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Expert Insight from Jim Coggin

Getting laid off is rarely a positive experience. But when Jim Coggin lost his sales job in the 1980s, the door opened to a new career he loves.

“I had a background in sales, and I had a job that required me to travel a lot,” he said. “I stayed in a lot of hotels. The hotel business always looked fun to me. My company was downsizing and did away with my territory, so I thought it was a perfect opportunity to get into the hospitality industry.”

A native of Richmond, Virginia, Coggin found a sales job at a small, high-end hotel in town, which led to a series of other hotel jobs. From there, he joined the staff of the convention and visitors bureau in nearby Norfolk, where he worked in meetings and conventions. Then, in 2008, he joined the Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau as tourism sales manager.

“I’m responsible for the domestic group-tour market, so I work with tour operators across the United States and in Ontario, Canada,” he said. “My primary job is to bring motorcoach groups to Virginia Beach. I do that through a lot of different things: trade shows like American Bus Association Marketplace, Select Traveler and NTA’s Travel Exchange. I’m a firm believer in meeting face to face, so we do a lot of sales missions with our partners to meet with people on their territory.”

During those face-to-face meetings, Coggin tells travel planners about all the things their groups can do in Virginia Beach. He also does everything he can to help them plan the practical elements of tours or come up with creative activity options.

During Coggin’s 30-year career, a lot has changed in both tourism and technology. But although the methods of communication are different, he said, the fundamentals of business are not.

“Back when I started, we didn’t have computers and Facebook and all the social media,” he said. “But as quickly as things have changed technologywise, the business is still all about good, solid relationships. We have all the new hotels and attractions, but without good relationships, it won’t do much for us.”

Today, promoting Virginia Beach means talking about more than just the boardwalk.

“Right now, culinary is hot,” Coggin said. “Virginia is for oyster lovers. We have some great oyster programs here in Virginia Beach, and we have a new winery opening up and some new breweries. We’re also a very proud and rich military town, so we focus a lot on our proud military heritage. There’s a lot of American history here in Virginia Beach that people don’t really think about.”

Having a great destination to sell helps makes his career enjoyable, but it’s the long-lasting relationships that Coggin finds most fulfilling. Some of the people he met 30 years ago in his first tourism jobs are still friends, he said.

“I’m really lucky to have a great destination like Virginia Beach, and I’m also very lucky that I have great partners,” he said. “I love the business, or else I wouldn’t have been in it as long as I have.”

Sales Tip from Jim

“Use your DMOs [destination marketing organizations] to their full effect. We offer to meet groups and welcome them to the destination. We also have images and itineraries and all sorts of things that can help you promote your program better, and we have good marketing tools that can strengthen your ability to sell a tour.”

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.

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