Building the Botanical Brand in Ottawa, IL, with Curt Bedei

Episode 191

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Curt Bedei is the Executive Director for the Ottawa Visitors Center in Ottawa, Illinois. He was hired in 2011 as a Graphics Design Manager to handle the botanical brand management. Since then, Curt has worked his way up, earning a certificate in not-for-profit management and stepping into his current role as Executive Director in 2015. Curt sits on many boards and committees related to tourism, such as the Heritage Corridor CVB, LaSalle County Tourism Coalition, the Looking For Lincoln/ Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area, and the Ottawa History and Scouting Heritage Museum. With a long-time love of both history and traveling, this seemed like a natural fit. Destination on the Left is joined by Curt Bedei, the Executive Director for the Ottawa Visitors Center in Ottawa, IL. On our podcast, Curt shares his journey into travel and tourism and talks about the creative and collaborative efforts OVC has made to help their destination thrive. Learn about Ottawa’s community-driven approach to branding, and find out how they are responding to the difficult challenges brought forth by 2020.

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Curt’s journey into travel and tourism in Ottawa, IL
  • Curt’s advice to anyone who is graduating or just getting into travel and tourism during these difficult times
  • How the OVC has been able to make Ottawa, IL stand out from the crowd
  • How Curt and his team have used creativity and collaboration to help tourism thrive in Ottawa
  • What Curt and his team did to develop the botanical brand for Ottawa, IL
  • How Curt and his team engaged the city and community in their rebranding process
  • How the OVC has responded to the new challenges posed by 2020
  • What Curt’s team is doing to drive traffic to outdoor attractions when so much else is closed
  • New projects in the works at OVC for 2020 and 2021

Ottawa Visitors Center

Curt Bedei is the Executive Director for the Ottawa Visitors Center in Ottawa, Illinois. During his conversation with host Nicole Mahoney, Curt explains how Ottawa lives out its botanical brand and talks about the discovery process for identifying what truly makes Ottawa unique. As a community, OVC have focused on developing an experience to live out the brand promise. Curt joins Destination on the Left to talk about how the Ottawa community has responded to the difficult challenges of 2020 and dives into the regional collaboration that brought a national television program to their destination, which is still paying dividends today.

Stay the Path

Like many of the guests on Destination on the Left, Curt sort of stumbled into tourism. However, he quickly discovered that it was his calling, and since 2015, he hasn’t looked back. Curt has had an inspirational career as the Executive Director for the Ottawa Visitors Center. But before he ever started climbing the ranks, Curt had no idea where he would end up. He was a graduate of the Great Recession; a position similar to what many budding travel and tourism professionals are facing today. Because of that, Curt is no stranger to difficult times in this industry. He stresses the importance of staying your path and pushing forward no matter what because you can’t plan for the opportunities that this industry will bring. You just have to be ready to capitalize on them when they arise and let nothing else get in your way.

Rebranding Ottawa

Curt’s relentless determination is one of the main reasons the Ottawa Visitors Center has experienced such great success since he took the helm. When he joined the team at the Ottawa Visitors Center, they were looking to rebrand in order to stand out from the crowd and lift the community up. Curt and his team used creativity and collaboration to make that happen. They came up with the botanical brand in 2012, which focused heavily on developing gardens, art, and culture in the community. They revitalized the downtown area and did everything in their power to create a greater sense of pride in the community. This was all accomplished in collaboration with the city and the community itself—and the high level of support that was generated through this focus on engagement produced astonishing results. LIVE EVENT: The Ottawa Visitors Center is hosting a virtual experience with Abraham Lincoln on August 12th at 7 pm. The live, online performance will combine period music with conversation and narrative by President Lincoln, using Lincoln’s own words, while illuminating Lincoln’s use of communication as a personal and political tool. This engaging show features Lincoln impersonator George Buss, and Illinois folk musician and folklorist Chris Vallillo. The performance will be followed by a Q & A with Buss and Vallillo. More information can be found on their website.

