Building Community During COVID-19: An Interview with Marilyn Ball of Speaking of Travel

Communities are so important, especially during this time. In this blog series, we spoke to three leaders who build communities around travel and sustainability. They gave us their insight on what they are doing to change the way they build community during this time.

This interview is with Marilyn Ball. Ball is the founder of 12Twelve Collaborative Solutions with 25+ years of marketing and communication experience in the tourism, economic development, hospitality and micro-enterprise industries. She has spoken on the subject of Family Travel Trends in the U.S at the Hawaiian Tourism Authority’s annual meeting, and was part of a delegation team promoting North Carolina tourism in Ireland and England.

Marilyn Ball is the host of Speaking of Travel, an iHeart Radio show and global podcast. She began Speaking of Travel as a way to incorporate her love of travel and adventure with a portal for great storytelling from others who have unique travel stories and inspiring, uplifting and enriching travel experiences.

In all of your work, what have you learned about the importance of building community?

Marilyn Ball: I believe community building is achieved through a collaborative approach focusing on a common purpose and a shared vision for the future. In my book, “The Rise of Asheville: An Exceptional History of Community Building,” I describe how our community came together with locals and newcomers reaching across cultural and financial divisions to join forces and work together to create economic development in a historically poor region, without compromising the cultural riches that make this place so unique. When a community joins hands and hearts together, unlimited possibilities open up.

How did the coronavirus impact your organization and its plans for 2020? What changes do you anticipate for 2021 and beyond?

M.B.: This year is a breakout year for Speaking of Travel. Podcasting over the years has created a larger audience and continues to grow and in this time of the coronavirus, when people are housebound and missing traveling, Speaking of Travel provides inspiring stories of travel and adventure that are evergreen. The latest journey might be on hold, but listening to dreamy narratives from the travel community continues to remind us of the importance of living in the moment and that the experiences and connections in life are what matter most.

I have changed up the template of the show to include time to bring in community leaders for updates on what resources are available for help, how the airport is doing and to also provide some encouraging and hopeful messages. Moving forward, I’ll continue to provide interesting and varied conversations from people around the world and right here in my backyard. In addition, I have started a new podcast with another in the works. The one running now is Real Kids, Real Stories. Each week I interview a child about what it’s like to be living in the age of the coronavirus. These interviews are about 6 minutes long and each child writes his or her own questions. Coming up will be Brothers and Sisters Like These… conversations with Vietnam vets who will tell their own stories, recite their poems or sing a handwritten piece of music, all part of a healing process grounded in the arts. This podcast will be in association with the NC Veteran’s Writing Alliance.

Have you changed the way you build community right now? How have you responded? How do you plan to respond?

M.B.: Speaking of Travel is about people and connections. The stories kindle travel. I continue to build this community around a variety of people: travel influencers, family, friends, authors, musicians, veterans, mentors and industry leaders. With so many attractions and organizations put on hold, I’m reaching out and offering complimentary space on Speaking of Travel for these folks to keep their messages alive. Some are doing virtual tours, others telling their stories. I run these as a “commercial” break. Now people are reaching out to me and asking for ways to participate, whether through a sweepstakes or another form of engagement. My platform is providing a place for the community to come together.

What has been the impact of the coronavirus on your community’s members?

M.B.: The Speaking of Travel community includes people who love to travel, travel Industry leaders, travel brands and others who love dreaming and being inspired by travel. They are proving to be a creative, mindful, informed community as we journey through this uncharted territory. They are encouraging people to stay local for now and observe social distancing. And many are using social media to keep their morale high with messages of hope and staying strong, providing reassurance and encouragement to think about future travel plans instead of the way things are right now.

What advice do you have for everyone under quarantine, and in particular, travel lovers?

M.B.: I want to remind everyone to always dream big, never letting go of the sense of wanderlust and curiosity. This is a perfect time to learn about other countries and cultures, even if you’re exploring from your sofa. Right now there are so many ways to experience the world through virtual tours, webcams, and live streams. Grab a good travel book and search for articles on travel destinations that you’d like to visit in the future. Or whip up some recipes from worldwide chefs and create an exotic dish in your own kitchen. Or why not take an online language course and be ready to travel to another country and speak that language? Bottom line is to seek out ways to stay connected to communities across the world.

When you look to the future, what are you hopeful for? What challenges do you foresee?

M.B.: I believe people will respond to the lowering of travel restrictions by traveling. Early studies are revealing people might stay closer to home initially, and then begin to venture further out as they begin to feel safe and secure. I have confidence in the long-term future of travel. And I am hopeful the environment and climate change will become more top-of-mind, with sustainability for the planet everyone’s top priority. Our biggest challenges will be in creating a clear vision, strong policies, and collective strategies to transform the way we think and how we create a sustainable global environment.

What resources can you share?

M.B.: Stay informed by checking in with a trusted source like the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The U.S. Department of State. Also check out travel influencers like Scott’s Cheap Flights and Johnny Jet for current travel information.

If you’re interested in learning more about Marilyn’s work and her podcast, visit her at: