Groups Today May/June '24

Page 12

LIBATION, CULINARY AND RETAIL EXPERIENCES 1 IN THIS ISSUE GROUPS TODAY IS PUBLISHED BY: Serendipity Media, LLC 866-252-7108 PRESIDENT & PUBLISHER Kasie Smith ART DIRECTOR Courtney Van Hagen MANAGING EDITOR Sarah Suydam GRAPHIC DESIGNER Emily Alspaugh ACCOUNTING & OPERATIONS SPECIALIST Megan Marshall MARKETING DIRECTOR Loren Eisenlohr MARKETING COORDINATOR Nikki Tramper OFFICE COORDINATOR Maggie Mutch MEDIA CONSULTANT Haleigh Gerwig MEMBERS OF: Student & Youth Travel Association American Bus Association National Tour Association Circle Michigan Ontario Motor Coach Association Groups Today is published bimonthly by Serendipity Media, LLC; 535 Cascade West Parkway SE; Grand Rapids, MI 49546. Periodical postage is paid at Grand Rapids, MI, and additional mailing offices. Subscription information may be obtained through the above address, by calling 866252-7108, or by visiting or POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Groups Today c/o Serendipity Media, LLC; 535 Cascade West Parkway SE; Grand Rapids, MI 49546. All rights reserved. Groups Today content may not be photocopied or reproduced or redistributed without the consent of the publisher. © 2024 Serendipity Media LLC MAY/JUNE 2024 Volume 22, Issue 3 PLANNER PROFILE Elizabeth Hall: From Alaska to Africa and Everywhere In Between page 4 5 MINUTES WITH... Greg Dotson: Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts page 28 ISSUES When a Client Threatens Litigation page 6 EDUCATION Take a Dive Into Wellness Travel and Tourism page 26 IN EVERY ISSUE Editor's Letter 2 | Online 2 | Spotlight 18 | Ad Index 27 THEME FEATURE SIPS, SPREADS AND SHOPPING! page 10 DESTINATION FEATURE JUST PEACHY! DISCOVER THE BEST OF GEORGIA page 22 On the Cover: Virgil's Real BBQ, © Alicart Restaurant Group


Summer is just around the corner, and the team here at Groups Today can’t help but look forward to all the sunshine, fun and excitement that lies ahead. During your summer travels, we hope the pages of this new issue offer you some practical insight, inspiration and thought-provoking commentary.

Earlier this year, Groups Today awarded our 2024 TODAY! Award to Elizabeth Hall of John Hall’s Alaska at the ABA Marketplace in Nashville. As with many family businesses in the motorcoach industry, Elizabeth grew up jumping head first into the industry, traveling on motorcoaches with her family. In recent years, she has played a pivotal role in expanding the business, leading with the belief that everyone’s path in the industry is unique. Read more about her journey on page 4.

Flip to page 10 for a dive into all things delicious when it comes to culinary and libations—in addition to learning about some serious shopping opportunities. After enjoying a sip or two, we head to Georgia on page 22 to learn all that the Peach State has to offer, from the mountains to the plains, and the urban centers in between.

Of course, we all hope litigation never becomes part of what we have to deal with in our operations. However, sometimes, the unpredictable happens. To learn more about what group travel professionals should do when a client threatens litigation— and how to protect themselves from the get-go—we sat down with Jeff Ment of Ment Law Group, who has decades of experience in counseling travel companies, from operators to vendors and trade associations (page 6).

Last but far from least, this issue also delves into wellness travel and tourism, in addition to a chat with Greg Dotson of Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts about their new venue, industry opportunities and more.

Wherever your travels take you this summer, the team at Groups Today wishes

2 GROUPS TODAY May/June 2024
Send your stories, suggestions and thoughts to: 535 Cascade West Parkway SE Grand Rapids, MI 49546
is MORE THAN JUST A MAGAZINE The “Best of” digital content found only on WAYS TO CELEBRATE BLACK HISTORY MONTH
CLIENT BREAK UP: WHEN TO RECOGNIZE ITS TIME TO MOVE ON TRENDING DESTINATIONS FOR 2024 TRAVEL TREND BY AGE DEMOGRAPHIC GET INSPIRED Enhance your professional development with timely group travel industry updates, business tips and more. / subscribe



AAs with many family businesses in the motorcoach industry, Elizabeth Hall grew up jumping head first into the industry, traveling on motorcoaches with her family and dad, John Sr. of John Hall’s Alaska.

“We were always surrounded by a bus garage, motorcoach, one of the drivers or traveling in the back of an MC-9 while our father drove a tour group, which doubled as a family vacation,” said Hall.

From working alongside her siblings at their then-family owned Anderson House hotel in Minnesota to moving over to the travel and tourism operations working on data entry and other clerical work, Hall’s hospitality roots run deep.

“Fast forward through moving across the country, a stint at college, and returning back to the family business, it took one Alaska trip with guests to realize the motorcoach industry was where I belonged,” said Hall, who obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration and became Chief Operating Officer of John Hall’s Alaska in 2011.

Since, Hall has been part of expanding the business into different categories.

“What was an Alaska package tour operation when my siblings and I started, has grown and transformed into five areas of focus, including: a lodge operation in Minnesota, Alaska tour and travel company, World Adventures traveling bucket list destinations around the world, opening JHA Transportation Services allowing for service of vehicles outside our fleet and the fastest growing sector, motorcoach charter services in both Alaska and Minnesota,” Hall explained.

