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Digital journalists share Chattanooga delights

Hosting visiting journalists has always been a cost-efficient way of getting the word out about Chattanooga's virtues as a tourist destination.

When the city was featured on the cover of Parade Magazine in the late 1990s, it was considered a marketing triumph. Chattanooga's tourism and Chamber of Commerce officials keep thick files of clippings from print publications around the United States touting the city's renaissance as a travel destination.

"In terms of communicating a message, it [journalism] is considered one of the most powerful and meaningful methods," says Bob Doak, president and CEO of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau.

About 50 journalists a year still make their way to Chattanooga through outreach by the Convention and Visitors Bureau, but these days, fewer have connections to the so-called legacy print media. More and more consumers are getting travel information from social media and the internet. Consequently, the journalists who visit the city these days are often bloggers or writers for websites instead of newspapers or magazines.

"[Traditional media] journalists became too time-impoverished; it became harder and harder to get qualified writers to come to your city to write on mass topics," Doak says, adding that today's more diverse digital media environment allows the CVB to target consumers with specific interests in, say, food, adventure sports, music or family attractions.

Recently, Chatter caught up with a group of digital journalists — bloggers, writers and web-casters — visiting at the invitation of the CVB to report on the Scenic City.

Here are their fresh impressions of our city.

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Mark Kahler (Photo: Chattanooga CVB)

Name: Mark Kahler

Website: About.com Travel (budgettravel.about.com)

Experience: A professional journalist for 33 years who has visited 35 countries, Kahler writes about budget travel.

What was your best culinary experience during your visit?

I enjoyed eating at Easy Bistro (203 Broad St.) and Stir (1444 Market St.). I'd be hard-pressed to pick one over the other. In many cities, restaurants like these two would charge much more for that level of quality. As a budget travel writer, I found menu prices quite reasonable at every stop.

What are your general impressions of Chattanooga?

Some downtown areas [in other cities] have struggled with becoming vibrant and relevant again. My impression is that Chattanooga has fared better than most. The downtown core appears vibrant and open for business. I think the city is well-situated for short getaways.

What does the city need, in your view, to become a next-level destination?

The airport is modern and easy to navigate. But Chattanooga would benefit from more direct flights to major cities within a few hours of flight time. Next-level destinations probably have more convention space, more upscale dining choices and a larger selection of four-star hotels. But I'm not sure those things matter to many people who visit Chattanooga.

In five years what do you think your lasting memory of Chattanooga will be?

In one day, I took my first hang gliding flight and then traversed Class 4 whitewater. That's a day I'll remember for many years to come, and it is an indicator of the variety of outdoor adventures that are possible within a short drive of the city.

What was your favorite Chattanooga attraction/activity and why?

I think one of Chattanooga's best attractions is the Tennessee River, and the city has done a fine job of connecting the river with the Aquarium and the downtown area. Pedestrians enjoy the Walnut Street Bridge for leisurely walks. Several key attractions are built on the riverfront. Here's hoping the river remains clean enough for Ironman swimming legs and kayaking. I greatly enjoyed paddling my way through the calm waters and seeing the city from that perspective.

Grade the city as a possible destination for your readers (A to F).

Travelers should come to Chattanooga with realistic expectations. Those looking for a wide selection of world-class hotels and restaurants might depart disappointed. Those who arrive in search of ample outdoor recreation opportunities, engaging family-oriented attractions, and overall value are likely to give Chattanooga an 'A' or a 'B.'

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A group of visiting journalists hits the Ocoee. (Photo: Chattanooga CVB)

Name: Justin Walter

Website: matadornetwork.com

Experience: Los Angeles-based travel host, producer and writer who shares travel adventures on "Around The World with Justin"

In five years what do you think your lasting memory of Chattanooga will be?

What I absolutely loved about Chattanooga was I was able to enjoy so many outdoor adventures right here in the U.S., all within basically a 45-minute drive from Chattanooga. For travelers like myself who are drawn more toward the outdoors than cities, Chattanooga is the perfect home base to enjoy so many beautiful activities including hang gliding, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, skydiving. Chattanooga could be considered the adventure capital of the South!

What are your general impressions of Chattanooga?

In just five days, I fell in love with Chattanooga! I would describe it as a small town with big adventure. It was my first longer-term stay in the South and I found the people extremely friendly, welcoming and extremely proud of Chattanooga.

What was your favorite Chattanooga attraction/activity and why?

I loved that I was able to do hang gliding and whitewater rafting in the same day. We even tried to add an impromptu skydiving trip to our agenda, which would have made for an even crazier 24 hours' adrenaline rush. I also really enjoyed kayaking down the Tennessee River with Outdoor Chattanooga. I really enjoyed paddling in the water under the bridges, by the cliffs and alongside an island.

What was your best culinary experience during your visit?

My favorite meal was my first at Easy Bistro. We started off with a delicious cheese and bread spread, moved on to shrimp and grits (my first time!) and I devoured the short ribs that fell off the bone. I highly recommend following up this meal with dessert at Ice Cream Show (105 Walnut St.).

What does the city need, in your view, to become a next-level destination?

I think Chattanooga needs to maintain its small-town vibe while it continues to grow and modernize. I would love to see more local-based businesses, restaurants, breweries and destination-specific attractions pop up in Chattanooga compared to nationwide chains.

Grade the city as a possible destination for your readers (A to F).

A. If someone is looking for a small town full of big adventures, Chattanooga is a must!

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The Passage at the Tennessee Aquarium (Photo: Chattanooga CVB)

Name: Duane Pemberton

Website: commdiginews.com, Community News Digital in Sacramento, Calif.

Experience: Web reporter focusing on food, wine, cars and travel.

What are your general impressions of Chattanooga?

Small-town feel, Southern charm and hospitality with a modern twist.

What was your favorite Chattanooga attraction/activity and why?

Easily, the Aquarium. Because it's a modern oasis of freshwater sea life and has very informative displays and things to look at.

What was your best culinary experience during your visit?

Easy Bistro. They did a great job of upscaling Southern classics in a modern, yet casual dining environment.

What does the city need, in your view, to become a next-level destination?

More direct flights in and out of it.

In five years what do you think your lasting memory of Chattanooga will be?

An outdoor lovers' mecca.

Grade the city as a possible destination for your readers (A to F).

A-

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