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A day late but never short

Date: October 12, 2018 | By: bigfive | Category: Travel Blog

As a newly appointed FTA board member, I was excited to hear the great feedback when Big Five Brand Manager Deborah Kilcollins returned from Family Travel Association Summit 2018 in Bermuda.

She met Erin Kirkland, who is all about family travel. Erin is an Alaska author, journalist and mother of two based in Anchorage. She has authored two books related to the subject and can be found at But what peaked Deborah’s interest were her bookshelves.

When Erin arrived in Alaska, she soon realized that the only way to get around was by plane as roads are few and far between. Even a visit to the doctor or going to school could mean ride to the airport for a flight out. She also noted that Alaskan children are lacking some of the resources that other communities around the country had access to. Her website notes that “The Annie E. Casey Foundation reported in 2014 that 73% of Alaska 4th grade students are not proficient in reading; 64% of young children in Alaska are not attending preschool programs.” Even though some children may have electronic devises, they seldom read.

Kirkland was clearing out her own library of books that her children had outgrown. She wanted to see them go somewhere and not simply tossed out. She had a flash of an idea.

Why not put books in airports for kids and families? Read on the Fly is the result. This program is a reading and book distribution project that she launched in 2016 at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. She had a bookshelf built and installed and populated it with those books she removed from her own shelves. Since that time, Read on the Fly has gathered volunteers to help manage the project and has distributed some 10,000 books since the project began. Currently, Read On the Fly has 14 shelves in seven Alaska airports. Erin’s goal is to have a shelf, at least, in every Alaska airport – all 250.

“The project took on a life of its own,” Kirkland smiled. And the word spread. “Friends of friends and others came onboard and wanted to help.”

Erin Kirkland is just one of the nearly 200 participants who are involved in various aspects of the travel industry and include tour operators, suppliers, associations, travel agents, destination representatives and media who focus on family travel. They came together at the Fairmont Southhampton in Bermuda this week to attend the summit, which had panel discussions and workshops that dealt with topics ranging from “helping make travel affordable for families who don’t think they can afford it” to “emerging destinations for families” to “making travel accessible for families with special needs.”

This is the fourth summit put on by FTA, founded by Rainer Jenss, president. The sessions were well presented and motivating. But beyond that, I noticed a strong positive energy that seemed to pervade the conference. People were energized and eager to meet and share with each other.  Keynote speaker Gordon Hartman, founder of Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antionion, TX, shared his story about creating a park that welcomes everyone including those with special needs. Indeed, every special needs guest is admitted free. He and his wife Maggie developed this nonprofit 501(c)(3) after they realized how few parks and venues were user friendly for their daughter, Morgan, who has physical and cognitive challenges. These parents took on the task of making a very special place where everyone is welcome to play, make friends and laugh.

The caliber and passion of all those who attended this year’s FTA summit made this a rewarding and rich experience.

For more about FTA, you can contact Rainer Jenss,, or Ashish Sanghrajka,

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