Hall has witnessed a number of industry changes, including things like technology, along with the faces of the industry and how long they stay in those careers.

“As we approach a new generation, employees and representatives are staying for shorter durations or moving around within the industry,” Hall explained, also noting the industry’s increase in political involvement. “Regulations, changes, implemented laws and competition among other competing industries make it even more

Hall is the recipient of the 2024 TODAY! Award, presented by Groups Today at ABA Marketplace. The award is presented to an ABA member who has demonstrated they have what it takes to make an impact in the group travel industry—today. “This award recognizes my own work, my own leadership and the continued forward progress I push for in both my business, and the industry I love beyond anything else (besides my fur children).”

4 GROUPS TODAY May/June 2024
Photos © Olive Juice Photography John Hall's Alaska (middle)

Hall has held her commercial drivers license for almost 16 years and while she considers herself “high strung” and always business minded, behind closed doors, she’s simple and fun. “My friends have referred to it as the unicorn side of me. It does exist and usually comes with a side of Jameson or cold domestic beer, terrible dance skills, quick wit and encouragement in selling bad ideas.”

important for industry voices to be heard. What was once a smaller segment of operators understanding political involvement has become an industry movement.”

An Alaska resident since 2018, Hall is passionate about watching guests and team members fall in love with travel, from stepping foot on the Galapagos Islands and seeing penguins in Antarctica to admiring wild elephants in Botswana. She truly loves every single aspect of travel and the motorcoach industry.

“I couldn’t imagine being involved in anything else and can’t wait to see where this industry goes,” she said. “I have had incredible opportunities to meet people who’ve helped shape me, my career, our family business and travel places that most only dream of. I certainly don’t take that lightly.”

Hall encourages others to forge their own unique path, to lift others up along the way and to cherish and protect their reputation.

“Every time one of our clients, whether a group or direct, shares their positive experiences, it reminds me why we do what we do,” Hall said. “I love sharing the world with people in the most perfect way possible— from Alaska to Africa.” 5

When a Client Threatens Litigation

IIt’s every travel professionals nightmare—when a client chooses to bring litigation into the mix. Whether it’s for a simple issue or a situation that’s much more complex, we connected with Jeff Ment, Managing Partner of Ment Law Group, who has decades of experience in counseling travel companies, from operators to vendors and trade associations.

Reasons why clients might go the litigation route can include everything from matters related to COVID insurance and miscommunications over travel dates and accommodations to displeasure with a supplier or experience. Often, Ment explains, tour companies can get embroiled in situations where they’re not actually at fault.

“There are so many components that go into a trip, that if any one of them goes wrong, or causes a problem, tour companies can get sucked into a lawsuit or be blamed,” Ment said. “Being that you’re the company or planner who arranged the trip and picked ‘Company X’ or the travel insurance provider, when something goes wrong—and somebody’s mad—they’ll blame the supplier or provider, but they’re going to blame you, too.”

“Obviously, claims can come out of mishaps that happen on trips, those at least are understandable,” Ment continued. “But it’s the ones that come out of the blue that surprise companies—the ones they really didn’t think had a problem until there was a problem.”

If you begin to feel that something is going in the wrong direction in a relationship with a customer, Ment stressed the importance of being attuned to that change and acting accordingly, including being cautious in your communications and assuming everything is being recorded.

“If you’re a tour company that records telephone calls as part of your normal

business operations, you might have to turn those recordings over in a court case,” he said. “Sometimes it’s good to have one person designated as the point-of-contact problem-solving person—someone who perhaps has a heightened awareness of the issue.”

Ment also advises against responding to said client while upset or in the heat of the moment, and to avoid communication through apps like Snapchat, WhatsApp or text (written via email is best).

So, what’s the first thing you should do if a client threatens or actually brings on litigation?

“Contact your E&O carrier immediately, without a doubt, and call your lawyer,” Ment said. “Make a claim when you believe someone is asserting a claim against you. Don’t wait. The insurance company can offer you guidance and help handle the problem.”

Next, Ment says to gather all the materials and communication you can related to that client’s trip and organize it; this step makes it simple

6 GROUPS TODAY May/June 2024

for your legal advisors to gain context of the situation and best assist you.

Of course, mistakes happen and we’re all human.

“If you think something happened and it was your fault, get out in front of it and try to make it right. Some of the best companies avoid litigation because they fix the problem before it becomes a problem,” Ment said, suggesting working with any suppliers if the issue falls with them. “If you feel that it’s a supplier that’s created the problem, get them involved, tell them to contact their insurance company, and let them participate in the conversation.”

And while you can’t prevent every misstep or mishap, there are actions you can take to protect yourself.

“Avoiding problems often starts with picking good suppliers and vendors,” Ment said, noting that a good vendor isn’t always the cheapest, and that group travel professionals should require vendors and suppliers to share proof of insurance as part of that vendor selection process.

Documenting who’s responsible for what in a contract is also vital.

“It’s obviously important to have indemnification provisions in contracts with your suppliers, because if something goes wrong, rather than hoping they step in, they’ll be legally obligated to,” Ment explained. “Building your electronic file for each supplier— with a contract with indemnity, with insurance—is really what I believe is the best practice of a group tour planner. You’re just getting ready if there’s a problem later on.”



