Scenic city salesman: Barry White new leader of Chattanooga Visitors and Convention Bureau
Barry White at a glance
* Job: President and CEO of the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau
* Education: A native of Kingsport, Tennessee, he earned his bachelor’s degree in business with an emphasis on marketing from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville in 1985. He is certified by the United States Chamber of Commerce’s Institute of Organizational Management and is a Certified Destination Management Executive by Destinations International.
* Career: He joined the Augusta, Georgia Convention and Visitors Bureau in 1991 as director of sales and was promoted to president three years later.
Nearly 85 percent of the world's golf carts are built in Augusta, Georgia, home of The Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club.
So why not have a fleet of golf carts downtown for tourists to ride?
That was one idea that came out of Destination Blueprint, a planning effort to boost Augusta's tourism led by Barry White, who is joining the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) as its new president and CEO.
"It's a natural. It's one of those things that's unique to the community. It allows Augusta to take advantage of some of the golf heritage that it's so well known for," says White, who worked 23 years as president and CEO of the Augusta CVB.
Other Destination Blueprint ideas included building a marina downtown on the Savannah River geared toward kayakers and canoers and launching a music festival named after James Brown, the "godfather of Soul" who made Augusta his home.
"If someone hasn't heard of golf or The Masters, most of them have heard of James Brown," White says. "[Augusta's] blessed to have that immediate name recognition throughout the world."
Since he's only beginning his job in Chattanooga, White hasn't figured out what he thinks the Scenic City should do to stay attractive to tourists.
White and his wife have been visiting Chattanooga as if they were tourists, he said in January, in preparation for their move here.
But the city can't rest on its laurels, he said.
"Chattanooga has done a fantastic job of creating and revitalizing the city as a visitor destination," White says. "But it's not something you can do and then rest and relax and just enjoy. The competition isn't sitting back and waiting."
Transparency a priority
White will take the reins from Bob Doak, who's retiring after 15 years at the helm of the Chattanooga CVB.
The CVB came under fire in Doak's final year, as questions were raised about CVB employees' spending on meals and travel expenses.
A state audit faulted the CVB for such things as not keeping detailed receipts for 36 percent of $378,298 in credit card charges for a one-year period.
One of his first steps after he took charge of the Augusta CVB was to change it in 1996 from a quasi-public organization to a private nonprofit corporation. That's the recommended structure for CVBs in Georgia, he said.
As part of that restructuring, White put public officials on the Augusta CVB board.
"We made two seats on our board, two seats out of 12, for elected officials," he says. "I'm completely open to that [in Chattanooga] and would strongly encourage it."
About 87 percent of the Chattanooga CVB's funding comes from county hotel-motel bed tax.
Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd, who was critical of the Chattanooga CVB's spending under Doak — and still wants to divert a portion of hotel-motel tax away from the tourism bureau for other purposes — said he looks forward to working with White.
"Hopefully, it'll be a fresh start," says Boyd. "I hope there ends up being county commissioners on our CVB, since the county is the funding agency."
Familiar with Ironman
White is a native of Kingsport, Tenn., and he has a bachelor's degree in business with an emphasis on marketing from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
"Tennessee is home. Love the state. Always have, always will," he said.
He's not only familiar with area, but also with a key event held, here, the Ironman Chattanooga triathlon.
It's a feather in city's cap. As of 2017, Chattanooga became first world's first city to host four Ironman events in one year.
Augusta is host to a 70.3-mile Ironman race.
"We have a 70.3 — technically, the largest [participation] in the country. We're topping out around 3,500 athletes," said White. "I'm very familiar with the Ironman Corporation and the inner workings of that event."
While Augusta is famous for The Masters, the Augusta CVB doesn't promote that.
"The Masters is run through the private golf club, and they've got a full-time permanent staff," White said. "We don't need to do any marketing for the Master's Tournament. It's sold out every single year. We focus on the other 51 weeks of the year."
"The blessing of The Masters is international name recognition," he said. "The curse of The Masters is, 'Is that the only thing you have to do in Augusta?'"
Nearly 1,200 hotel rooms are under construction or planned for Hamilton County at eight new or renovated hotels.
Likewise, hotel construction has boomed in Augusta. White said 22 hotels have been built in the past decade.
Four new hotels are in the works in Augusta's urban core, he said, including one across from the newly expanded convention center.
White a 'consensus builder'
Chattanooga CVB board chairman Keith Sanford said White has the reputation of a consensus builder.
"I like his experience with CVB — and particularly in another Southeastern U.S. city," says Sanford, who's president and CEO of the Tennessee Aquarium downtown.
White supported a public-private partnership about five years ago to expand the convention center in downtown Augusta. The project added publicly- funded meeting space near a privately-owned hotel, The Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center.
"It has been tremendously successful," he says.
White also designed and secured funding for a new $1.5 million city way-finding and beautification project in Augusta.
White has a vast amount of experience in the tourism industry, said Kim White, president and CEO of River City Company, a private nonprofit organization that supports downtown. She was part of the committee that searched for the new Chattanooga CVB director.
"I think it's always good to have someone with a fresh set of eyes," says Kim White, who is not related to the new CVB head. "They were very sad to lose him in Augusta. He wasn't out looking. But this was a job that popped up, and he loves the city."
Chattanooga's Barry White is not to be confused with the late, baritone-voiced soul singer of 1970s' fame of the same name.
"Wish I could [sing], but I'm certainly going to disappoint," he quips.