FTA Honors: Celebrating Innovation, Excellence, and Person-of-the-Year

FTA Honors: Celebrating Innovation, Excellence, and Person-of-the-Year

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It was a night unlike any other, many travel veterans said. Monday evening, at the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club, the FTA unveiled FTA Honors – a new initiative that’s meant to celebrate the dedication and innovation of some incredible FTA members who are helping families discover the power of travel and making travel more accessible to families all around the world.

This year’s recipients included members of the media, travel agent community, and industry suppliers: Erin Kirkland, R Family Vacations, Nicole Thibault, British Virgin Islands and Family Traveller Magazine.

Kristin Karst, AmaWaterways with Nicole Thibault, Owner, Magical Storybook Travels

Nicole Thibault, Owner, Magical Storybook Travels, was recognized for her work to help families with autistic children feel more comfortable taking vacations, while also working with travel suppliers and destinations to educate them better about the needs of this niche. Thibault’s son Tristan

In her acceptance speech, Thibault talked about how when her son Tristan was first diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, she and her husband wondered if their plans for traveling around the globe as a family were dashed.

“We thought our dreams were doomed. There were meltdowns in airports, airplanes, so for a while, we didn’t travel,” she recounted.

But determined to overcome the challenges, and with the family focused on helping Tristan acclimate to different situations, the Thibault family started taking small, short trips, to help Tristan become accustomed to the routine of traveling.

Thibault’s experience and expertise led to her career in travel, including her current affiliation with the IBCCES, helping the travel industry understand the needs of families with autism members.

Thibault thanked FTA founder Rainer Jenss for helping her think through her strategy for helping other families, and fellow travel agent Sally Black for being her biggest cheerleader.

“And thank you Tristan,” she said finishing, “because without him, none of this would have happened in the first place. You make me a better person, a better mom, and a better travel agent.

Kelli Carpenter and Gregg Kaminsky were honored for their pioneering work in the L.G.B.T market at R Family Vacations. In her acceptance remarks, Carpenter talked about the privilege she has felt working with so many appreciative families. She talked about the comments she, Kaminsky and their company continually receive for creating an environment of acceptance for during their vacations like every other family.

Kelli Carpenter and Gregg Kaminsky were honored for their pioneering work in the L.G.B.T market at R Family Vacations

“We have the greatest job in the world,” Carpenter said.

Trefor Grant, Product Director, British Virgin Islands (BVI), and Laura Begley Bloom, Chief Content Officer, Family Traveller Magazine, were celebrated for their work to help BVI promote itself again to the world as it recovered from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Fall 2017.

Grant thanked travel agents and tour operators who kept in close touch with him and BVI Tourism following the devastating double punch that destroyed 90 percent of the island’s hotel rooms. He also thanked MSC Cruises, which donated a temporary structure to house children in Virgin Gorda, so they could attend school.

“To get people to come back to BVI, we had to be innovative. One of the ways was reaching out to Family Traveller, and working with the Family Traveller group was amazing,” Grant said, praising the publication’s professionalism and enthusiasm in producing content that demonstrated BVI was ready to welcome families again.

Finally, Erin Kirkland, Publisher, AKontheGO.com, was recognized for her work encouraging Alaskan parents to traverse the state with their children, and inspiring children to travel and read. One of her biggest initiatives has been the launch and promotion of airport libraries throughout her home state, a program called Read on the Fly. Today, she has 14 shelves in 7 Alaska airports, making travel easier for families, while also promoting childhood literacy.

Erin Kirkland and her family

Closing out her acceptance remarks, Kirkland quoted President John F. Kennedy:

“Children are the living messages sent to a time we will not see.”

“It is a privilege to help shape these messages,” Kirkland said, “in one of the last great wild places on earth.” Following Summit 2018, Kirkland raised more than $2,700 for her program through a Facebook fundraiser campaign, supported by many FTA members.

At the end of the evening, Kristin Karst was selected as the 2018 FTA Person of the Year, for her vision and commitment in opening the river cruising category for families, and for her role in developing key family-related initiatives.

Kristin Karst was selected as the 2018 FTA Person of the Year

Opening her remarks, Karst first thanked the attendees and the FTA for the experience collectively created at the Summit. “Actually coming here for the first time, I want to say, this is almost like, changing my life,” she said.

In her acceptance speech, Karst talked about how travel remains a deeply personal, people business, and how its strengths lie in the way people connect with each other through travel.

“Material things change. Rivers change. Maybe even ports change. But it’s the human connection that will never change,” Karst said, accepting the award on behalf of the entire AmaWaterways family.

The evening’s festivities were generously sponsored by MSC Cruises.

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