Nicole Mahoney: 00:17 Hello listeners. This is Nicole Mahoney, host of destination on the left. Welcome to this week’s episode and another interesting guest Kurt [inaudible] executive director for the Ottawa visitor center in Ottawa, Illinois in our conversation, Kurt and I discussed how adequate Illinois lends its botanical brand, how they identified what truly differentiates the destination. And as a community, they have focused on developing the experience to live out the brand promise. We also talk about how the community has responded to the current times and the challenges of the pandemic and how a region wide collaboration resulted in a national TV program coming to the destination four years ago. And it’s still paying dividends today. A little more about Kurt. He was hired in 2011 as the graphics design manager to handle the botanical brands management for the visitor center. Since then he has worked his way up earning a certificate and not for profit management.

Nicole Mahoney: 01:18 In 2015, Kurt took on his current role. He serves on many boards and committees related to tourism, including the heritage corridor CVB LeSalle County tourism coalition that was looking for Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln, national heritage area, and the Ottawa history and scouting heritage museum. Kurt has always lived in the Ottawa area. He loves history and traveling, making his job a natural fit. I know you will gain a lot from this conversation, but before we dive into the interview, I want to share this important message with you. Curt, thank you so much for joining me today. I am really looking forward to this conversation and to learning from you, but before we get started, can you share a little bit about your story in your own words? I find it adds so much more context to our conversation. Well, thanks for having me. And I certainly would love to share my story.

Nicole Mahoney: 02:15 Um, you know, I think it’s just like anybody it’s one of those things that you just never expected to happen. Um, the way that you thought it would. Um, I went to school for graphic communications, visual communications. So, you know, that was my, that was my way of thinking this, this is what I’m going to do and in my career and things, and in some ways that’s how, uh, it did kind of work out after a little bit of time. It was a bit of struggle because I was part of the recession group that had a hard time finding a job right out of college. Um, and luckily I found a job in a community near where I lived

Curt Bedei: 03:00 In Ottawa, Illinois. Uh, they have, uh, tourism, uh, visitor’s center there. And so I dropped off a resume with my graphic arts portfolio and, and, uh, you know, just kind of did that with a lot of other places. And I actually got a call back from the tourism office in Ottawa and they said, Hey, we liked, we liked what your work look like and things, and we’ve got some stuff coming up. We like to come have you come in and interview. So, so I did that and, uh, luckily enough, I got that job about 10 years ago. And, uh, so I was their graphic design manager for about five years. And a lot of the reason why I was brought in was because of, uh, they were going to change brands and they needed some type of consistent messaging. And so that’s kind of why I was, uh, brought in that position never existed prior until I showed up.

Curt Bedei: 04:02 And then eventually, um, the director at that time who had hired me, um, was ready to move on to other things. And so the position became available. Uh, and I, I applied for it and, uh, did my interview and talked with the board who was in charge of electing a new executive director and, uh, everything seemed to fall right into place. So, uh, I’ve been an executive director since, uh, the fall of 2015 and it’s been a very interesting ride. I would have never expected myself to be in tourism, but it’s, it’s amazing. It’s, it’s a great job. It’s the people that you meet, the, um, stories you learn and tell and, uh, the places you go, it’s incredible. I would have never expected myself to be in tourism, but looking back, I would have totally went into tourism from the beginning.

Nicole Mahoney: 05:04 Yeah. I think that’s a, that’s definitely a common theme on the show, uh, with some of these guests who stumble into tourism, let’s just say, and once they find it, it really is their calling. Right. And so it sounds like, you know, that that same experience has happened with you and I love your story. So, uh, definitely that, you know, you graduated during a recession. I think there’s probably a lot of people who can relate to that right now, who might be graduating in 2020, right. As we’re recording this. Um, but then that you were able to find that position doing, uh, you know, graphic design and working on the brand. And I can’t wait to hear more about that brand, which I think we’ll get to, I hope through this conversation. Um, and then eventually being able to work your way up to the executive director role.

Nicole Mahoney: 05:51 I think that’s a great inspiration to our listeners and really looking to hearing more about your experience before we move on. Do you have any, like, as you reflect back on kind of that path and the times that you, you know, the time that you graduated and of course the time that we’re in right now, um, do you have any, you know, words of wisdom that you might share with our listeners, perhaps someone who might be, you know, uh, newly entering into the field right now and, and, and such a challenging time. Um, do you have any, any words of wisdom that you can share with them?

