The start of a new year is always filled with predictions and forecasts for what lies ahead. And, while every travel industry blog and column seems to be fixated on fiscal cliffs, emerging technologies and lists overflowing with how-to’s and what’s next, I’m feeling a need to reflect on what we’ve lost. Or more precisely, who we’ve lost.
It’s something that hit home for me while I was reading the final Sunday New York Times Magazine of this past year, in which its writers reminisced about those we’ve lost over the last 12 months. Rather than a morose reflection, they underscored the humanity and impact of the lives of not only notables, but everyday people.
Maybe it’s because I watched with sadness as my mom passed away last summer, or perhaps it’s because as I age I’m starting to recognize my own signs of mortality, but whenever I learn that someone I’ve known has died, I not only experience a heavy feeling of loss but, simultaneously, I find myself celebrating a life.
Unfortunately, those of us in travel have found ourselves dealing with those feelings far too often this past year as we said goodbye to some very bright stars from our industry’s universe.
Alan Fleschner wasn’t just the long-time publisher who made his name overseeing titles like Official Resort Guide and Travel Weekly. He was the guy who embraced an industry newbie who somehow had stumbled upon the good fortune of being on a committee that was working to produce a book on the Art of Hotel Advertising. Despite my being considerably younger, he treated me as an equal. He shared freely with me his years of expertise on how to get a book published. He regaled me with stories and jokes and launched a friendship that lasted over 30 years. His openness and kindness provided an example I’ve tried to follow throughout my career. It’s hard to believe he’s gone at age 65.
I first met Gary Sain at a meeting while cruising aboard the “Big Red Boat,” where he was in the midst of taking a rather decrepit old ship and breathing life into it through the skillful use of cartoon characters and the pinpoint targeting of a burgeoning family market. I forever reminded him that this singular sailing had so turned me off to cruising that I have yet to embark on another, but it also served as my first clue that this was no ordinary marketer. He later became a competitor when he joined an ad agency in Florida, but it never interfered with our friendship or the respect we shared for one another. His graciousness was something I’ll always remember. His sudden death, while serving as the CEO of Visit Orlando, was shocking.
Mike Pusateri was helping spearhead digital marketing for Marriott when he and I first met. We both served on the board of HSMAI, and it was easy to see he was smart and filled with ideas and had a strong vision for where he saw the industry going. He always seemed to be brimming with confidence and enthusiasm for whatever he was working on. I was heartbroken to hear of his passing at the all-too-young age of 53.
Larry Meehan is probably not a name widely known outside of the Boston area, but he served as the vice president of media relations and tourism sales for the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau and became known as “Mr Boston.” He had boundless passion for the city and tirelessly worked to promote it. He was wise and strategic, and his energy and commitment became an inspiration for all who knew him, but it was his positive outlook and constant smile that I’ll always remember. It’s hard to think of attending a Boston visitor’s bureau event and Larry not being there.
As I write this, my mind is flashing back to so many memories of each of these people. It’s as if they’re standing here in front of me.
And, I wish they were. For it would have given me the chance to say something positive to all of them and let them know how important their contributions and friendships were.
Which is really why I’ve chosen to address this in a column that’s dedicated to marketing travel. To remind all of us, as we launch into a new year, to spend a little more time valuing those around us— family, friends, coworkers, colleagues, associates.
Let’s make a promise that we won’t get ourselves so immersed in a business world that is increasingly riveted on technology and numbers and squeezing out another buck, that we lose sight of the very thing that our entire industry needs to be focused on.