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Expert Insight with Shirley Davis Conner

When you live in Memphis, Elvis Presley is never far away.

Shirley Davis Connor has spent her entire life in Memphis. Growing up there, she heard people refer to the King of Rock ’n’ Roll as if he were just another resident.

“I knew of Elvis growing up,” Connor said. “Sometimes I would drive past his house with my parents, and they would say, ‘That’s where Elvis used to live.’”

Once she grew up and started working in hotels, though, Connor began to understand how important Elvis was to visitors from all over the globe.

“I was in the hospitality industry for three years,” she said. “I kept having tour operators ask me about Graceland and whether they should include that in their tours. So, finally, I went to check it out, and I thought it was a really cool place.”

When she saw an ad in the local newspaper for a job at Graceland, she applied. Soon, she was hired as the director of sales at Elvis Presley Enterprises, the organizations that runs Graceland and related Elvis properties.

She’s had the job since 1992. Her duties include overseeing the ticketing area and the reservations staff for mansion tours, museum visits and the on-site hotel, the Guest House at Graceland. She also works with tour operators to help them set up their trips to Graceland.

“It’s an honor, honestly,” she said. “It’s not a hard sell. I don’t have to do a lot of explaining about who Elvis is, even when I travel overseas.”

In her time with the organization, Conner has seen the properties grow substantially, and she loves helping visitors discover all the things there are to do in addition to touring the mansion.

“A lot of people think we’re just Elvis’ home,” she said. “They don’t realize how much more there is to see and do here. In 2017, we opened a new entertainment complex called Elvis Presley’s Memphis. That allowed us to build something five times the size of the visitor complex we had before. So we tell the story of the offstage Elvis in the mansion; then, across the street in the entertainment complex, you learn about the public Elvis.”

Around the same time, the organization opened the Guest House at Graceland. The 450-room hotel earned a AAA Four Diamond rating and is noted for its food and beautiful design.

“There are touches of Elvis everywhere,” Conner said. “You don’t see Elvis pictures throughout the lobby, but some of the furniture in the lobby is reminiscent of his jumpsuits, and the ceiling is patterned after one of his jumpsuits as well.”

Representing Elvis Presley Enterprises has taken Conner to cities across the United States and around the world. She regularly attends events such as the NTA Travel Exchange, the American Bus Association Marketplace and the U.S. Travel Association’s IPW. She also goes on sales missions in Europe with other tourism representatives from Memphis.

“The reason I’ve been here so long is that no two days are ever alike, and that’s what I love about it,” she said. “And I’ve seen a lot more of the world spreading the word about Elvis than I would have doing anything else.”

When she’s not on the road or helping guests at Graceland, Conner stays busy exploring the changing face of her native Memphis.

“Memphis is really booming, and I like to stay on top of what’s going on,” she said.” The more I know about the city and the region, the better I can convince tour operators that Memphis is a great place to bring their groups.”

Sales Tip from Shirley

“Don’t operate as an island. Learn about what’s around you. The more you know about, the more you can tell others, and the more likely they are to embrace your enthusiasm.”

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.