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Carson Chamber’s fundraiser: Get members out of town

Anne Knowles

Business is booming at the Carson City Chamber of Commerce.

The travel business, that is.

Always on the lookout for ways to supplement its dues-based revenue, the capital city chamber decided to take flight with travel tours a few years ago.

Now its travel club boasts 200 members, offers eight trips a year to Australia, Ireland, China and elsewhere and brings in between $20,000 and $40,000 in additional revenue for the group.

“Travel has been really great,” says Ronni Hannaman, executive director of the Carson chamber. “Every chamber should be doing this.”

Hannaman, a former travel agent and tourism director for the city of San Diego, didn’t come up with the idea on her own. But her experience helped her recognize a good offer when she saw one.

“I didn’t even know chambers had travel programs until about three years ago, but I understood it right away,” says Hannaman.

That’s when Collette Vacations, the 95 year-old tour operator, approached the group with a proposition: sign up members of the chamber or the community on Collette tours and Collette will give the chamber a piece of the package price in exchange.

“We get five to 10 percent of the booking which is pretty standard in the industry,” says Hannaman.

Hannaman says other chambers are reluctant to get into travel for fear it is a lot of work for staff. But she says the Carson City chamber markets the tours at special events like a like a wine-and-cheese tasting party it is holding in February to promote an upcoming Rhone River cruise in Europe, and the tour takes care of the rest.

Travelers who sign up through the chamber are picked up at the chamber to start their trip, and dropped off there at the end, with all transportation on the ground and in the air, and all other accommodations, provided by the travel company.

“A lot of the senior citizens like it because they know what they’re paying in advance,” says Hannaman. “Or they’ve never been to Europe and want to go in a group of peers.”

Hannaman said travelers can come from anywhere. She just signed up a couple from Dallas who wanted to travel on the same tour to Ireland with friends from Carson City.

In fact, more local residents take advantage of the tours than chamber members.

“A lot of chamber members are too busy to travel,” says Hannaman.

Collette Vacations will take as few as two people, who join up with another tour group at the destination. Citslinc International, another operator the chamber hooked up with for tours to China the last three years and to Hong Kong and Thailand in the coming year, requires the chamber to sign up at least 25 clients.

The tours don’t have a business element, although Citslinc, in particular, will set up meetings between like-minded entities in China and elsewhere. For example, Hannaman says a federal judge from the area is going to China this year and plans to meet with a Chinese judge there, a meeting arranged for him by Citslinc.

Hannaman says the chamber’s main business remains recruiting members. The Carson City chamber has about 600 members who pay $275 in annual fees. But she says the travel business has turned out to be a great adjunct.

“Getting new members is always our number one priority, but this takes some of the pressure off,” says Hannaman. “Plus, it’s fun.”


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