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Business Traveler Interview: Nathan Kam

This is part of a new series here at WhyGo Business Travel featuring brief interviews with people who travel for work, asking them about what they do and some of their favorite travel tips. This way, if you’re looking for a career that will require travel, you’ll get to read about people doing some of the jobs you might consider – and you’ll also learn a few great travel tips from the travel pros!

This week, we’re talking with Nathan Kam. Born and raised in Hawaii, Nathan works in Honolulu at a PR/marketing company. He blogs about family fun and life in Hawaii (with my wife and two kids) at The Kam Family Blog: You can also find him on Twitter as @nathankam.

What do you do?
In a nutshell, I’m a public relations guy. I’m a vice president in the Travel & Tourism Group at McNeil Wilson Communications (MWC), a division of Anthology Marketing Group, here in Honolulu. We’re Hawaii’s largest integrated marketing company. I lead the account team that services the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB) account. More about my background on LinkedIn:

What kind of travel do you get to do for work? Do you get to choose where you go?
Most of my travel for work involves executing our public relations initiatives in Hawaii’s key source markets across the U.S. Mainland. HVCB is contracted by the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA), the state of Hawaii’s tourism agency, for marketing management services in North America. We do everything from consumer events and in-market promotions, to media blitzes (meeting with media), media and industry events, and also attend various travel and new media conferences to stay on top of the latest trends.

As far as my travel schedule goes, I’ve been working at MWC for close to 11 years, so I do get to pick and choose my travel most of the time. This is by design since I have two young children ages 4 and 1 years old. I want to be there to watch them grow up…I don’t want to miss a thing (to steal a line from Aerosmith). At the same time, I have a wonderful team of young professionals who are always eager to hit the road.

How often do you get to travel for work?
When I first started working on the HVCB account as a senior account executive, I’d travel 8-10 times per year. In my current position, I’m now traveling to the mainland maybe 1-2 times a quarter. And traveling for work doesn’t afford for a lot of extra time to explore a place most of the. However, when there is a few hours after the work is done, I always try to make the most of it. As I’ve grown in my job and as a professional, you start to appreciate different things that you can only get traveling. Things like great cuisine, small towns, really getting to meet the locals and do things they do. It’s one of the reasons I love social media/networking and Twitter in particular. You can connect with people/colleagues in other parts of the world, start building a relationship with them, then even meet them when you’re in their neck of the woods. It’s changed the way I experience a destination when I travel significantly.

Did you choose your job at least in part because you love to travel? Would you make the same job choice again, knowing what you know now?
Honestly, I grew up in a family that didn’t travel much beyond Los Angeles…Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Universal Studios to be exact. 🙂 So travel wasn’t one of the initial reasons I chose this career path. In fact, my first public relations job included work for a ministry, shopping center, radio station, and a hotel group. Doesn’t get much more diverse then that does it? It was during my internship and first year at this agency (which is no longer around) that I began to realize I really enjoyed working with my hotel client and the hospitality side of the business. Soon after, an opportunity to join MWC’s Travel & Tourism Group was available working on the Kauai Visitors Bureau account. And as they say, the rest is history.

Knowing what I know now about public relations, I would ABSOLUTELY make the same job choice again. This profession fits my personality, the drive inside of me to always push myself and those around me to produce the best work possible, my need for diversity in the type of work I get to do, and so much more…all from “behind the scenes.” Being in the spotlight was never something I wanted. But knowing you can help a client reach success through creativity and a solid strategic approach is very rewarding.

What are some of your favorite travel tips that you’ve picked up?
Keeping the business travel focus here:

  • When possible, try to extend a day or two on your business trip to give yourself some time to really enjoy the city you’re traveling to. I remember traveling to places like New York, Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco for the first time for work. We’d work hard promoting Hawaii tourism with multiple events from morning to night. Then you realize your three days in the city are up and you didn’t have a chance to see much beyond your hotel. If you have the time and opportunity, stay a bit longer and explore…especially if it’s a place you may not be going back to for a while.
  • If you love to eat, travel with a chef. I’ve had the opportunity to travel with many great Hawaii chefs to the mainland and have returned home just blown away by the experiences. I’m not just talking about great meals, but I once found myself visiting an organic farm 50 minutes south of Seattle picking vegetables with the chef for a media dinner. He made a call ahead of time to the family, they invited him to go down and harvest what he needed, and we ended up making new friends. It was quite the experience and one that I would not have gotten had I been on my own. But beyond that, I’ve learned so much about food, eating, cooking, sustainability, farmers, producers…you name it…just traveling, working, and talking story with them. I would imaging the same would go for any other passion point…like arts/culture, wellness, golfing, etc.
  • Be careful with the hotel mini bar. And not in the sense of consuming the items inside of them. But many hotels lately have gotten smart about monitoring what comes out of the mini refrigerators in your hotel room. Some even with sensor devices that threaten to charge you within 10 seconds of an item leaving the shelf. Sometime when we travel, we need refrigeration for things like lei and other perishable items. Just be careful if you plan to use the mini bar fridge as your source of coldness. 🙂
  • The valets/bellman are your friends. When it comes to things like cars/taxis to the airport…especially for large groups like we tend to travel with…it’s smart to ask the hotel bellman for advice. I recently found out that they have special relationships with reputable car services that can get your group of six to the airport in a luxury car/SUV for the same price (and sometimes less) than a crazy taxi cab. But you need to ask to get this kind of insider knowledge.
  • Loyalty rules! If you know you’re going to be traveling frequently, and if you can stick to the same carrier, hotel, rental car company, etc. for your travel needs, loyalty has its perks. Airline mileage starts to add up, hotel points begin to accumulate, and free rental car vouchers being showing up in the mail. And if you work for a company that allows you to keep these loyalty rewards for personal use, all that hard work you’re putting in at the office could mean a break on that awesome family trip somewhere down the line.

What advice do you have for someone who’s interested in doing what you do?
Do it! The public relations and communications fields are evolving constantly because of social media and changing digital landscape. It’s a great time to be getting into the game and those who are smart about the Internet and new methods of communications will have an advantage. But old fashioned hard work, common sense, willingness to learn, and an open mind goes a long, long way too. Tie your communications/marketing/public relations skill set into an industry that you’re passionate about…whether it be travel, non-profit organizations, healthcare, government, fashion, public affairs. You’ll love going to work every morning that much more.

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