Curt Bedei: 06:29 You know, it’s, it’s just, you know, stay on the same path and certainly do things that you enjoy and love doing. You know, it’s, you’re going to find opportunities that open up along that path that you would never expect. So there’s no way to plan for them and just make sure you notice when those opportunities become available to take a hold of them and see where they go. Because the experience that you learn early on will help you throughout the rest of your life. So the earlier you can find those opportunities and take them at the better off your journey will be

Nicole Mahoney: 07:11 Absolutely great advice. Thank you for that. So current, we want to dive into this topic of creativity and, uh, first one, the questions that we really like to, you know, learn from you about is how you have an Ottawa Illinois, really been able to stand out from the crowd. And this is such a competitive environment, uh, you know, in travel and tourism, there are so many choices of places to go. And I’m curious if you can share with us some of the things that your organization has done really stand out.

Curt Bedei: 07:47 Yeah. So this is kind of where we get back to the branding. Um, back in 2012, uh, the city of Ottawa decided that they want to shift gears a bit and start a new brand, um, so that they would be able to stand out. It would be a consistent messaging. Um, and overall just kind of pick the, the community up. Uh, I think a lot of like a lot of communities now, and even then, uh, had a lot of difficulties, uh, for many years, you know, the downtown was kind of run down. Jobs had left, um, you know, the economy just didn’t seem like it had what it used to and for many years. So it was time to start looking in a new direction in, in picking up, uh, and rolling up the sleeves and getting to work. So in 2012, the city of Ottawa adopted the botanical brand and our focus was to, um, develop gardens and, um, art and culture, and, uh, kind of revitalize the downtown and put in, uh, where there’s asphalt and concrete, you know, things around the trees and things like that to put in flower gardens or bring in mulch or, um, just dress things up so that there’s a little bit more pride in the community.

Curt Bedei: 09:18 And so we got started with that. We worked very closely with the city. Um, we started engaging the community. We brought them into different meetings. Um, some of them help develop our logo. Um, we did a little questionnaire sessions. Um, we did little topics like we would ask questions and then we would find out what’s the overall ideas that the community would like to see. That’s, uh, kind of goes along the same, uh, method of, of a botanical brand. And, uh, so the biggest thing was we would just engaged everybody. Everybody was on the same page, us, the city, the chamber, the community. And, um, it all just started to, to men very well together. And we started planting gardens downtown. Um, on the outskirts, we started dressing up the, uh, roads that come into the community with, um, trees, uh, started changing our signage, started changing our advertising messages, um, everything that dealt with the brand, um, that’s where we’ve put our focus that, and start working towards that message and relating what we were trying to, uh, bring across.

Curt Bedei: 10:40 And our biggest thing was we, we have a promise to sell and we need to, to follow through with that. And so that was, that was how we stood out amongst everybody else that’s around us. Um, you know, we’re kind of a small community. In some regards, we only have about 18,000 people and we’re out in the middle of kind of nowhere. We’re a somewhat of a farm community. Um, Chicago is 90 minutes away, but once you get past 80 minutes, it’s corn fields. Um, so that’s kind of where we sit and we took advantage of our aesthetic values that we have around us. We have the confluences of two rivers, um, a lot of background history. So, uh, it’s a, just a perfect natural setting that, uh, botanical brand seemed to be the best fit for us. And that’s how we move forward.

Nicole Mahoney: 11:38 Yeah. I love that. And what I liked so much about it is, uh, how you went through the process and really gathered information from all, uh, all parties that would be involved including the community. And you mentioned the chamber of commerce and the city of Ottawa. Um, and I, I’m curious as you went through that process, what did that look like? Was there, you know, a series of in person meetings, was it through serving through one, on one conversations? Can you just describe a little bit about that community engagement and how you really did get the buy in?