From Motown to modern art, few places have more cultural cachet than Detroit. It’s a city that has long shaped the landscape of American identity—and Detroiters are always keeping their eye on the next big thing. Let’s take a closer look at the iconic locations and experiences that make the Motor City so distinct.

If you know one thing about Detroit, you know it’s a music lover’s paradise. Only one city could be the hometown of both techno and Motown, and it’s that range of creativity that makes Detroit’s scene unique. There’s live music to enjoy every night all over the metro—and in every genre you can imagine, including jazz, rock, hip-hop, EDM and soul. Whatever moves you, Detroit has it in spades.

Of course, the city’s culture goes well beyond music. Detroit is known for its world-class museums too. Foremost among them is the Detroit Institute of Arts. With over 65,000 unique works, the DIA has America’s sixth largest collection of public art. The museum is also famous for the “Detroit Industry

8 GROUPS TODAY May/June 2024

Murals,” which are among Mexican muralist Diego Rivera’s most influential creations and a can’t-miss experience for anyone who appreciates his art.

Foodies of all kinds will find a lot to love, whether they prefer gourmet gastronomy or down-to-earth eats. You can get a taste of Detroit’s diversity at spots like Takoi, where award-winning fine dining meets trendy, Instagrammable Southeast Asian fusion cuisine. If you want something a little more underground, seek out The Shelby—a hip speakeasy built into an old bank vault. And nothing can beat Detroit’s very own Coney Island hot dog for a quick bite.

Once you’re all fueled up, why not cheer for one of Detroit’s many professional sports teams? Summer is the perfect time for a trip to Comerica Park, home of the MLB Detroit Tigers. A new NFL season will arrive in August, and any Detroit Lions fan will tell you that there’s a lot of optimism around the team this year. Meanwhile, fans of the other kind of football (aka soccer) can root for the Detroit City FC, a USL Championship team that plays at Keyworth Stadium in Hamtramck.

Detroit also has much to offer nature lovers. Start with a stroll down the Detroit International

RiverWalk, a must-see trail voted best in the country by USA TODAY readers. Along this 3.5-mile stretch, you’ll find no shortage of welcoming green spaces along with plenty of things to discover, including shopping, dining and live entertainment. It even connects to the outdoor Eastern Market via the Dequindre Cut Greenway.

For something a little further from downtown, take a short trip by car or boat to Belle Isle. Situated in the Detroit River, this island is as close to Canada as you can get without a passport. While you’re there, relax at the beautiful Belle Isle Conservatory, stop by the aquarium, or pack a picnic and soak up stunning views of the Detroit skyline.

Whether you come for a reunion, class trip or retreat, your group will find endless experiences that can only happen in The D. And no matter what you love, Detroit will move you. So, bring your unique perspective—along with your appetite for cuisine and culture—and let our city take the lead. When you do, there’s no telling what you’ll discover. 9 . 11 W. Fort Street, Suite 1000, Detroit, MI 48226 | 800-DETROIT (338-7648)
Photos © Visit Detroit /
Emily Berger
Start planning your group tour today at



AArguably one of the best parts of setting off on a great trip are all the delicious drinks and indulgent meals you’re sure to enjoy along the way—with some retail therapy thrown into the mix, of course. Come along as we take a journey through some options groups won’t want to miss out on. From the sweet and savory to the luxurious and economical, we’re trying it all on.



There’s nothing like a good glass of wine. If your groups agree, then Temecula Valley’s SoCal Wine Country should absolutely be on your radar. Venture to Oak Mountain Winery for a tour and wine blending experience in their climate-controlled mined wine caves; relax at Wilson Creek Winery on a covered courtyard cabana with a wine slushie before a behind-the-scenes tour; take a spin on an e-bike through the tenderly-nurtured vines at South Coast Winery Resort & Spa; and more. Transportation offerings from Tour Del Vino and Temecula Cable Car Wine Tours remove the stress of moving from place to place, allowing groups to truly soak it all in.

Bourbon is the name of the game in Kentucky, and for good reason—the state is the spirit’s birthplace and crafts 95% of the world’s supply. Along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail , groups will find over 45 distilleries to choose from for

their Bourbon-themed adventures, including Heaven Hill, nestled in the heart of historic Bardstown. Upon visiting, groups could enjoy the Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience, which includes an interactive, elevated tasting experience and the ability to customize their own bottle to take home. You’ll even fill the bottle and place the label yourself!

Lovers of crisp, cold craft beer will be thrilled by all the options found in Grand Rapids, Michigan—Beer City USA

With more than 40 craft breweries within a 30-minute driving radius, options abound. Enjoy the beautifully tart oak aged sours found at Speciation Cellars; the rustic European-inspired brews at Brewery Vivant, the world’s first LEED certified microbrewery housed in a refurbished historic funeral home; the specialty beers available at vintage baseball-themed Mitten Brewing Co.; and more. To the north in Bellaire, groups could also enjoy a brew pub tour of Short’s Brewing Company, offering seasonal, limited and legacy brews.


Groups looking for a good meal to refuel after all their adventures have plenty of options to choose from all around North America. One popular option is Golden Corral and their Endless Buffet (available for breakfast, lunch and dinner), featuring over 150 items like crispy waffles, Bourbon Street chicken and USDA signature sirloin steaks. Ample seating accommodates groups of many sizes at Golden Corral’s many locations around the U.S., and reservations can be booked online and made up to a year in advance at special group rates.

