It would be easy to close out the year by simply recapping observations from 2013 columns. This December, though, I’m going to comment on three things I’ve learned this past year. I want to challenge you to do the same. Ready?

I’ve learned that social media is here to stay. For the long-term health of your business, it must be embraced. I did two columns this past year that addressed digital marketing. The latter dealt specifically with social media. Although our company is in the forefront of online marketing, it was a tough subject for an old print guy to tackle. However, it just made sense to get involved. Once I learned social media wasn’t going anywhere, it was necessary to learn how some of it worked. I turned to Lance Harrell, Premier Tourism Marketing’s online director, and Jeff Gayduk, our publisher. They set me up with Pinterest, a great way to connect visually with our readers, and Skype, a must-have for any business. It was easier than I envisioned. I immediately saw how they both have a positive impact on any business.

The Pinterest advantage is obvious. We are a visual people. You have pictures of your friends and family beside their cell phone number. Sharing images of last year’s holiday tours with your Pinterest followers sure helps fill the coaches for this year’s trips. Encourage your customers to follow you on Pinterest at every opportunity and post, post and post some more. Skype is a great business-to-business video conferencing tool. To this day I am still a believer that tour & travel is more high-touch than hi-tech. Skype bridges that divide. It’s like sitting across the table at a marketplace, but you’ve never left your office. Nothing beats face-to-face meetings. Both these new media are available on your desktop, laptop, iPad and cell phone. And they’re free to download and use!

I’ve learned that certain segments of group travel better get in step with Generation X. In researching a column on how to sell seniors, I came across information on Generation X, the 51 million born from 1965-1976. It was staggering. They may be the best educated, but they have the lowest voter turnout. They are frequently labeled “the lost generation.” Generation Xers were quoted by Newsweek as “the generation that dropped out without ever turning on the news or tuning in to the social issues around them.” In 20 years they will range from 58-68, closing in on retirement and free to travel. Sure, but that’s almost a quarter of a century before we have to deal with them. Right? Here’s the realistic picture: Today the Xers are 38-48 and you’re dealing with them every day. They may be planning the senior class trip or putting together a young adults missionary tour. The tour & travel industry must understand Generation X long before we can expect them on a tour.

I’ve learned that product is a critical part of your marketing mix. There’s nothing I like better than listening to tour professionals talk about what’s working and, of course, what’s not. Is it a scientific path to understanding the industry? Probably not, but those conversations have tremendous value in providing insight. Countless times I’ve heard from a tour planner that a trip they never expected to happen sold out and had a waiting list. Many readily admit there’s just no way of telling what’s going to work. The astute operator is presenting an eclectic mix of tour options to his customers. The sharp destination is Cooking Up Irresistible Itineraries.

As my dad told a young me, “Enjoy your youth because the older you get the dumber you’ll get.” At the time I believed he had finally appreciated my intelligence. As I grew older and realized how little I really know, I recognized what he meant. Keep learning, my friends.