Curt Bedei: 12:14 Well, you know, there was a little bit of everything. Um, we did have some one on one conversations, but those were mostly with either the city or the chamber, um, and their boards and, um, ambassadors and things like that. Um, but then we would bring, we would have like a town hall meeting or, um, we would make a special meeting that says if you would like to have some input on what you would like to see with a botanical brand, um, please join us at this time at this place. And, you know, we kind of just left it up to the community members to, if they were interested in wanting to have their voice heard, they would show up at that meeting. We would listen to them. We would find out well, you know, that what they thought a botanical brand meant to them, um, and how they could be involved.

Curt Bedei: 13:05 And interestingly enough, out of that, um, we had a lot of volunteers, a lot of, uh, people that were interested in gardening who now take care of a lot of the flower beds in town, um, outside of the city workers, uh, they, they get up, uh, you know, early in the mornings and in the springtime, when the weather starts changing and they go out and they start cleaning flower beds and they love it. They, they really enjoy the, the atmosphere of all that. And it was one thing that we never kind of really expected to see happen, either the whole thing. Um, but then also we had, um, little smaller meetings where we talked to community members who had, uh, some, a little, little bit of expertise or a little bit of skill in, um, branding or messaging or logo design or things like that.

Curt Bedei: 14:00 And, um, kind of put together a bunch of different samples and then got their opinions kind of like how they do about, um, you know, TV shows or movies or sampling foods, just to get a feedback on, um, how they, they think that the messaging is, is working or not working. And it all, it all very much came together and worked out well. And it was, it’s great to be able to have the community’s input, because if you get the community started in it early enough, then they feel like they were part of it and they will sell that message just as well as you will.

Nicole Mahoney: 14:42 Yeah, absolutely. So for our listeners sake, because this is a, uh, audio show and that a visual shell, but I have seen your, can you describe a little bit about, you know, your, um, your logo and your tagline, just so our listeners can kind of get an idea of how you, you know, I love how you described that you are owning this brand and living this brand everywhere from the gateways where people are driving into your community and seeing the trees and the gardens to the, to the signage that you have up within the community. And if you could just share a little bit more about other ways that visually that this brand is coming to life, including the logo, that would be awesome.

Curt Bedei: 15:24 Yeah. I think the best word to describe us now is lush. There is a, uh, very lush, uh, I’m trying to find the right word that describes it all. But lush is the, is, is the very key word, I guess, in all of it. Um, as you walk down the downtown sidewalks and in the downtown area, um, there is a barrier of flowers and bushes and, uh, statuettes and, uh, little waterfalls and things like that, just right around the sidewalk that it makes you feel somewhere else besides heavy traffic driving through the downtown area. And, uh, just puts you in a different atmosphere. Uh, our logo kind of reflects that since we’re kind of out in the farm world, as I said, the Prairie, um, we have a wildflower type of logo, uh, many different flowers with our name across the front of it. And then underneath our tagline is pick us, um, kind of like how you would pick a flower or a pick a, a natural setting to enjoy or anything of that nature.

Curt Bedei: 16:40 So that’s kind of what we’ve been using is our mesh messaging and putting out there, and it, you know, it really sets us apart from anybody else. We’ve been a part of the, uh, national that the tree associations, um, and putting out, uh, different types of trees as you drive into town. So all four entryways of the town on either side of the road are our trees. And so they get to be different colors in the fall time. And it’s very picturesque as you drive into the community, uh, our parks, um, we have a bountiful amount of parks. Um, some of them have flower beds or garden beds in them. And, uh, again, a very picturesque setting. Um, you can go there and enjoy a family picnics or graduation parties or anything like that. And, you know, it just makes you feel like you’re somewhere else besides in a, in a very urban setting. And there’s other key areas of the downtown or the areas. We have a nature preserve that sits right along the Fox river. And, um, it’s being kept to a level of what it would usually look like back long time ago when we were unincorporated and it was the open Prairie. And so that’s a great setting. Um, again, you know, we have parks along the river river walks. Uh, so I think that that’s the best way I can sum it up without having actual visuals.