Big adventures require big, delicious meals—and that’s exactly what groups will find at Buca di Beppo. With Italian-inspired dishes served up family style in an eclectic atmosphere, Buca di Beppo ensures groups feel the lively energy of a classic Italian table. Baked rigatoni, eggplant parmigiana and mini chocolate chip cannolis?

Sign us up. Regardless of the occasion, every meal feels like a celebration—served with fresh baked house bread, of course.

Continued on page 14 11
Photos © Virgil's Real BBQ, Alicart Restaurant Group / Temecula Valley Wine Country, Sarah Suydam / Mall of America
12 GROUPS TODAY May/June 2024

... continued from page 11.

Don’t forget about Virgil’s Real BBQ , with dine-in locations in the heart of Times Square, Las Vegas and Atlantis in the Bahamas. It’s here that groups could savor some hearty southern BBQ (smoked right on the premises) and exceptional craft beer, with a side of southern hospitality. Dishes like Carolina pulled pork, and Texas beef brisket, along with sides like catfish bites, cornbread and mac & cheese, are sure to impress.


World-class shopping, coming right up! For the ultimate shopping experience, groups will want to head to the Mall of America is Bloomington, Minnesota, which is home to over 520 stores. Recognized as the nation’s largest entertainment and retail complex, groups will have no shortage of choices for getting their shopping fix with options like the colorful Crayola Store, baubles from Kendra Scott, luxurious wares from Burberry, outdoor apparel from The North Face and more. You could even celebrate your purchases with a roller coaster ride inside Nickelodeon Universe, housed right within the mall itself.

Found in various locations around the country, Simon Shopping Destinations allow groups to experience a fulfilling and satisfying shopping experience, no matter where their travels take them. From the Finger Lakes and Fort Lauderdale to Puerto Rico, the Pacific Northwest and Pittsburgh, choices abound. Retailers like Bottega Veneta and Gucci bring the high-end vibes, while the NIKE Factory Store and the Vans Outlet ensure groups are truly ready for anything their adventures throw at them.

More than 450 retailers could be found along Chicago’s Magnificent Mile , from major department stores to international boutiques. There’s even a luxury pet boutique (Tails in the City) for the most discerning furry companions. Located in Chicago’s bustling downtown, the 13-block Magnificent Mile district stretches down North Michigan Avenue, right near the scenic Lake Michigan shoreline. The district also boasts 275 restaurants and more than 70 hotels, so it’s safe to say groups will never go hungry or have a hard time finding a place to lay their head.

14 GROUPS TODAY May/June 2024
Photos © Temecula Valley Wine Country, Sarah Suydam / Mall of America Photo © Virgil's Real BBQ, Alicart Restaurant Group 15


Dubuque’s steep hills and steeples reflect its rich history and vibrant community spirit, offering locals and travelers alike a lasting impression and newfound appreciation for “Little Rome” in Iowa. Your group can embrace the steep hills and steeples the following ways:

Fenelon Place Elevator: World’s shortest, steepest funicular railroad, offering thrilling rides and breathtaking views of Downtown Dubuque and beyond.

Eagle Point Park: A remarkable 164-acre park overlooking the Mississippi River, providing serene nature escapes and sweeping panoramas.

Sinsinawa Mound: A blend of natural beauty and history with museums, a chapel and a renowned gift shop.

St. Luke’s United Methodist Church: Dubuque’s first Methodist church with a rich history and notable Tiffany-Stained glass windows.

Steeple Square: Former St. Mary’s Catholic Church with Dubuque’s tallest steeple, now a unique event space preserving heritage.

St. Francis Xavier Basilica: A testament to Catholic heritage in Iowa, inviting visitors to become immersed in its sacred ambiance.

See for more.

16 GROUPS TODAY May/June 2024 SPONSORED CONTENT Photo © Travel Dubuque



Atlantic City welcomes one and all to this seaside destination, where local spirits are connected and the celebrations are unforgettable.

Nestled between the land and sea, groups will love experiencing Atlantic City’s unique location. Located within one-third of the nation’s population, Atlantic City’s convenient location allows for visitors to travel in the comfort of a car or fly directly to the Atlantic City International Airport, which is within 12 miles of Atlantic City, or the Philadelphia International Airport, situated within 60 miles of Atlantic City.

Once arrived, hop on the Atlantic City Jitney, which are powered by compressed natural gas and are Atlantic City’s most convenient and affordable mode of transportation. With a variety of transportation options, Atlantic City aims to make your next visit easily accessible.

With more than 17,500 first-class hotel rooms, Atlantic City is an exceptional place to lodge. Whether in the Marina District or along the world-famous Atlantic City Boardwalk, a stay at one of nine casino resorts will guarantee a memorable experience. Along with precise guest services and waterside elegance, each casino resort showcases panoramic views of Atlantic City from every angle.

Enhance your group’s Atlantic City experience with support from the Atlantic City community. Throughout the city’s eclectic 48 Blocks, visitors can discover Atlantic City’s diverse neighborhoods, each abundant with art, culture, and a history of its own. The Atlantic City locals continue to lead in the ever-changing destination with missions to celebrate Atlantic City’s authenticity, reflected in locally owned businesses and culturally rich events.

