destination as an operator would and worked to find solutions based on that perspective, rather than just selling their destination.

Getting featured in a new itinerary takes more than just great scenery, hotels and attractions. For an operator to sell a destination, it must be appealing to specific end customers, and all the pieces that make a place group-friendly must come together. When it works, it’s because DMOs, suppliers and operators function as partners. Nothing is one-sided.

Lesson No. 2 from my DMO days: Make partnerships.

Work together. Make partnerships. It’s probably clear where I’m going with this. These lessons—along with too many others to fully explore here—are the same from the operator side. At Contact this year, conversation after conversation cemented this for me. Operators need to work together just as much as DMOs do in order to create best practices, advance with industry trends and raise the waters for all ships.

And they can’t do it alone. Operators need DMOs and suppliers as partners. After all, without new places and products for our tours, what would we have to sell our travelers?

My takeaway from all sides is that we work together for a common goal: to create the best tours possible so that our companies can flourish and our clients can enjoy the benefits of travel. I don’t think that goal changes, no matter what side you are on.

And I’d like to make a final suggestion. What if, instead of referring to “sides,” we saw ourselves as part of a circle—all connected to each other in a continuous loop of knowledge and partnership?

I’ve been lucky enough to experience most of the circle firsthand—from operator, to DMO, to hotel and back to operator. And I’ve been lucky enough to do it in an organization that already embraces this idea with its tagline, “Together. We go further.”

The next time someone asks me, “What’s it like to be on the other side?” I’m going to say that I’ve had the pleasure of simply moving to another part of the NTA circle.

Brooke Hamlett is senior director of tour operations for Pleasurebent Tours in Tucson.

Top photo: Brooke (second from right) and friends raise a glass.
Photo by Naim Hasan