Georgina Lorencz, founder and president of African Travel Seminars (www.africantravelseminars.com), received one of the travel industry’s highest forms of praise with this year’s APEX Distinguished Service Award from Black Meetings & Tourism magazine.
“I was thrilled, excited and could not contain myself. Knowing the caliber of the award, I initially thought someone was messing with me,” Lorencz laughs.
Black Meetings & Tourism magazine, or BM&T, confers the award each year to individuals whose outstanding achievements, tireless efforts and diligence further the notability of their specific niche, and positively impact the travel industry in the area of heritage tourism. Lorencz was one of the individuals recognized at The Travel Professionals of Color’s 10th annual conference and Trade Show, held May 17-20 in Denver, Colo.
The event was established in 2002 by Charlotte Haymore, owner and manager of Charlotte’s Cruises – N – Tours, and Betty Jones, owner of CB Jones Travel Services. It is the first event in the Rocky Mountain Region that focuses on the needs and education of today’s travel professionals of color. BM&T, a sponsor of the event, caters exclusively to the more-than $40 billion African-American meetings, incentives, leisure and group travel market.
Ghanaian-born Lorencz says she started African Travel Seminars in 1996 to give travelers an experience “above and beyond” that of your typical vacation trip. That means giving her clients a memorable experience that incorporates adventure, as well as education about the history and culture of the countries they visit. “When I was working as a director with colleges, I was not impressed by the monotonous tours and watered-down history of Ghana and other African countries being offered to travelers. I wanted to change that,” Lorencz explains.
She has greatly enhanced the experience by utilizing all available methods of education, including readings, surveying archeological sites and discoveries, lectures, field adventures and outings that allow the travelers to experience a true, cultural immersion. “I manage to build in the academic component. There are even assignments, and a pretest is given before you travel,” she says.
Her company customizes programs for each client. Her goal is not only to change the mindset and knowledge of the traveler, but also to leave a positive, lasting effect on the area and the people visited. “I place an enormous emphasis on leaving the country in a better condition than when the groups or travelers arrived,” Lorencz says.
She achieves this by asking participants to leave items for the people, which could be as simple as pens, notebooks, or school supplies. “You’d be surprised how, in some of these countries, children use discarded straight-edge razor blades as pencil sharpeners,” she says. In some cases church groups, she adds, colleges, and/or sole travelers have been so moved by the ATS experience that they have started scholarship programs in some regions.
Although ATS focuses mostly on Africa, it arranges tours to destinations in Central and South America, such as Costa Rica and Brazil. Special-interest groups can even book spiritual heritage tours to The Holy Land. In tough economic times, such special-interest, as well as activist, school and church-based groups, are the most loyal. “They account for the majority of recurring business while the number of solo, luxury travelers dwindles,” Lorencz explains.
Lorencz sees her APEX award as an endorsement of the work she does through ATS. “I want people to realize they are going to learn, that it’s not just a tour. You’re not just seeing sights. It’s educational,” she insists.