Geoff Conrad: The changing landscape of travel

What brings the many thousands of visitors to Middlebury and Addison County this time of year? Of course Middlebury College is an important draw, but certainly less so in the summer compared with during the school year. Our iconic Vermont scenery — lakes, mountains, hiking trails, bikeways and farms — are often the initial attraction, but when the visitor starts digging deeper in their planning they discover museums, orchards, shopping, theater, art, restaurants and inns, or perhaps a specific sporting event they want to attend or participate in. But how does this process work, and how has it changed over the years?
Often visitors’ initial searches may involve local resources such as the Chamber of Commerce’s or Addison Independent’s website. Or, if they’re sports-minded they’re researching more specialized websites such as Vermont Sports and Vermont Ski + Ride. Once the visitor has an idea of what they want to do, they may move on to a lodging property’s or attraction’s website to further plan their itinerary.
Over the last five years, there has been an exponential increase in the number of visitors using what we in the industry call OTAs — online travel agencies. These sites take various forms whether it’s the traditional (Expedia, Booking, Orbitz), the less popular “opaque” sites (Priceline, Hotwire) and the increasingly influential “review” sites (Trip Advisor, Oyster). And these tools aren’t just for lodging, but increasingly give exposure to restaurants, attractions and museums.
And what about these review opportunities? How many times has that been the first thing you looked at when searching for a restaurant, hotel or attraction? All tourism businesses should go check their Google, Yelp and Trip Advisor reviews and start making this free exposure work for them. And why is this important in our small market that is Addison County? The travel world is increasingly global. No longer do visitors say, “Let’s go to Middlebury, Vt.,” but rather, “Where can we get a good deal within a half day’s drive for this weekend?”
As more of us in the local travel industry pay attention to this and work the system, the more visitors we will bring to our region to discover such gems as the Henry Sheldon Museum, Rokeby Museum, Lake Champlain Maritime Museum or UVM Morgan Horse Farm. They’ll try our great restaurants, stay in a quaint inn and then write a great review for each one of these. Every time a visitor goes through this process, they are inviting hundreds of visitors to Middlebury — the only catch is we want a great review. In my experience, the picture perfect town and the welcoming atmosphere of our community are just as important as the meal or quality of the mattress they slept on.
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11 Smart Phrases To Use At Networking Events
Adapted from Inc.com, June 2016
It’s not enough to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right people, you have to know the right phrases to be successful. Unless you’re naturally gregarious, meeting new people is a challenge; and a networking event, which is all about meeting new people, can be downright grueling. You want to sound intelligent but you don’t know what to say, and you dread the thought of a long awkward silence or a statement that falls flat. But if you can get people started talking about themselves, you’re off to the races — and they come away thinking you’re an excellent conversationalist.
Here are 11 smart things to say at your next networking event:
1.  “What’s your name?” A polite introduction is important, and you do best by keeping it simple. Walk up, hold out your hand, and introduce yourself.
2.  “What do you do?” Remember, people enjoy talking to people who are interested in them, and they enjoy talking about themselves.
3.  “I can’t believe we both …” If possible, try to find some common ground, an interest or professional affiliation you share.
4.  “Can I ask you more about … ?” Work to have an open mind and be genuinely curious.
5.  “I really like …” Give compliments, but only if you mean it.
6.  “I recently read that …” Make a point of listening and thinking about how you can contribute something of genuine interest.
7.  “What do you think about…” If you’re surrounded by people who are experts in interesting field, remember that people love sharing opinions.
8.  “It’s funny to me …” A sense of humor is a great way to connect.
9.  “Did you see the game last night?” Sports is a winning topic that connects people and lets you talk about events without the risks of discussing politics.
10.  “Can we exchange contact info to schedule a time for us to finish our conversation?” When you meet someone who seems like a valuable contact, make sure you exchange information before you part.
11.  “We recently met at … and I wanted to follow up with …” Make sure you do follow up, in a timely and appropriate way.
Even beyond networking, building good conversational skills is one of the best things you can do for your career and your personal life. Even if you rely on memorized starter phrases at first, get over your self-consciousness and jump in!
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Annual Awards for Business, Non-Profit and Citizen
Two Brothers Tavern was 2015’s Business of the Year. Nominations for 2016’s award winners will be solicited in the next few weeks and presented to the winners in September. 

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