If your love is travel and your livelihood and business success is fueled by that passion, then you’ll applaud what happened this past Friday in Miami.
For eight hours in the hot Florida sun, the tourism industry rolled up its sleeves and showed that doing something good for a community also translates into doing something positive for travel. The organization, Tourism Cares, brought together 325 people (myself included) who work in the travel industry from 29 states, 4 countries and 89 different companies, including Amadeus, Expedia, Norwegian Cruise Line, Tauck and Collette, to help in the restoration efforts of the Miami Marine Stadium and Virginia Key Beach Park in Miami.
Given the important role these places hold in the history of the Miami area, returning them to their former glory promises to add another valuable set of attractions, enriching the already strong lure of the city as a destination and tourism as a driver of the area’s economy.
Miami Marine Stadium first opened in 1963 and operated until closing after Hurricane Andrew. It’s an architectural wonder with an incredible waterfront venue. When reopened, it will give the city a unique 6,000-seat facility for concerts and other events. Volunteers filled five dumpsters with debris collected over the past decades of non-use, marking an important step forward in readying the venue for further renovation and generating positive media coverage for the project and our industry.
Virginia Key Beach Park originally opened in 1945 as a ”Colored Only Beach” and became the preeminent gathering place in the Miami area for all social classes living, visiting and performing among the various marginalized communities of the era. Reclaimed in 1999 by the Virginia Key Park Trust, they have been on a steady course of restoration and improvement that benefited greatly from the landscaping and planting of over 1,200 trees by the travel-industry volunteers.
Those who market travel look at places like these and marvel at the possibilities. We are excited about the new stories that can now be told and the fresh reasons they’ll create for people to visit the Miami area.
Just as important, they serve to remind us that this country is filled with many similarly great, but overlooked places, rich in history and consumer appeal that are threatened and struggling.
What just happened in Miami was a clear demonstration of how powerful an impact our industry can make if we step up and invest in those places and experiences that fuel tourism. Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales for Royal Caribbean, and one of many from her company that participated in the Miami event, may have expressed it best: “If we as an industry dedicated to travel don’t stand up and show our support for these places, then who will?”
Ask yourself, what will we have to market if we don’t protect the health of these places? How can we expect to grow tourism if we who stand to benefit the most from bolstering the inventory of experiences, aren’t doing all we can to ensure we bring them to life?
As it did in Miami, Tourism Cares is playing an increasingly central role in facilitating the travel industry’s ability to stand together as a united community. It's making a meaningful impact toward preserving and enriching the very destinations, attractions and experiences that fuel our industry.
Through its efforts, Tourism Cares is proving that one of the most valuable things our industry can do is share its human resources to improve the attractiveness and sustainability of tourism-related sites across the country.
The USTA estimates that there are 14.4 million jobs in the U.S. that are supported by travel. What if we could get employers in travel-related businesses to unleash even a small percentage of these employees to spend a day of their time volunteering to improve the very attractions and destinations that make their jobs possible.
Last fall, Tourism Cares brought its program to Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts, where 275 people who work in travel donated over $160,000 in volunteer labor to ensure that this iconic, but fading attraction could continue to provide visitors with an engaging, transformative experience. Volunteers restored its 17th-century palisade; sanded, scraped and painted portions of the Mayflower II; and cleaned 160 period gravestones that had suffered from neglect. Tourism Cares has delivered similar success with volunteer programs in Coney Island, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, New Orleans and other destinations.
Up next, Tourism Cares is helping restore the battleship USS Iowa in San Pedro, California, which opened to the public in 2012, but still has significant portions of the ship shuttered. The organization will also support the Catalina Conservancy in its efforts to fight invasive plants and enhance their trail network.
There is no doubt many charities and causes deserve our industry’s attention, but none is more critical than ensuring that our love of travel and the livelihood that we, and millions of others derive from it, remains strong and vital.
Travel has given so many of us so much. Now it’s our turn, through organizations like Tourism Cares, to give something back to travel.