Travelers unite in Austin

Published 11:02 am Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Group travel professionals are wrapping up the second day of the 2008 Great North Travel Show in Austin.

The show opened Monday at Holiday Inn of Austin Conference Center.

Today, the show participants are touring Hormel Institute, Paramount Theatre, Spam Museum, Mower County Historical Center and Greibrok’s Mini History Farm.

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When they’re done, they will take a motor coach south to Diamond Jo Casino west of Northwood, Iowa and then Albert Lea, where they will visit historical attractions in the Freeborn County city.

More than 30 exhibitors greeted them at the Holiday Inn of Austin Conference Center, including the Albert Lea and Austin Convention and Visitors Bureaus and travel planners as far away as Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, as well as Upper Midwest states including Iowa, Wisconsin and North Dakota.

Itineraries Minnesota sponsored the show, which wraps up in Albert Lea Wednesday.

Heather Lahren and Mark Peterson, co-publishers of Itineraries Minnesota and Field Trips Minnesota Travel Companion magazines, never met a side road they didn’t like so long as it had a historic church, museum, bed and breakfast, theater or other tourist attraction.

They have left no stone bridge undiscovered. No apple orchard unpicked to explore. No farmers market, dance hall, (Name a celebrity) slept here guest house ignored.

They live and breathe tourism in eight Upper Midwest states and two provinces of Canada.

All they want for Christmas and any other time during the year is another booking for a travel professional or planner and another happy outcome to anyone taking a motor coach tour.

Lahren and Peterson launched Itineraries Minnesota Nov. 1, 2001, when the nation was still recovering from the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks on America and tantamount concerns about air travel anywhere: Stateside or overseas.

“I knew we did not do enough as a state to promote travel,” Lahren said.

That’s what IM does: Promote travel ……. in the traveler’s own backyard.

“There was never anything out there like this,” said Lahren, “so people were thrilled to have Itineraries Minnesota to help them plan trips, make arrangements and prepare for a tour group to come to their town.”

“We have gotten so many cards and letters of thanks, because we are doing the work for them,” she said.

The excitement and enthusiasm of Lahren and Peterson reinforce the thought: Travel professionals and planners are re-discovering America.

The America next door, across the block, down the street, along side road.

Tourist attractions that offer a good value and an interesting time, which are, figuratively, at arm’s reach.

“With the price of gas what it is, these trips are even more important to Americans,” Lahren said.

“We don’t travel in our own backyards,” she said. “What I would like to see is that we try to get people to go to the next destination outside our own backyards,” she said.

“In Austin’s case, that would be Albert Lea or Lanesboro. Places closer to home,” Lahren said.

Her business partner, Peterson, calls it “regionalization.”

“It boils down to that one simple word,” Peterson said. “People may be doing fewer trips, but they’re doing longer trips; trips that take a longer amount of time.”

“Tourism is major player in our state’s and country’s economic engine,” he said. “We have a habit we have created and that habit is travel.”

According to Peterson, the travel trade industry has survived the trauma after the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks restricted travel and the high gas prices of last summer to become stronger.

“In what we call the ‘travel trade industry’ or the ‘motor coach industry,’ where we deal with groups,” Peterson said, “the two groups emerging the strongest are the active adults group and the student group.”

“Both groups are people who enjoy experiential travel,” he said.

Older travels take trips to observe. Younger travelers want to take trips to do things, according to Peterson, and both are fueling the motor coach industry’s growth and success.

Beth Altergott marketing and sales coordinator, for the Austin Convention/Visitors Bureau, took her position, during a break, at the CVB’s new display booth, during a break in the Monday afternoon Great North Group Travel Show schedule, ready to greet travel planners and sell them on making Austin and Mower County a travel destination.

“I hope all these tour planners, we are selling Austin to will bring their groups and many other groups back and stay overnight and see the SPAM Museum, the Hormel Historic Home, the Nature Center, Gerard of Minnesota and all the other things we have, Everything,” Altergott said was her personal goal for the show’s outcome.

“We’re fortunate for a small city to have so many things to see,” she said. “I’ve got three pages worth of destinations that we have right here in Austin that people might not know about,” Altergott said.

Sounds like a motor coach trip to be made, according to Carol Hill.

The Minneapolis woman represents the Minneapolis Aquatennial Senior Alumni group and liked what she heard at Monday’s show.

“I got some ideas here today for where we might go on our annual day trip in August,” she said. “I always wanted to go to that farm that has 39 rooms. That’s my personal favorite.”

Call her immediately, Altergott.