Chamber travel a ‘partnership’

Courtesy photo / (From left) Jason Beckel, Connie Beckel, Amber Kovach and Lew Cessna were among a group that visited Plaza de España in Seville, Spain in September 2017.

While the Blair County Chamber of Commerce continues to sponsor trips to far away lands — it is not a travel agency.

“We try not to infringe on the travel agencies we work with,” chamber president and CEO Joe Hurd said. “We would like to think we are helping them to draw from a constituency they would not have easy access to on their own. We consider it a partnership between the chamber and the various travel agencies.

The chamber sponsored its first trip — to China — in 2011 with 100 travelers.

“This is not something we just came up with on our own. Chambers across the country for many years had been doing these types of trips primarily as a means of non dues revenue,” Hurd said. “We dipped our toes in the water with China, to see if people in the area where interested in traveling to a place where a trip hadn’t been offered. We had a great response to that first China trip, it got our traveling juices flowing. People who traveled with us contacted us and asked us where we were going next. “

The first trip was done in partnership with the Huntingdon Area Chamber of Commerce.

“I talked to Joe about doing this in partnership with us. Trips are a great opportunity for people to see cultures around the world. Our China trip also offers the opportunity for travelers to have a business meeting while they are there,” said Executive Director Yvonne Martin.

The chambers worked with Citslinc International Inc., a company which works with chambers of commerce to provide trips.

Hurd said the China trip, which the chamber has done five times, has become its figurehead trip. The Huntingdon chamber will take the China trip in the spring.

“The China trip is something not a lot of people have on their bucket list, but once they found out about it from others how exciting it is, they decided to go. This is a life changing trip, people’s perspective of the world changes after having experienced a country like that one. It is very culturally motivated where you visit and the things that you see. A lot of trips have more of a leisure focus but this is very educational and fast paced,” said Hurd, who went on the inaugural China trip.

Andy Walter and his wife, Karen, of Hollidaysburg have gone on the China trip twice and plan to go to South Africa next year.

“The price of the trip was good and the itinerary was great,” Andy Walter said.

“The first trip was fantastic, but we didn’t get to see the Terracotta Warriors,” he added. “We said ‘if they do this again lets go back so we can see the Terracotta Warriors.’ The trips were great; we got to see a lot of China, if they would do a trip to Hong Kong, I would sign up in a minute.”

Jeff Roberts of Cresson, who has traveled with the chamber to China, Greece and Tuscany with his wife, Fran, called the China trip phenomenal.

“We loved China and all went well. We had great hotels, two great guides, we were thrilled. It was very well done,” Jeff Roberts said. “We are looking forward to more trips with them, we will keep our eyes open, anything they sponsor we have an interest in.”

Tom Simpson of Bedford, who traveled with his wife, Karen, said the China trip was well organized.

“I hadn’t been to that part of the world since the late 1960s when I was in the Navy and the price was very good. My wife had always wanted to travel. It was enlightening to me. The infrastructure in the last 25 years is amazing. Shanghai and Beijing are super modern,” Tom Simpson said. “Since the trip to China, we have got together again with some of the people we met on the trip. You make friends and stay friends.”

The Blair chamber has partnered with Heritage Travel of Altoona, Classic Travel of Duncansville and Epic Journeys of Johnstown.

“Heritage Travel is a family owned business and we love the Buy Here Live Here motto, so we had no other choice then to show our love and support to the chamber as they are our ‘backyard’ friends in the community. We have gained new customers and friends and will continue to have them for many years to come as long as our relationship stays strong with our chamber friends,” owner Rachel Gingrich said.

“Epic Journeys has always found it important to give back to the communities and businesses that our clients come from. We take joy in supporting the great work of Joe Hurd and the Blair chamber. Working together with the chamber, Epic Journeys’ clients have had the opportunity to travel the world while at the same time giving back to their local community,” owner Cynthia Watters said.

Providing the trips benefits the chamber.

“I think it raises our profile as an organization in the community, not just the business community. It is not just limited to Blair County people, we’ve had people from Ohio and Georgia go on the trips. Anyone can go. We get a great deal of positive feedback on how organized we are on pulling the trip together and how accommodating we’ve been in making sure people have a good time and feel it was a good investment,” Hurd said.

Other area chambers have been offering similar trips, but the Blair chamber has taken the lead.

“We have been the most aggressive on offering trips consistently,” Hurd said.

Since 2011, the chamber has also sponsored trips to the Bahamas, London, Tuscany, Germany, Costa Rica, Spain, Greece and Ireland.

The chamber is now sponsoring three trips a year and, beginning in 2019, will offer a United States trip each year.

The chamber is offering a “Southern Sounds” trip to New Orleans, Tupelo, Memphis and Nashville from July 28 to Aug. 4.

Other 2019 trips are planned to South Africa and Sicily.

Trips beyond 2019 have not been determined.

“We’ve had people who want to go to Russia, there is interest in Australia and New Zealand. We are looking at an Alaska cruise as a U.S. tour. Scotland is another one that comes up,” Hurd said. “We make efforts to get input from people who travel with us to determine where future trips will be. We will go where people tell us they want to go.”

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