Serena Andrews Higdon, owner of Team Travel Source, remembers watching the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center being built. It was a dream location to host a cheerleading championship event she produced, but the rates offered were too high for the event’s families to afford.
Then came Sept. 11, 2001, when everything changed. The 9/11 terrorist attacks severely cut attendance at the cheerleading event because it was hosted in the nation’s capital, minutes from where one of the hijacked planes flew into the Pentagon.
It took Higdon several years to build the attendance of her event back up. She knew there needed to be a strategic and positive change.
A few years later, during the start of the Great Recession, she put a proposal together for the Gaylord sales team to move the event from the nearby Patriot Center at George Mason University to the brand-new Gaylord National in Prince George’s County, Maryland.
This time, the timing played to her advantage. The rate dropped from what was initially proposed at over $200 per night to $129 per night—which she locked in for three years. Because the convention center had more space than the Patriot Center, and because of the low rates she was able to negotiate, Higdon’s event tripled in size in the first year.
“That was the difference in the growth of our business,” says Higdon, who went on to eventually sell the company (one of several she has sold) en route to becoming one of the sports tourism industry’s most influential members. She was a Connect Sports Game Changer in 2018.
While the country copes with another crisis, albeit a far different one paralyzing the sports and travel industries, Higdon’s story resonates during the COVID-19 lockdown.
“If you know you're going to have an event in two years, now is the time to do the RFP,” she says. “I know it seems crazy, but it’s going to make the difference in your business. Think about the things you always wanted to do and ask for what you need to accomplish those things. Everyone in our industry is looking for new partners and events. For me, being able to get the lower rates at a venue that everyone wanted to go to, but could not, was the difference that changed my destiny. Think for the future and you will be the company that grows from this tragedy.”
With sports shut down on the professional, amateur and youth levels, Team Travel Source is using its connections and industry knowledge to benefit both planners and suppliers.
It originally set up a portal for CVBs to enter open dates and available venues from cancelations they have had or openings that they were still trying to fill for when events return. It wanted to help, to add value to its partners on both sides of the aisle, events, cities and hotels. Within two days, 55 organizations responded, representing all regions and sizes of markets. Combined, the response was the equivalent of 500,000 room nights and 5 million square feet of playing space. Dates ranged from June 2020 into spring 2021. Outdoor and indoor venues are about equally represented.
Because of the success, Team Travel Source has now also set up a portal for planners and event organizers. It wants to expand its efforts outside of its partners and help the whole sports community it loves. The idea is to become a matchmaker.
TTS Director of Sales and Strategic Planning, Joe Albsmeyer, who recently joined the group from the Dallas Sports Commission, has been instrumental in the effort, says Higdon.
Higdon realized the need for such a service as more than 80 TTS-operated events were canceled or postponed in March and April. She remains confident her business is in a good position, and the sports industry will bounce back, even if it takes a little help from companies like hers. She has been encouraged by the events that have rescheduled and reopened to the attendees because the room rebooking has come close to matching the original pick up.
Higdon states, “People want to have sports back and we believe it will be one of the first industries this country embraces.”
“I hope this will be a few months and then it will start to turn around, which is what seems to be have happened in the other countries that have started to get through it,” says Higdon.
Event Producers Portal: https://www.ttsfaqs.com/sports-helping-sports
CVB Portal: https://www.ttsfaqs.com/partnercitysourcing
More information, email Serena Andrews Higdon here.