Monday, April 20, 2009
Things That Make You Go Grrr: If it Ain’t Broke, a Naysayer Wants to Fix It
Macon City Council member Erick Erickson’s “Seeing Red” column in the recent issue of the 11th Hour chose to circle its rouge lipstick around the Macon-Bibb Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), and I swear I saw the hair on the back of Mom’s neck stand up.
"With eighteen employees and millions of dollars, surely the CVB can do better than it's doing . . . "
Mom has never worked for the CVB, but during her four years at the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and subsequent years up to her elbows in community projects, she’s worked with them. And she’s pretty sure she knows more about the organization in her pinky than the big finger Erick’s wagging at them.
In fine journalism form, Erick admits, “Now in writing this, I did not call the CVB and talk to them. That may make the CVB mad, but the point is simple: I shouldn’t have to. Given both my position in this community and the fact that I live here, I should know what the CVB is doing besides the slogan and billboards.”
This, Mom says, is coming from an elected official who rarely looks up from his laptop during actual city council meetings. She wishes this Ward V Post 3 point person would shut his Mac and actually look interested in the public’s forum. Step away from his wireless world and actually ask (in-person) the questions that got him elected. And visit to the physical address instead of the web one.
Mom’s never met Erick. She’s sat beside him a couple of times in WMAC’s studio, but other than adjusting his mic and eating a chicken biscuit, she’s never seen him without his finger on his touchpad. Or even raise an eye from his Apple. Maybe she’d have better luck introducing herself in a chat room.
She also concludes he’s never read the cover story in address Macon that explored the ins and outs of the CVB, which said, “Seasoned leisure travelers know a convention and visitors bureau is an informational gold mine – the first call when planning a trip, and perhaps, the first stop upon arrival when they need help navigating the local landscape.” In other words, that cater to Macon's VISITORS. Which makes Mom conclude Erick must not get out much, locally or leisurely . . . but then again, he shouldn’t have to, given his position in the community.
For those who think the CVB is the name of a sorority of tour guides – think again. Macon’s CVB is a well-oiled machine of executive promoters whose keen focuses include specialized facets like family reunions, motor coach tours, travel media, technology, and of course, attracting conventions. Erick was still chasing grasshoppers when the CVB was busting balls just to secure a decent convention hotel. And since he rarely looks up from his computer, he probably hasn't noticed its progress. Ask the folks in Atlanta. Mom spent Macon Day with her Leadership Macon Class where she heard time and time again that Macon’s tourism officials are among the most heralded in the state. Janice Marshall may be 5’4 in the highest heels, but she has set an exponential bar for other CVBs’ CEOs throughout the country.
It’s difficult for some “leaders” to wrap their head around the CVB because the CVB's tangible work is done outside of Macon - interacting with tour operators or meeting planners, attending leisure travel shows, sales missions and trade shows all over the Southeast, and competing with cities like Savannah, Athens and Augusta in asking for business.
All elected officials are hand-carried copies of the CVB marketing plan and invited to hear the results of that marketing at the CVB annual meeting. Was Erick there? Has he even opened that marketing plan? Mom has a copy if he needs another.
Since Erick seems to be a fan of pushing buttons, he’d probably have a good time with the technology in our new downtown welcome center. Wonder how many times he’s be there or even considered being a realistic, not virtual, tourist in his own hometown.
Mom has been frustrated before over this issue. When she needs the CVB’s help in promoting an attraction or event, she goes directly to them and asks for specific, customized help. She knows who they are . . . and who they are not. She knows they are not a free-for-all public relations agency. But she knows if she gives dates and descriptions, they will upload them to an excellent online calendar. She knows if she provides rack cards, they will be distributed at the welcome centers. And she knows if she keeps the lines of communication open, travel writers will be directed to her. She also knows they aren’t a hotel booking agency. If she wants a block of hotel rooms for a local festival, her chances are greater if her organization negotiates, first-person, a sponsorship. This is not the CVB’s job. Of course they want heads on beds, but they are too busy bringing in business to be making the beds for us.
Of all CVBs to criticize, this isn’t the one. Macon can have a little pride in the fact that while our attractions have faced embarrassment, our crime rate catches criticism and we have a city council with at least two members who fight (via email, nonetheless) like kids at camp who blame each other for wetting the bed, we’ve got a CVB that is a Macon landmark in itself. Find another bone to pick.