Up, Up and Away – Changes in Latitude

It snowed overnight, but there was hope the white trim on the Red Rock Mountains would melt by the time the birds awoke with their early morning chirping.  In Sedona, Arizona, on an open field, a hot air balloon was waiting.

As my wife an I arrived to the remote location, we could see the crew inflate our chariot – the majestic balloon that would carry us on this sunrise odyssey over the valley of Central Arizona.   It took a bit of effort (as did our newly acquainted companions) to climb into the bucket.  But soon, with the pilot making adjustments to balance the weight of the passengers, we silently and softly rose above the desert floor.

Though the balloon was huge, there was little room in the basket.  Divided into four compartments with four passengers each, the basket was very crowded which we learned was necessary for safety since there are no restraints to hold travelers inside.Hot air balloon

As we glided 100-300 feet above the valley, we were speechless.  The pilot explained as we moved across the sky, he was in complete control of all of the vertical movements, but had no control over its horizontal direction.  The air currents are in charge of that. With the rising sun behind us, the Red Rocks in front of us and the valley below, it was breathtaking.  Although the breezes pushed us in a southerly direction, we didn’t feel the wind because we travelled at the same rate of speed.  It was a calm morning and we felt that all movement was in slow motion.

Forty-five minutes later, it was time to begin the descent and landing approach.  Using a simple cell phone, the pilot alerted the crew to where he though the wind would allow us to land .  But as we gradually worked our way to ground level, it was apparent that the pilot’s educated guess was one mile or so off course.  Another phone call and adjustments were made and we began our final approach. But we still had one final obstacle.

A deep canyon stood between the landing site and our craft.  As the balloon descended into the canyon, the updrafts lifted it to flat land.  Slowly and surely, the balloon sank into the canyon and soon our frazzled nerves dissipated as we ascended  to a perfect landing.

As we exited the balloon on that crisp November morning, a champagne breakfast awaited us as we processed the marvel we just experienced.






Each Wednesday, KMM’s staff members share stories and anecdotes about their
memorable vacations, recent and past.  These will be personal
recollections about trips to our beloved Jersey shore, across America,
and around the world.  Changes in Latitude………..




What’s So Special About Middlesex County?

WWWEYEfinal1Nearly six years ago I stumbled into a meeting with the Director of the Middlesex County Regional Chamber of Commerce (MCRCC).  The people at the meeting were discussing creating a Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB) within the chamber in order to promote tourism in MiddlesexCounty.  Although I thought tourism in this county was somewhat laughable, they were serving sandwiches so I decided to stay for the meeting.

Since that inaugural meeting, we have seen this idea develop and grow into a high functioning part of the MCRCC.  The mission to collaborate with the business community has been greatly enhanced by our efforts with the hospitality industry.  Thanks to the financial support from our charter members, state grants, and membership dues we have seen the CVB become a valuable resource for our county’s economy.

Travel and tourism is not something that is foreign to Middlesex County.  Our history for travelers goes back before colonial times.  Route 27, which dissects the county, was called the King’s Highway in the 18th century connecting New York and Philadelphia.  New Jersey is the crossroads of the American Revolution and Middlesex County is the crossroads of New Jersey.  No where else does the Turnpike and Parkway intersect.  Our commerce has something for everybody along Route 1, Route 9, Route 18, Route 34 or Route 35.  An employee at the gift ship I was at in Xian, China asked me where I was from in the United States, and when I said NJ he said , “Exit 8A?” (which is also located in Middlesex County).  There is no place else that can be called the home of Thomas Edison and Elsie the Cow.

Middlesex County is the definition of a great location with so much to offer.  We have first-rate theaters, diverse ethnic restaurant choices, a rich history, first class hotels and meeting rooms, and a nationally prominent university.  These are the reasons that these numbers make so much sense.

The state total is over $ 38 billion, and one tenth of our employment base is tied into travel and tourism.

In 2011,  Middlesex County  tourism generated $ 1.8 billion of revenue and provided for over 35,000 jobs.  Middlesex County has and will continue to be near the top in occupancy tax dollars collected, which directly assists municipalities with the ever-increasing burden of property taxes.

Understanding the financial value to this industry is how a regional CVB and MCRCC can help grow our economy.  As I said, our first few years with a volunteer board and a decreased amount of state aid, we were still able to develop a strategy and plan to promote travel and tourism.  In 2012, we began to see the implementation of this plan beginning to take hold.  Our sleek modern website, travel guide, search engine upgrades, and direct radio advertising has seen a significant increase in our visibility and viability.  Our website in 2012 had a 500% increase in hits, our RFP collaboration with hotels has generated some significant business opportunities, and our outreach to local municipal leaders has extended our capacity for local business.

We look at 2013 as a watershed opportunity to have the MCRCC and CVB play a vital role helping our local businesses recover from the doldrums we have seen over the past few years.  We see the Big Ten participation and the Superbowl Game as major boosts to the travel and tourism industries in MiddlesexCounty.  But I believe it would be too limiting to call tourism a sight specific business.  If our restaurants got more people to eat dinner out, there will probably be more work for local plumbers.  If more people visit Middlesex County, our gas stations will sell more gasoline and accountants will have more service station owners needing tax assistance.

Our Freeholder Director announced at his reorganization last week of how much additional collaboration he hopes to achieve with us in 2013.  Our partnership has always been extremely valuable, but having additional support will go a long way to a stronger economic development plan for our county.

We plan on using our business support for over 100 years as a stepping stone to advance the potential positive impact coming our way this year.  We will be promoting Superbowl and Rutgers packages.  We will be fine tuning our marketing research, we will be hosting Meet the Mayors meetings, and we will use our marketing tools to help you grow your business.  We want to help.  We know our value, and we want you to join us to work together for the greater good for Middlesex County residents and businesses.

~BN (Speech given at the Convention of Visitor’s Bureau 2.10.13 event)