From group bonding opportunities to evening adventures, Atlantic City is ready to celebrate life’s greatest moments with thrilling year-round events and attractions. Gather your group and try a throw at Westecunk Axe Throwing to experience the sport of axe throwing in a safe, comfortable, and modern open space setting. For live entertainment, score front row seats at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall as entertainment’s biggest and most successful acts take the stage. Endless excitement continues at Atlantic City’s casino resorts where nightlife and late-night experiences are always celebrated.

With constant excitement and endless entertainment, a variety of services for the ultimate well-being recharge can be found at one of Atlantic City’s world-class spas. Treat yourself and your group to the illuminating spa services for a journey of peace and relaxation. Being pampered at one of Atlantic City’s spas is not only a luxury, but a necessity to recharge and enjoy the many energetic events during your Atlantic City experience.

Known for its thriving culinary scene, Atlantic City also welcomes all to explore the city’s famous dining establishments. Ranging from celebrity chef restaurants to locally owned eateries, Atlantic City’s restaurants are well equipped to accommodate special events for large or small groups, served in unique spaces. When visiting Atlantic City, come hungry because the diverse cuisine selections are sure to satisfy those taste buds.

Our vibrant city awaits your arrival, as we offer complete Atlantic City information and knowledgeable staff to assist you.

For more information, please see

18 GROUPS TODAY May/June 2024
Photo © Visit Atlantic City


There’s more to New Jersey than its location—although it is ideally nestled between New York City and Philadelphia. This smallish state is big on personality, packed with possibility and it’ll wow your group every chance it gets with more than 1,034 attractions, over 418 cultural experiences and upwards of 463 historical landmarks.

Of course, tour operators know that wow-worthy food makes the travel experience, and New Jersey delivers deliciously. Its seafood is prized up and down the East Coast. What’s more, New Jersey, aka “The Garden State,” dishes up a healthy serving of farm-to-table cuisine. International specialties flavor the culinary scene with Italian, Indian and Portuguese restaurants, and so many others. Map out your dining reservations with the recommendations below.

PRIVATE DINING | These restaurants offer private dining rooms so your group can “take over” the space and share lively conversation about what has wowed them so far on your tour. In Northern New Jersey: Bell’s Mansion Fine Dining Restaurant & Garden Bar, Boulevard

Five 72, Liberty House, Luciano’s and Mohawk House. In Central New Jersey: The Frog and The Peach, Lambertville Station Restaurant and Inn and Salt Creek Grille. In Southern New Jersey: Rod’s Olde Irish Tavern, Bobby Flay Steak, Ram’s Head Inn and The Smithville Inn.

ONE-OF-A-KIND EATERIES | Treat your group to memorable culinary experiences in venues that will have your group exclaiming, “Wow!” Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament serves up a four-course dinner with a side of live jousting and swordsmanship. Stunning views are on the menu at McLoone’s Boathouse, nestled into the South Mountain Recreation area. While the service staff at fusion restaurant Dragonfly is actually a fleet of robotic-assisted cats. It’s all aboard for New Jersey’s famed dining culture at the Clinton Station Diner. Or you can treat your group to (simulated) tropical storms in the Rainforest Café and the freshest catches in The Lobster House’s docked schooner.

The time to plan your touring “wow” is … right now. New Jersey offers a wide range of accommodations with competitive rates that beat its big-city neighbors by miles.

For expert assistance in wowing your group, head to


Out in far West Texas, the allure of El Paso captivates groups and travelers from across the U.S. and beyond. Maybe it’s the city’s year-round sunshine and warm temperatures, the sensational outdoor adventures offered, or the one-of-a-kind restaurants and cuisine that are beyond comparison. El Paso is the hidden gem of the Southwest, a friendly, exciting and constantly evolving destination always ready to welcome groups with open arms and true Texan hospitality. Plan your visit from sunrise to sunset to experience Texas like never before with a jam-packed itinerary to enjoy some of the best attractions and sights the Sun City has to offer. 19
Photo © New Jersey Division of Travel & Tourism

Mornings in El Paso are best enjoyed with an early breakfast and an outdoor adventure inside Franklin Mountains State Park. Start with a hearty breakfast from Julio’s Mexican Food or L&J Cafe and then make a short 20-minute drive up north to the Franklin Mountains. Explore the Aztec Caves, a group-friendly hike for people of all ages and witness panoramic views of the Rio Grande Valley. Bring along furry friends, sunscreen and water during this one-mile round trip hike.

Once the Aztec Caves are crossed off the list, enjoy a delicious lunch at Los Bandidos de Carlos & Mickey’s—a staple restaurant in El Paso best known for their “Texas-sized” margaritas, fresh chips and salsa, and an extensive menu of the most authentic Mexican plates. With plenty of seating to accommodate large groups, Carlos and Mickey’s is a crowd-favorite, sure to have something for everyone.

After lunch, immerse yourself in the heart of the Sun City in Downtown El Paso. From museums and shopping to historical architecture and entertainment, downtown has countless opportunities for fun. View the permanent collection of over 7,000 works of art at the El Paso Museum of Art, take the Downtown El Paso Mural Tour, or shop for handcrafted, custom cowboy boots at Rocketbuster Boots—each a perfect activity for curious souls.

