Alton has more than thirty years of broad experience in the hospitality industry, he has been an active leader in many of the industry’s associations, both locally and nationally. He is one of the first in the hospitality industry to earn his Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) designation. He was the first recipient of the One KC Award given out by the Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association for setting the standard of excellence in hospitality and tourism. Alton is currently serving his term as the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Overland Park Convention & Visitors Bureau. Alton directs and supports the entire Agenda: USA organization.
Alton Hagen: While interviewing for an administrative position with a tour operator, the interviewer made the observation that I might be a good candidate for a Tour Manager position, leading groups of people to domestic and international destinations.
I jumped at the chance and fell in love with the opportunities this gave me to experience and learn from the history, culture, sights and sounds of so many diverse locations while helping those traveling with me to do the same.
MM: Has there been a defining moment in your life that made you decide to take the direction in life that you did?
AH: Yes. Because of my Tour Manager experience of working with Destination Management Companies around the world, in the late ‘80s I was asked by a Kansas City based Event Coordinator to arrange a rather complicated shuttle service for multiple groups ranging in size from 200 to 400.
With plenty of advance preparation – and by working closely with motorcoach dispatchers, drivers and especially hotel doormen – all the shuttles operated exactly as planned.
At the end of each evening’s service, I personally thanked each hotel doormen and gave them a gratuity. On the last evening, one of them said to me, “Mr. Hagen, I’ve been working here three years and you’re the first one to ever tip us for this service.”
At that moment I realized there might be an unfilled need in Kansas City for someone to provide a professional level of Destination Management services.
MM: What is most rewarding about your job; what makes it all worthwhile?
AH: It’s rewarding for me whenever I receive kudos about one or more of our Agenda: USA team members exceeding a client’s expectations.
That’s our goal and philosophy – to exceed expectations. And when a guest takes the time to let us know we’ve achieved that for them – it doesn’t get better than that for me.
MM: What are the most critical problems faced by people in your field? How do you think these problems should be handled?
AH: In the hospitality field, I would define Problems as a lack of ability, expertise, experience and /or established standards of performance or accreditation of some vendors to the meeting planning community.
As an example, I believe that when an AV, floral or chauffeured livery vendor promotes themselves through their CVB as an Event Production or Destination Management provider, it’s both disingenuous and a disservice to Meeting Planners.
I would like to see more organizations follow the example of the Association of Destination Management Executives International (ADMEI) and the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) by establishing criteria required to gain both membership and professional designations.
MM: What's the hardest thing for you about being the President/Founder of a Destination Management Company? How do you address that?
AH: “Steering the ship in the right direction” - knowing that sometimes my decisions may not turn out to be the best.
That’s when you share with the team, “Well, that didn’t turn out like I thought it would. So let’s do ____ next time.”
MM: What comes easiest to you in your work?
AH: Going to work each day!
As someone much smarter than me once said, “If you find a job you love, you’ll never work another day in your life.”
That doesn’t mean I don’t have bad days or that I don’t have other things I’ve yet to do. But I’m extremely fortunate to have a career that challenges me every day while allowing our team and me to be of service to others.
MM: What's the newest, freshest approach you are bringing to your job/the industry?
AH: Having younger people join our team who are creative and share a passion for this industry along with a desire to be of service to others. I then try to stay out of their way while being there for them when they may need me.
MM: Who has helped you during your personal or professional career?
AH: More people than I can count. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have numerous mentors – most of whom don’t know they were a mentor.
I know I don’t have all the answers, so I learned early on to learn from - and “borrow” – the ideas and Best Practices of those I admire.
The most significant influence on me were my parents who led by example. It took me longer than it should have, but I finally learned to follow one basic tenet they were emphatic about: “Do the right thing!”
So now, whenever I have to make a tough decision, or one of our team members has a question about what we should do or how we should handle an issue, one of the first questions we answer is usually “What’s the right thing to do?”
MM: Do you have advice to offer people who are aspiring to work in the Destination Management Company industry?
AH: “Come on in, the water’s fine.”
If you love to be of service to others, can think outside of the box, want to work long hours (mentally and physically) and don’t like being bored, then you should definitely consider a career in Destination Management Services.
Just for fun, list your favorites...
Book: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway.
It ignited a passion for adventure and a desire to explore a world far beyond my hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin.
Because of that book, in 2007, I went to Pamplona, Spain and ran with the bulls (a couple of times) during the annual Fiesta of San Fermin.
Movie or play: Charly (1968) starring Cliff Robertson.
It helped to crystalize in my mind just how fortunate I am by accident of birth. Subsequent travels to remote and not so remote areas in Africa, Southeast Asia and South America has only reinforced this fact.
Quote #1: “Alton, will you please THINK!”
It was said to me numerous times in my youth by my father – with justification.
As a result, thinking things through in advance has been a key to any personal and professional success I’ve had.
Quote #2: “I want to wear out, not rust out.”
From my father’s stepmother who lived that philosophy until her passing at age 92.
Type of food or dish: Anything my wife, Jess, elects to cook.
She’s a wonderful cook who is always trying new recipes (which is why I need to exercise frequently).
Music genre, song, band or individual musician: Jazz, “I’m Going To Live ‘Til I Die” by Frank Sinatra
Vacation destination / Adventure :
Most recently I’ve:
- Climbed Mount Kilimanjaro
- Spent time with the Great Silver Back Apes in the mountains of Uganda
- Trekked through the Andes for nine days to Machu Picchu
- Swam with sea lions and sharks in the Galapagos Islands
Participating in this summer’s “Missouri 340 Race” paddling a one man kayak the 340 miles on the Missouri River from Kanas City to St. Louis in 3½ days. (I really need to start training for this pretty soon.)
Name one thing about yourself that most people don't know.
I was an undercover narcotics agent working with the “Kriminalpolizei” (Criminal Police Division) in Stuttgart, Germany.
I volunteered and joined the U.S. Army in 1969 as a Military Policeman. After I was sent to Germany, I volunteered and was accepted into the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID). Later, I was “loaned” to the Stuttgart Kriminalpolizei in exchange for one of their officers being loaned to the Munchen, CID office.
Who had the greatest influence on you during your childhood?
Other than my parents (see above), it was Mrs. Mauer, my 3rd through 6th grade teacher at a one room country school in southern Wisconsin.
She allowed and encouraged me to experience the joys of reading and dreaming of far off places when she loaned me all the (first edition) Tarzan of the Jungle books by Edgar Rice Burrows given to her by her father.