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CEO Unplugged: Jack Berry

When you are marketing a city that has an almost iconic image — like Nashville does with country music or Lexington does with horses or in Richmond’s case, with American history — what are the advantages and disadvantages?
“The biggest advantage is that you have an identity, compared to so many other cities that have no distinguishing identity. People coming here as convention delegates or tourists have an expectation of what they’ll find. For instance, we have all the state historical societies in town today for a convention. They picked us over other cities because of our identity. The Civil War Sesquicentennial has helped us a great deal in that regard.

“We have an unusually high return visitation rate. That’s because visitors come here and find that there is a lot do beyond history. The only disadvantage we have is there are people who don’t like history, and they assume that’s pretty much what we are.”

Not many urban centers have white-water rafting in their core. Is that actually a major draw for you?
“Well, you were just here —  did you go rafting? [I did not.] My point is that it’s one of those things that sounds really neat, but you never get around to it. The flip side of that is that my daughter saw it on our website and said ‘Let’s go do that.’ We did, and then we went again, and now we own kayaks, and we go when she comes to town. So it’s a great attribute, but neither our citizens nor our visitors do it enough.”

How will you change your marketing message for younger groups coming into the industry, like boomers and younger ages?

“We already have. We did it two years ago. It’s all about social media and the Internet: Facebook, Twitter and 50 or so other sites. It’s our responsibility to market to those groups in that way, and we figured that out two years ago. The return on investment in social media can be huge. We’ve had events show big increases, and there’s no other reason you can come up with than social media.”

What considerations are there for running a bureau in a state capital? Are there advantages or disadvantages?
“We did a visitors center intercept study a few years back on an autumn weekend, and the biggest reason our visitors were coming into Richmond was to see the Capitol building. Nothing else was even close. If our destination was a mall, the Capitol would be our anchor store. It’s that simple.”

Watch a video interview with Jack Berry from the Going On Faith Conference.

Mac Lacy

Mac Lacy is president and publisher of The Group Travel Leader Inc. Mac has been traveling and writing professionally ever since a two-month backpacking trip through Europe upon his graduation with a journalism degree from the University of Evansville in 1978.