Nicole Mahoney: 18:24 Yeah, I think that’s fantastic. And I think the word lush really is a good word to describe it. I can see it, you know, just as, as you described all of the different features and, and how, you know, how your brand comes to life, but also I can, I can really imagine it with that word blush. So I think that was perfect. The Curt, I wanted to change gears just a little bit. And, um, this, this next question is, is that interesting question, uh, up until, you know, earlier first quarter of 2020, it was a question where we would really have to, you know, look back and, and try to find a time of adversity or challenge. And then, you know, I, I think we learn and we’re at our best when we’re having to problem solve. And, and we’re very creative when we need to, um, address the challenge or some sort of adversity. Uh, but given the times that we were in here in 2020, this question has even more expanded meaning, uh, and relevancy of course, is we’re all working through a similar challenge, uh, and that is, you know, working through the, uh, COVID-19 pandemic. And so I’m curious if you can talk about how your community has been, um, basically rising to the challenge and maybe some of the creative solutions that have come as, as you’re navigating through this.

Curt Bedei: 19:43 Yeah. So I, you know, I think just like anybody, um, this is probably the biggest challenge that we’ve ever faced and it’s really impacted the tourism industry on a whole new level. Um, and so when this all started, you know, back in March, um, you know, there was a lot of questions, um, you know, how long is this going to last, what is this all about? Um, are we going to be able to continue working from our offices? You know, just all kinds of questions, but you know, it is anybody that’s been in the business long enough, you start your mind starts working right away and trying to figure out, okay, how do I, how do I try to make this work? How do you know you start getting information from outside sources, whether it’s the news or, um, you know, the local news or national news, or from, you know, um, confidence or peers that you are influenced by.

Curt Bedei: 20:51 And, um, you start getting, gathering that information and you start figuring out, okay, what’s are going to be our game plan. And we started working on that very early in, in the whole process of all this. I think after about two to three weeks of this COVID shutdown type atmosphere, we started working on what our game plan is, what are we going to do with this start the recovery process, because we, we can start to see that, yes, it’s already starting to hurt, and we don’t see an end in sight. So what are we going to do to keep making ourselves relevant? And we started working more towards a domestic type of side of atmosphere. We started looking inwardly instead of outwardly. Most of the time we advertised 50 miles outside of our, our home radius, because most of the people that travel outside 50 miles are gonna stay the night.

Curt Bedei: 21:56 Um, so that’s, that’s our key objective, but, you know, with travel and people shut down and, and not operating, that’s not going to work for us. So now we, we need to start working on ourselves. We see, I start looking internally, what do we need to do to fix things on our end? Or how do we help our community? How do we help our attractions? Um, everything that people enjoy when they do come from an outside area to our community, those places that they enjoy, how can we help them? And so we started, um, having meetings with, uh, restaurants, the downtown merchants, you know, the city, of course, the chamber of commerce, um, just gathering all those key influential people, um, and having a discussion about what’s affecting them, even the hotels, you know, that’s kind of how we’re funded. So we have to bring those in those guys into the conversation as well.

Curt Bedei: 22:54 And, uh, just understanding what is, what is happening on their end, what is affecting them, and how is, how is the, how can we turn that around so that we can help them? So we started putting together a page on our website, uh, called auto cares. We started listing all the restaurants that were offering delivery or curbside service, what their phone numbers were, what they’re at, uh, hours of operation were going to be. We did the same thing with the grocery stores. What hours of operation are they going to be available their phone number? And then we started, um, working a little bit more towards, um, well, a lot of that stuff changed to, we kept doing that very frequently, keeping it up to date. Um, we started installing, um, outdoor kiosk outside the visitor center. You know, we’re not there to help you personally, but here’s the information that you can still get it so that you can have that information.

Curt Bedei: 24:01 So if you don’t have a computer or something like that, you can still pick up a menu guide or, um, hours of operation guides for the restaurants and grocery stores. Um, and then we started working on our advertising. What’s our message going to be, um, now, and talking with the chamber of commerce, we started putting a plan together about how we want to become the safe Haven, so to speak. We realized, again, very early on that people are not going to want to travel very far distances. Now they’re probably gonna want to travel maybe three to five hours at the most. And if they want to, they’re gonna stay overnight, but more than likely, not so much. Um, so realizing that we are just on the outskirts of a major metropolitan like Chicago, and we are going to be that destination for people, people are gonna see us as a place to go because it’s still close to home, but it’s far enough that they feel like they went somewhere.

