Tourism is a billion-dollar business in Chattanooga and Hamilton County, but Barry White has more than money on his mind.
"People travel here to see our culture. We want to connect people to Chattanooga experiences," says White, who took the helm of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau in February 2018. "Instead of focusing on generating more hotel rooms, we are focusing on bringing people to Chattanooga."
The strategic plan the CVB launched in October 2018 reflects a set of shared goals that public and private partners worked together to set, White says. Those goals run the gamut from setting clear key performance indicators and launching an event calculator that measures tourism impact to raising Chattanooga's digital visibility and building out tourism strategies specific to sports and the arts.
"Everything we do is with partners, and we are very intentional about that," White says. "The community has to succeed for us to succeed."
The overarching goal is to deliver the experiences visitors to Chattanooga want and expect, whether they come here for a spectacle like the Ironman competition or a low-key weekend getaway. Within the next few years, the CVB aims to become "the most competitive and innovative destination organization in the nation." And that should be good news for everyone, White says.
"Hosting visitors expands our horizons as a community," he says. "We see not only the economic benefits, but the social benefits. It's about the people and the economic prosperity of the community."
Visitors to Chattanooga and Hamilton County dropped $1.16 billion during their travels in 2018, a record amount and an increase of 4.75% over 2017. The recently launched Event Impact Calculator will help quantify that impact, White says.
"It tells us a lot of detail — the number of jobs an event creates, the state taxes it generates, the spending by segment," he says.
The calculator is already delivering slices of data that illuminate how visitors spend their time and money when they spend time in the Scenic City. That data will help direct the development of tourism strategy, and a deep study of where there are opportunities to improve the visitor experience is a top priority for 2020, White says.
* Job: President and CEO of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau
* Influence: Launched a long-term strategic plan in collaboration with private and public partners with increased emphasis on arts and culture in tourism.
* Just for fun: White had visited every state east of the MIssissippi before he was 13 years old, spent three weeks in Europe in high school and spent a summer (their winter) in New Zealand during college. The only state he hasn’t visited is Alaska.
Making waves and whiskey: FreightWaves and Chattanooga Whiskey tie for Chattanooga Chamber's annual Spirit of Innovation Award