Karen Raymore sat across the table and gave me some ideas that got my creative juices flowing.
Raymore is from the Hocking Hills area of south-central Ohio and is the executive director of the Hocking Hills Tourism Association. She and another colleague from Ohio stopped by our office last month to update me on travel developments in their area. A wooded region known for its abundance of outdoor activities, Hocking Hills has seen a lot of new lodging and attractions open in recent years, and Raymore was eager to tell me about them.
I was expecting to hear some standard updates about museum exhibits or hotel renovations, but what I got instead was much more exciting. Raymore told me about a number of small lodges that have opened in her area in recent years. Most of them have about 15 guest rooms and are outfitted with their own kitchens and dining areas. This size and flexibility makes them ideal accommodations for small to midsize tour groups, which can have the entire property to themselves.
She went on to share about ways that the local community can help groups make the most of their time at a lodge. After enjoying the outdoor activities and other area attractions during the day, group members can reunite at the lodge for a cooking demo and meal catered by the Hocking Hills Traveling Chef, who prepares the food in the on-site kitchen. Or groups can opt to have a food truck drive up to the front door of the lodge for some fun, casual and colorful dining options.
Raymore’s ideas sparked my curiosity because they sound like a lot of fun and because they’re small tweaks on the traditional group travel template that can infuse a lot of great opportunities into the experience. There’s nothing entirely unheard of here; church groups have used lodges as retreat destinations for years. But Raymore and her tourism friends in the Hocking Hills area have found ways to give groups experiences that feel luxurious and exclusive, without being all that expensive.
I love the idea of a tour group renting out a small lodge. The kitchen and other communal areas create opportunities for relaxation and fellowship that are often lacking with traditional hotel rooms. And bringing in chefs and food trucks can help turn mealtime into a memorable event for travelers.
The world of group tourism is changing rapidly. Factors such as generational shifts, economic fluctuations and technological advancements are fundamentally reshaping the travel landscape. And some of the more traditional elements of the group tour template are going to have to change with the times.
Not every trip can be configured to work around a small lodge and custom-catered meals. But every time you plan a trip, you should approach it with the same creative mindset that Raymore and her colleagues have used to craft new tour experiences in Ohio.