Curt Bedei: 25:14 And so we wanted to make sure that we put out the message that, um, we are that type of safe Haven, where our community is doing everything possible to make sure that you enjoy your visit here, whether you decide to come now or later, we’re doing all the guidelines and in sanitizing and cleaning. And just making sure that, you know, I think the line in one of our errands was the only thing you have to worry about is how much to pack. And then we started advertising some social distancing, um, activities, um, all of our parks, um, our nature preserves, you know, we’re only 20 minutes away from four state parks. So we started advertising, um, those key elements. Uh, and then we started working very early with a lot of the bus companies. We knew that they were going to be affected by this as well.

Curt Bedei: 26:13 And a lot of their trips were going to be canceled. And if, if, and when they decided to start gearing back up, we would be, you know, a quick, uh, easy recovery for the bus company and ourselves, if they were going to put together a small destination trip, we would be that place for them to be able to, um, maybe help get their business back and running again. But we also would enjoy the, the visits from those people in the money and the economy that would be generated from them visiting. So anything that we could come up with in that regard, that’s how we started working towards a recovery process.

Nicole Mahoney: 26:57 That’s awesome. Um, do you’ve done so much, and I love that you shared all of that with us, everything from, you know, the, the updates to your, to your website, your Ottawa cares, uh, section of your website to that, the thinking through how can we provide information, even if our information center isn’t open. So with the outdoor kiosk, and then thinking through, you know, the advertising and who, who your market is. And I imagined that this brand, you know, pick us, uh, this whole botanical garden, outdoor brand is really playing well for you in terms of what people are looking for when they’re thinking of those short, those short trips, where they might go and being able to also, you know, align with the state parks that are nearby. I think it’s just fantastic

Curt Bedei: 27:47 That, I mean, that’s, that’s helped out a lot. Um, there’s one particular arc that’s near us at starved rock, state park, and Wednesday, Wednesday kind of lifted the, uh, quarantine, uh, type atmosphere. That park has been closed every weekend because they’re at full capacity. And, you know, since they’re in another community, we can’t necessarily advertise them, but, um, we work very closely with them. They’re all, they’re kind of a partner of ours. And we do have other state parks that do fall within our city limits and, and restart pushing nos to people that, Hey, maybe start rock is closed, but these are open that you may not realize are available. And so we start pushing those as well.

Nicole Mahoney: 28:38 Yeah, I think that’s, uh, that’s fantastic. And then also I love that you thought about the bus companies because, um, you’re right. I mean, group tour operators, their business has completely evaporated for, for 2020, and, um, being a good partner in reaching out to them, uh, in thinking about what they might be looking for, you know, as you mentioned, those, you know, smaller groups are those safe trips that they might be able to do is they start through their recovery. Um, I think is just a really great, uh, great idea. And I’m so glad to hear that you were thinking about them.

Curt Bedei: 29:13 Yeah. And you know, we’re not, you know, that a lot of their trips, you know, our big trips where they’re going to, uh, Branson or they’re going to Chicago or things like that. And in this day and age at this moment that wasn’t going to be a possibility, but, you know, with us having a lot of outdoor activities and nature and things like that, it just made sense to know that they are hurting and they’re going to need to figure out they’re going to operate for the next eight to 12 months. So, you know, why don’t we reach out to them and say, Hey, we’re, we’re, we’re a great destination. We’re small, but we can accommodate you and it’ll help you recover, but it will also help us to recover as well.

Nicole Mahoney: 30:00 Yeah. I think that’s a, that’s just fantastic. So Curt, um, switching gears just a little bit, and I, and I don’t even know how you might answer this question because a lot of us don’t really know exactly what the future looks like, but I am curious if there are any projects that you are working on or anything that’s coming up in the future that you’re particularly excited about that you’d like to share with our listeners.

