Did you know that more than 40% of visitors to The Corning Museum of Glass arrive on tour buses? The person responsible for this number is Sally Berry, the tourism sales and marketing manager at the Museum. Sally, who lives in Canandaigua, NY was recently named an Innovator of the Year by Groups Today magazine. We sat down with her to ask her a few questions.
How did you get your start in the travel and tourism industry?
It’s a funny thing, but I often hear other staff saying “I have the best job in the world!” And working at The Corning Museum of Glass certainly offers opportunities that would make anyone think that—staff development, travel, and the chance to represent the world’s largest (and most amazing) glass museum wherever you go.
However, I keep this secret to myself—I really have the best job in the world. My title, Tourism Sales and Marketing manager, is an official way to say that my job is to bring everyone in the world through the doors of the Museum. That includes visitors from China, Australia, and India, as well as our neighbors in Corning.
I have worked in the tourism industry for many years and have been at The Corning Museum of Glass for five. Many people don’t realize that tourism is a career path—I certainly didn’t when I was looking at colleges! I worked at a resort in the Adirondacks through my summers in college and had a wonderful time, but never thought that hospitality was the industry where I would make my mark.
How important is group visitation to the Museum, and to regional tourism in general?
Tourism is big business, especially in New York State. Our Governor recently announced that the economic impact of our state’s tourism industry reached $100 billion for the first time ever. Tourism spending in the Finger Lakes region includes lodging stays, winery visits and oftentimes, visits to The Corning Museum of Glass.
You developed innovative programs specifically for servicing the Chinese visitor market. Will you tell us a bit about that?
My job involves a lot of travel. Our biggest group tour clients are the large Chinese tour companies based in NYC. These companies have been growing quickly over the last few years as the number of visitors from China coming to the U.S. has grown. CMoG was one of the first attractions in the country to realize the potential of this market and we have been providing live Mandarin narration of our popular Hot Glass Demonstrations for many years now. I also travel to tour operator offices in Los Angeles and Toronto.
Many years ago, the majority of group tours were U.S-based companies with senior citizens as their main customer base. That has changed in the last five years. Seniors are staying closer to home and like to do day trips. However, the decline in that market has been offset by the growth of the international visitors who want to see the U.S., but aren’t ready to drive themselves. Last year we welcomed tour groups from over 20 countries. We offer brochures in nine languages, and installed a large map of New York state in our courtyard entrance so international visitors can get an idea of where they are. We see many families taking their photos near the map!
The travel and tourism industry is always evolving. How do you stay on top of change?
Trade shows and conventions are where I meet with tour companies and tell them about all there is for their customers to see and do when they come to our museum. When I first started in the industry, all the tourism sellers had three-ring binders with photos. We would flip through the pages and discuss the images. Now everyone uses iPads and we can easily show a short video of how the group will enjoy their time. Technology is definitely our friend!
Tourism is a fascinating and complex industry. It involves economics, psychology, politics (at local, national and international levels) and rapidly changing technology. In the past, our guests were surprised and delighted at what they saw during a visit. Now many of our guests have researched our website online and know exactly what they want to see and do when they visit.
It sounds like partnerships are a valuable resource in the travel and tourism industry. How do you foster those relationships?
It can be a challenge to be the attraction or region that a tour operator chooses to send groups. Many destinations are vying for this valuable business. An average motor coach group will spend about $4000 in a 24 hour-period, including meals, lodging and other purchases. We are lucky that we are located between NYC and Niagara Falls, which are two locations that many international visitors want to see. We also help the companies to develop entire itineraries in order to insure that the Museum is included. We often recommend the Rockwell Museum, Watkins Glen or Letchworth State Park, or a winery. The Finger Lakes Wine Festival at the Watkins Glen Race track is also a very popular group tour package.
Thinking beyond our own museum walls and partnering with others is one of the reasons I was recently named a Top Innovator in the Group Tour industry by Groups Today magazine. I was so pleased that many of my peers in the industry took the time to nominate me. I make networking and reaching out to others a part of my daily work. I learned long ago that people like to do business with people they know and like so I often say my job is to make sure people know me and like me!