Jamie Biesiada
Jamie Biesiada

When the networking group Young Travel Professionals (YTP) ceased operating a year ago, some of members of its Tampa chapter approached Steven Gould, president and CEO of Goulds Travel in Clearwater, Fla., about keeping the group going in some form.

Gould got to thinking. YTP had been great for getting together with other travel professionals socially and networking, he said. But he also wanted to up the educational aspect of anything he started.

"I decided to put together more of an educational networking group," he said. 

The initials of "educational networking group," ENG, sound like engage, and Engage Tourism was born. Engage is a nonprofit dedicated to hosting networking events and educational opportunities for travel advisors.

"We really created it to provide more of a collaboration with different professionals who are in the industry who are veteran professionals as well as those who are newer to the industry, so we could kind of pair up the people that have those experiences with the people that need those experiences," Gould said.

Initially, Gould said, he is working to build up Engage Tourism's presence in Tampa. After a solid foundation is in place, he said, he hopes the group will spread, with chapters in multiple cities.

Engage Tourism was supposed to hold a kickoff in Tampa in March, but the coronavirus crisis put that on hold. Instead, Gould said, he pivoted the group to a virtual platform.

He began a virtual happy hour group on Facebook that now has more than 400 members, and he holds regular meetings with members.

Topics of discussion vary. The group has touched on building your business through reviews, referrals and recommendations; domestic destinations; international destinations; setting goals; and even a memorable "dumpster fire" event.

"We all understand that we're in this together, and it's been a tough time and we feel like we're in the middle of a dumpster fire," Gould said. "But we did what's called the low-high, where everybody would give a low that happened within the last couple of months and then a high of what happened. It really ended with everybody on a very positive note."

Engage Tourism's virtual events are free to attend. In the future, likely next year, Gould said, they will likely carry a nominal fee. The board is also discussing membership fees when the group can hold in-person events again.

When that happens, four annual events are planned: a social event, a trade show, an educational conference-style event and a gala. Each will include educational components.

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