Curt Bedei: 30:27 Yeah. It seems like every day that I come into work, I get an email, it says another one bites the dust. And so it’s trying to figure out, all right, well, what are we going to work on? What, how do we, you know, start getting things back back to normal if, if there is a normal now, but, um, you know, one thing that we started working on last year was, um, our, our downtown has a very, uh, diverse restaurant scene now, um, you know, 20 years ago that wasn’t the case, but now we’ve, you know, we’ve kind of went through that recovery process and re revitalize the downtown and we got the brand in place. And so now we’ve gotten to a point where we have a great, uh, restaurant scene. And I felt that we finally reached that level where we could start having a restaurant week.

Curt Bedei: 31:24 And I didn’t want to have your run of the mill type of restaurant. We were, you know, the, they have a prefixed menu or, um, you know, it’s just a regular specials that they have and you go to each restaurant and you try to try their special dishes that they made for just that week. I wanted to put a different twist on it. And, um, you know, I come from a farm lifestyle. I was raised on a farm, um, where we, as I mentioned earlier, we are kind of in a farm community type atmosphere. So I wanted to kind of bring that aspect into the restaurant week. And what we came up with was local foods, restaurant week, where we incorporated local area producers and farmers who grow vegetables or livestock, um, to source the restaurants during this week. And they would make special dishes based off the produce or the meat or the cheese or whatever product they got from the farmers.

Curt Bedei: 32:32 Um, they would make dishes off of that. And that’s how we put our twist on restaurant week. And they went very last year. We kept it small because we wanted to see how it would work. So we had about four restaurants that participate in, in eight farmers and producers. And, um, it was, it went very well. We had several people who went to every restaurant and tried every dish. Um, we had some that, you know, just went to the same restaurant, but they kept trying different dishes that were available that were provided, um, through this special project. So when this year happened, um, back in March, we were going to start having our meetings about that, and we continued to have them. And, but the main question was our, uh, can we do this, uh, is this going to be possible for this year? And the more we got through the year and more meetings we decided, yeah, we can do this.

Curt Bedei: 33:30 You know, things are kind of opening up a little bit more. It’s a possibility there’s probably going to be more carry outs and delivery than it will be indoor dining, but you know, that doesn’t really make a difference. They’re still going to be able to make the dishes and you’re going to be able to enjoy them. So we had, um, several meetings. We brought in the farmers from last year, we gained a couple more. Um, we picked up a couple more restaurants that are interested in doing this. So, um, it’s all starting together to come together again. And that’s what we’re kind of looking for is the local foods restaurant week to happen in September.

Nicole Mahoney: 34:08 That’s fantastic. And I love that. First of all, I love the twist on it. I think that’s just really awesome how you’re able to bring in those food producers and really shine a light on, you know, the farming community. Again, I can see how that ties back to your overall brand that, you know, again, you’re bringing that to the table and I love that you have this started and it’s something that’s really gonna I’m sure help your restaurants and those food producers during this crazy dime. Um, you know, and it’s something fun to look forward to. So I think that’s just fantastic.

Curt Bedei: 34:46 I guess it was a premonition, I suppose. I don’t know. It you’re certainly correct in that sense that both of those, uh, elements are certainly hurting during this time. And so as popular as restaurant week was last year, I can imagine that this is something that the restaurants are looking very much forward to, to be able to do that and have the interest level as they did last year.

Nicole Mahoney: 35:13 Yeah, absolutely. Couldn’t agree more. And that’s actually a perfect segue into the next, uh, topic that we’d like to cover on this show, which is the whole idea of collaboration, because it sounds like to pull off something like that. Uh, you need a lot of collaboration, you know, between yourself and the restaurants and the food producers, and I’m sure others in the community. Um, and one of the things that I just about collaboration and the tourism industry is this whole idea of coopertition, which I like to call coopertition where perceived competitors come together and collaborate to create something bigger than they can do on their own. And, uh, it sounds like this restaurant week is certainly one that fits into the competition category. I’m curious if there are other collaborations that come to mind that you have been part of, if you could share, share some of those with us.

Curt Bedei: 36:06 Yeah. I mean, like I mentioned earlier with working with the chamber in the city, it’s very important to have all those people on board very early on because, um, you know, they’re, they’re kind of in the same boat as you are, as, you know, you may have different, uh, missions, um, or objectives, but you’re, you’re all working together to promote your community and make, make sure that your community survives without them. Um, and you know, the businesses and, and restaurants and things like that, it kind of hurts for you to be able to market your community. So we all work together in that sense, but probably one of the biggest things among all the little things that we, we worked together was attracting a national and, and, uh, I, in some cases, I guess, worldly travel program from, uh, a television program and, um, you know, those things, if you, if you’re ever familiar with those, they’re quite expensive.

