Meet Gene Harley, a former radio broadcaster turned travel professional and broadcasting extraordinaire who has visited more than 80 countries on 6 continents. Gene has dedicated more than 22 years to his love of travel and broadcasting. Today, he creates upscale travel itineraries for African American individuals, groups and corporations for his company, Advantage International based in Chicago, along with producing a national weekly travel show.
Gene, tell us about yourself?
I was a former radio broadcaster who always loved travel. I am now a travel professional who is still involved in broadcasting. I am lucky that today I get to do both – as Managing Director of Advantage International, that has been designing upscale group travel for African American individuals, groups and corporations for more than 22 years, and also as the executive producer for a national weekly travel show, Traveling Culturati. I have been actively traveling my entire life and have visited over 80 countries on 6 continents.
How did you fall in love with travelling or start working within the travel industry?
I am a “baby boomer” and had the privilege of travelling with my family. I continued to travel as an adult and included travel as elements of NTR while in radio. I moved to travel full time in 2004.
What kind of traveller are you?
I prefer luxury travel but do like to be open and not always follow a strict schedule. My clients have similar preferences and prefer upscale travel with all items included and set up in advance.
Tell us about one of your most memorable trips/travel moments. Where and why?
I get to relive one of my most memorable moments on nearly every trip. We include visits to churches, schools, and community groups and after the fellowship, I have travellers who come to me with tears in their eyes, thanking me for the experience. They can reflect on themselves and our common experiences from those visits.
What lessons have you learnt from your experience during COVID-19 – both personally and in your business?
The need for flexibility and to constantly go over our policies and procedures. COVID-19 has and will continue to change the way we view and book travel.
How confident are you that the travel and tourism industry in Africa (especially South Africa) will survive & prosper over the next 2-3 years?
I do feel there will be some long-term changes, just as there are after wars, natural catastrophes and big economic changes. But travel will be back. South Africa is strong and is an international destination that will bounce back strong. Our clients cannot wait…
What do we need to do to make sure that happens?
An international approach to secure in the minds of all travellers is safety. Testing all travellers at the airports of disembarkation. Being mindful of the standard of cleaning and security at the destinations. Information and policies that match the guidelines set by the WHO.
Based on the five senses and thinking about travelling what do you…
Like to see: The diverse people and culture
Like to taste: The food of the regions
Like to feel: The luxury of a hotel bed after a long day
Like to hear: The sound of wildlife on safari
Like to smell: The air at the destinations, especially the sea
Suggestions on resources for other travel and tourism stakeholders. Any websites, publications, podcasts, thought leaders you can recommend or newsletters we should sign up to?
I utilize social media and the DMO and Travel Bureaux for the latest news and ideas. I share these on my travel show as well as with clients.
Lastly, what do you love about Africa Travel Week (WTM Africa) and do you think live trade shows will still be important going forward (why)?
I could not do my job without trade shows. I cannot visit and meet with the people and experience the destinations in any other way.
We will especially need shows such as this as the world ‘reopens.’ Travellers rely on us to let them know when and where to travel and they need to see us traveling before they come back. The sooner, the better.