Iowa tourism is a growing and competitive business. According to 2016 research released by the Iowa Legislature, state tourism revenues exceeded $8 billion, with communities and businesses across the state trying to carve out a piece of the pie for themselves.
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is ready to help. Community and Economic Development specialist Diane Van Wyngarden serves Iowa with the Road Scholar program. Van Wyngarden researches group travel trends, develop tools to help businesses thrive in the group travel industry, and share this information with Iowa businesses.
Van Wyngarden offers on-site consultations on her schedule through July 2018 for any business or nonprofit interested in initiating, improving or expanding services for group travelers. For a limited time, the cost is only $50 for a two-hour consultation, because the Road Scholar group travel study currently is subsidizing the consultations. The cost will rise to $800 when the funding program ends.
“Group travel is the great tourism equalizer,” said Van Wyngarden. “Groups will travel to any Iowa location, rural or urban, if a business knows how to generate a strong pull.” Van Wyngarden said her research has identified the key components a business must have to become an effective group travel magnet, and she is eager to help Iowa businesses better position themselves in the tourism economy.
ISU Extension and Outreach’s Community and Economic Development program has offered the Road Scholar program since Van Wyngarden joined the unit in 2006. The program provides a road map and toolkit of practical techniques that help businesses and communities experience
group travel success.
“Our niche is working with small businesses,” said Van Wyngarden. “I work very closely with businesses wanting to use group travel—restaurants, attractions, agritourism, and places that are not normally included on tours or trails but want to initiate or expand group travel services. It provides another product option for business profitability.”
The consultations have made an impact for communities across Iowa.
“Our businesses love to work with Diane,” said Julie Kronlage, vice president of sales for Dubuque Area Convention and Visitor Bureau. “Diane shares new ideas and practical solutions. She teaches group travel best practices to our businesses, helping them become more efficient and more profitable. Diane has also brought 34 motor-coach groups to Dubuque within the past ten years, generating over $800,000 into our Dubuque economy.”
Van Wyngarden also tests the products she consults on by leading paid travel groups on weeklong journeys that serve as intensive studies on a focused subject, such as the Upper Mississippi River, the Missouri River valley, central Iowa, Iowa’s old-order Amish population, the Amana Colonies, or Iowa’s early settlers.
The program has been very successful. The national Road Scholar organization used Net Promoter Score surveys to rank more than 1,000 programs, and named the Road Scholar’s educational experiences through ISU Extension and Outreach as “The Best Travel Program in North America.”
The consultations also have been popular and there’s still time to get involved.
“It’s been growing by word-of-mouth,” Van Wyngarden said. “If it’s working for a business they will tell a neighbor about it. We have limited space, but this has been very popular and I’m taking applications to fill my final spots.”
Information about ISU Extension CED’s group travel business trainings and the business consultation application form are available at www.extension.iastate.edu/communities/tourism-workshops-and-business-trainings. For more information, contact Van Wyngarden at firstname.lastname@example.org.