As the day ends, close the night out in high spirits by spending the evening with dinner and a show! Treat yourself to an exquisite dining experience at Cafe Central, a century old, fine dining establishment known for its elegant ambiance and excellent cuisine. The night isn’t over without catching a show at the historic Plaza Theatre. Watch either a Broadway musical, concert or live performance underneath the stars on the Plaza’s ceiling, as they resemble the Southwestern sky in June.

One day in El Paso is far from enough to appreciate the city’s unique blend of history, culture and natural beauty. From its vast outdoor attractions to its vibrant street art scene, El Paso creates memories that will last a lifetime and will have you yearning for the chance to visit again.

See for more.


From the towering redwood forests of the Pacific Northwest to the slowpaced charm of the Southeast and everything in between, America is filled with adventures waiting to be had. It’s time to get closer to the cultures, landscapes, and people that make the United States one of the most fascinating countries in the world. What part of America is your group eager to explore? Consider these destinations:

New York | Explore “the city that never sleeps” on our Spotlight on New York City tour. From history buffs to foodies to Broadway fans, the Big Apple has something for everyone. Experience American history as you view the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Grab a slice at a pizzeria (or a bagel and a schmear at a deli), shop your way both uptown (Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s) and downtown (Greenwich Village), and take your seat at two sensational Broadway shows. Your group will be living it up … their way!

The Southeast | Get ready for warm hospitality, fantastic food, and music. Revel in the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains, explore Churchill Downs, and sip whiskey at a Kentucky distillery on our Bluegrass Country & the Smoky Mountains tour. On America’s Music Cities , your group can indulge in New Orleans’ classic Cajun dishes, visit Elvis’s Graceland,

Photo © Destination El Paso

and enjoy a show at the Grand Ole Opry. No matter which adventure you choose, it’ll be the trip of a lifetime.

National Parks | National parks are truly America’s gems—each one a celebration of the country’s rich natural heritage. On America’s National Parks & Denver, take a journey through some of the most spectacular sites in the U.S., including the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Bryce Canyon, and Rocky Mountain national parks. Or consider Spotlight on South Dakota for an exploration of the otherworldly landscapes of the Badlands and an exhilarating buffalo safari. Welcome to the wild west!

Alaska | The 49th state is on many a traveler’s bucket list. Our Alaska Discovery Land & Cruise takes your group along the Pacific coast on a beautifully appointed cruise ship, passing by massive glaciers and a world of marine life. Ride a luxury domed railcar on the way to Talkeetna, with unparalleled views of the mountain landscape. Relive the gold-rush days in historic Skagway and travel deep into Denali National Park for incredible views of the tundra and its wildlife. An unforgettable adventure.

To learn more or book your next group, visit , call 800.852.5655 , or contact your local travel professional. 21
Photo © Collette



TThe last of the original 13 British colonies, the Peachtree State represents as much of the United States’ early history as it does the modernness of today. From the mountains to the plains, and the urban centers in between, Georgia offers a variety of options to explore. Here, we’ll dive into some of the top spots that are popular among groups.

22 GROUPS TODAY May/June 2024
Photo © Visit Savannah

It makes sense to start with Savannah , given that it was the state’s first settlement, dating back to 1733. Known for its beautiful seaside landscapes, luscious seafood, architecture and a vibrant arts and culture scene, it’s also one of the largest National Historic Landmark Districts in the country. One suggested activity is a city tour, which can be done via a period-style trolley or with a knowledgeable step-on guide who will board your motorcoach. This two-hour excursion is an ideal way to get to know the “Hostess City of the South.”

For those interested in learning more about Savannah’s past, a visit to any or all of the Coastal Heritage Society’s six historical museums is in order. From battlefields to forts to railroads and more—plus a look into the Gullah Geechee culture—groups will get a well-rounded view of the city’s unique history. Groups are also encouraged to tour Davenport House, see airplane restoration at the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, take in the grandeur of Wormsloe State Historic Site, or enjoy afternoon tea with Savannah Riverboat Cruises. And, for foodies, there are Savannah Taste Experience walking food tours and cooking classes at Chef Darin’s Kitchen Table.

While in the area, don’t miss the opportunity to visit Tybee Island . In addition to enjoying sandy beaches and ocean views, other highlights include a stop at Tybee Island Light Station and Museum, dining among live gators at The Crab Shack and exploring marine life with an eco-kayak tour or nature walk.

If you want to give your group a one-of-a-kind experience, head to Peachtree City where 15 mph is just the right speed. Rent golf carts and traverse 100-plus miles of paved multi-use paths that connect visitors to all the area has to offer, whether it’s golfing, shopping, dining, natural areas or hotel accommodations. Another group favorite is taking a movie tour with Georgia Tour Company or Southern Hollywood Film Tours.

WWII history buffs will want to add a stop at CAF Airbase Georgia where there’s plenty of memorabilia on display and expert staff to chat with, as well as the option to rent a flight on a WWII Warbird. Golf outings, brewery tours and a behind-the-scenes tour of Atlanta Motor Speedway are also great itinerary adds. Before leaving, check out Alo Farms for a tour, farm dinner, class or nutrition workshop.

Next stop, Cartersville ! The county seat of Bartow County, it’s also known as “Museum City,” with three Smithsonian-affiliated museums: Tellus Science, Booth Western Art, and Savoy Automobile. Each offers a different facet of interest, and all are considered must-sees. Our friends at the CVB also recommend sipping some craft brews and slinging axes at the combined establishments of Drowned Valley Brewing Company and Game of Throwns. Major props for that clever name! Barnley Resort is a hit with groups as well, whether it’s shooting clays, horseback riding, golfing, a spa treatment or fine dining.

Photo © Cartersville-Bartow County CVB Photo © Peachtree City

There’s plenty more for history buffs to see in Cartersville, too. Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site, African American Heritage Trail, and Roselawn House Museum, to name a few. If art is more your thing, your group will definitely want to traverse the Iron Butterfly Trail, where they’ll marvel at a meandering array of hand-painted butterflies, made of local steel materials—each a tribute to the city’s mining past and colorful present.

Now, let’s tackle Atlanta , Georgia’s expansive capital city. In keeping with the “best of” theme, let’s look at a handful of favorites, given that we can’t possibly cover all that The ATL has to offer.

When visiting Atlanta, a trip to World of Coca-Cola is an absolute must. Located within the 20-acre Convention & Entertainment District, this attraction and tribute to the iconic beverage brand encompasses more than 135 years of history, with interactive exhibits, artifacts and memorabilia, and a brand-new, immersive Beverage Lab experience. Inside Beverage Lab, guests become active participants, delving into the science, creativity, and innovation behind Coca-Cola’s diverse offering. Groups can look inside the beverage process; taste the past, with samplings of classics such as TaB and New Coke; and shape the future, by tasting unreleased formulas and providing feedback. Don’t leave without getting a photo with the seven-foot-tall Coca-Cola Polar Bear or sipping a variety of delicious beverages from around the world.

Zoo Atlanta is next, located in Grant Park—a short distance from downtown. It’s not only home to one of the largest populations of gorillas in North America, it’s also the only U.S. zoo, at the time of this writing, where you can see giant pandas. Attractions include a petting zoo, the Norfolk Southern Train Ride and the Endangered Species Carousel, plus a virtual Gorilla Trek and Wild Encounters, which are behind-the-scenes experiences with Aldabra tortoises, African elephants, warthogs and lemurs. For an added fee, groups can tackle the Tree Top Trail ropes course. And, depending on when you visit, you might get an opportunity to attend one of their special events happening throughout the year. Just a few are Brew at the Zoo, Art Gone Wild, Savanna Nights, Wild World Weekend, Sippin’ Safari (for ages 21+) and IllumiNights Chinese Lantern Festival, which runs November through January.

Another group-friendly to-do while in Atlanta is Georgia Aquarium . With 15 or more people, you can get special rates, plus access to shows, presentations and animal galleries, as well as a variety of meal options. See beluga whales, encounter penguins and sea lions, or take a “Behind the Seas” tour. The Ocean Voyager exhibit has a wow factor with 6.3 million gallons of water, over 50 species, a 100-foot-long underwater tunnel and 4,574 square feet of viewing windows. As part of that exhibit, guests can also take part in the “Swim and Dive with the Whale Sharks” program.

Looking for more to do in A-Town? Some additional top picks include Illuminarium Atlanta, Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame, Atlanta Botanical Garden, Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site and Krog Street Market. And, just outside of the metropolis are Sandy Springs, known for its parks, rivers and natural areas, and Gwinnett County, a place rich in culture and diversity.

Photos © World of Coca-Cola / Georgia Aquarium

Take a Dive Into Wellness Travel and Tourism


IIt’s no secret that more and more groups are seeking experiences that are enriching, rejuvenating, and truly feed the mind, body and soul. So why exactly is this wellnesscentric type of travel growing in popularity? And what opportunities exist for groups and industry professionals looking to grow their own knowledge? To learn more, we connected with Anne Dimon, acknowledged wellness travel expert, industry consultant and Co-Founder and President/CEO of the Wellness Tourism Association (WTA).

To better understand this niche, let’s first take a look at some terms, outlined by WTA, which are meant to provide clarity to industry professionals:

WELLNESS TOURISM: A specific division of the global tourism industry that is defined by the common goal of marketing natural assets and/or activities primarily focused on serving the wellness-minded consumer and those who want to be.

WELLNESS TRAVEL: Travel that allows the traveler to maintain, enhance or kick-start a healthy lifestyle, and support or increase one’s sense of wellbeing.

“More group planners are gravitating toward more wellness-focused travel because they understand that

more people have adopted ‘wellness’ as a lifestyle and planners need to appeal to this ever-growing cohort,” Dimon said. “In addition, there are more offerings in various price categories, allowing more travelers to take advantage of packages and programs positioned within their travel budgets.”

It’s true there was a time when wellness travel was all about the spa experience. However, Dimon explained that while a spa experience can certainly enhance a trip, it’s not mandatory and other options are available.

“Since ‘wellness’ and ‘sense-of-wellbeing’ are defined in very personal terms, what constitutes ‘wellness travel experiences’ can certainly vary from person to another, and can depend on the traveler’s specific goal or intention,” Dimon said. “Some may want to use a particular trip with wellness as the total focus, while others simply want to incorporate wellness elements and activities into a trip they’re taking for another reason.”

26 GROUPS TODAY May/June 2024

Experiences with a wellness focus can vary greatly, from learning how to cook invigorating plant-based food at Fivelements Retreat in Bali, Indonesia, to finding hope and healing on a grief-centered cruise by “The Grief Cruises,” to group yoga retreats at Costa Rica’s Blue Osa and more. Even psychedelic-supported retreats—like those offered by Beckley Retreats in a number of locations—exist for those seeking another avenue for opening their mind and connecting to their most authentic self.

Regardless of what type of wellness experience travelers opt for, one factor remains consistent.

“While we are seeing more healthy aging and longevity-focused offerings, the most popular wellness travel theme today seems to be personalization of programs and customized packages,” Dimon said. “One of the reasons behind the growing popularity of ‘personalization’ is consumer demand. The WTA’s 2023 Wellness Travel Consumer Survey indicated that 75% percent of respondents preferred a self-guided program instead of a structured program.”

Many agree the popularity of wellness travel and tourism is only going to continue to grow.

“As more people come to realize that we are each individually responsible for our own health and wellbeing, the demand for wellness travel will continue to grow which, in turn, will fuel the continuing growth of the wellness tourism segment as more tourism stakeholders (hotels, tour operators, DMOs and travel advisors) look to cater to this ever-growing space,” Dimon shared.

Group travel professionals interested in growing their knowledge of wellness travel and tourism can take “Wellness: A Travel Specialist Course – 2nd Edition,” offered by the Travel Institute and WTA. This course, recommended and co-authored by Dimon, teaches participants about wellness travel terminology, trends, buyer profiles, consumer motivations and must-haves, a wide range of wellness travel products, as well as actionable advice from industry insiders. (

“Blue zones”—regions in the world where people live longer than average and enjoy a high quality of life—have also drawn curiosity from travelers seeking to improve their own wellness, especially on the heels of Netflix’s Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones . They include: Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Icaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California. 27 AD INDEX Aon Travel Practice 7 Chick-Fil-A College Football Hall of Fame 25 Collette 21 Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitor's Bureau 17 Huntsville/Madison County CVB 15 Jefferson CVB 12 New Jersey Division of Travel & Tourism 13 New Orleans & Company 3 Shores & Islands Ohio 12 SoIN Tourism 5 St. Landry Parish Tourist Commission 5 Top of the Rock Observation Deck 15 Tourism Cares C3 Travel Dubuque 16 Visit Detroit 8-9 Visit Savannah Area CVB C2 Visit Atlantic City C4 ADVERTISER PAGE
Photos © Adobe Stock

AGreg Dotson

Group Sales Manager

Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts

A 25-year industry veteran, Greg Dotson has always had a passion for entertainment. His career is vast, ranging from hotel concierge, to touring professional dancer, to production stage manager with Walt Disney Entertainment. Dotson also previously worked in the student travel realm with Kaleidoscope Adventures, where he built educational and performance-based itineraries for student groups traveling to destinations around the U.S. He eventually made his way to Merlin Entertainments as National Sales Manager, where he promoted over 30 renowned attractions across the U.S. and Canada.

Today, Dotson proudly serves as Manager of Group Sales at Orlando’s Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, where he has the opportunity to promote their vision of Arts For Every Life® to groups of all ages. Dotson also enjoys mentoring industry newcomers and volunteering, serving on the SYTA Foundation Board of Trustees, the ABA Foundation Board of Governors and Marketplace Advisory Committee, and locally as the Chair of the Foundation for Orange County Public Schools Board of Directors.

Groups Today caught up with Dotson to hear his latest thoughts!


The way we communicate with internal and external clients is evolving at a rapid rate and there are opportunities to integrate new tactics to better connect with our guests. We’ve learned that our younger clients prefer to communicate via text or direct message and their attention span has shrunk to just a few seconds. These changes make it challenging for us to keep up with the most effective tools for marketing. As soon as we learn one platform, we’re introduced to another. These challenges also lead to opportunities for growth and development as we find new market segments and ways to communicate.

Thankfully, the love our patrons have for the arts only grows by the tremendous exposure found on stage and screen, and now on the internet and beyond.


Following the pandemic, one of the greatest challenges I’ve experienced is people’s resistance to leaving their homes or offices to do business. Our industry is based upon building relationships, and that has become less and less effective when done so over the phone or computer. I’m always happy to work with someone who is job searching and provide feedback, however, when I learn they’re limiting their hospitality industry search to only remote roles, I feel conflicted. There are certainly reasons why someone must work from home, however the industry is built on relationships that take years to cultivate. I’d encourage students coming out of college to look for opportunities to truly develop these skills through lived experiences and on-the-job reps, as these tools are necessary to excel.


We recently opened Judson’s Live, a brand-new music room inspired by iconic listening venues across the country. It offers an intimate space for music exploration and connection, while offering delicious small plates and an extensive cocktail and brown spirits menu. We now have four performance venues in our building, in addition to multiple event spaces and the AdventHealth School of the Arts.

We’ve also announced our upcoming ‘24/’25 Broadway Season—our biggest lineup since opening in 2014. Next season, we’ll welcome new shows to Orlando like Shucked , Some Like It Hot , and A Beautiful Noise , as well as familiar favorites like Mamma Mia , Book of Mormon , and Disney’s The Lion King . We truly have something for everyone.

28 GROUPS TODAY May/June 2024
Photo © Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts

Turn static files into dynamic content formats.

Create a flipbook
Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.