Curt Bedei: 37:16 And of course, you know, they’re going to need a lot of content for their program because, you know, maybe a half hour show, but you know, they’re going to be filming for maybe a week, uh, trying to get content so that they can edit it down and make a, make a great program. So, you know, w it was something that I looked into and, um, I was very much interested in promoting our community that way. Um, and although we, we have a lot of attractions and things like that, I just didn’t see us having enough content for them to be able to film, but I knew our whole area, which we call the star rock country area. There’s many, many things for people to see and do, and be a part of, um, I’m part of the heritage corridor visitors Bureau. Um, that’s, that’s our visitor’s Bureau that we’ve fallen under and I sit on their board.

Curt Bedei: 38:17 So we are a part of this whole area outside our community. And, you know, I think that’s the biggest misconception for a lot of people, is all the things they don’t realize, all the things that they can see and do, and be a part of, we have hiking and biking and boating and skydiving, and a zip lining and all the state parks and the nature preserves and the restaurants. And, you know, it there’s, you would probably travel halfway across the state to be a part of those, those, all those things. But fortunately enough for us, we have them all in this 20 mile area. So when we, when I pitched the idea to the CVB, um, they, they love the idea and we started bringing in other partners to, uh, be a part of it. So we’ve picked a few local restaurants that would be featured, um, the state park, our community, um, another community, um, this CBB or the chamber of commerce is, and just other little partners in between, um, that have something of, uh, interesting content or, uh, that could be featured in the program.

Curt Bedei: 39:34 And we brought all those people in together, and we started putting an itinerary together in, and working with the, um, the program developer and producers. And my CVB director actually went down to a tourism convention down in Florida and actually met with the host of the show. So there was a lot of, a lot of behind the scenes work and bring in all these people together and keep them updated about what was going on throughout the whole process, so that they were very much informed about everything that was going on. And, um, once, once we had everything lined up and we were ready to go, they came in, um, we filmed for about four or five days. Um, we kept them out at our local Harbor in their own little cottage, so they could stay together and talk and, and do everything that they needed to do.

Curt Bedei: 40:35 And, um, it just, we, we worked very well. We kept everybody updated. We called them, let them know if we were on schedule off schedule, um, and just, you know, worked very well as a team. But, you know, even though I’ve, you know, represent one community, I see the bigger picture of the outside communities that also have attractions that, um, you know, maybe they’re going to enjoy something one place, but they’re also going to come down the road and enjoy something in our community as well. So just making sure that everybody was going to benefit from this programming was the big key and everything. And so getting everybody on board and, and informed about it was, uh, very important to us.

Speaker 4: 41:25 Totally. I think that’s fantastic. Um, what, what was the show?

Curt Bedei: 41:29 The show is called travels with Darley and, uh, she, um, has a program on PBS.

Nicole Mahoney: 41:36 Yeah. And, and so I I’m, I’m curious currently, so was your idea, you were doing the research and you found the show with Darley and then you brought this to your CVB.

Curt Bedei: 41:50 Yes. Yeah. I, uh, I did all the background research and, um, you know, it was something that I was interested in, but I didn’t know exactly where we fit in price range and what we’re capable of doing. So through my research, I was able to come across the travels with Darley program and it seemed like it fit very well for who we were and what our area was. Um, you know, she does a lot of worldly travel, um, uh, shows, but she also did some domesticated ones as well. And, and a lot of the domesticated ones seem to be similar to what we had as well. And so I thought that would be a great fit. Um, I presented it to my board and the CVB and, uh, we had, we had great buy-in and it paid off very well. You know, the, our episode is still playing in syndication and that was four years ago. Wow.

Nicole Mahoney: 42:47 That’s fantastic. And what I love about that story is that you had this idea, uh, you knew it was going to take more partners than just, you know, you and your visitor center, and you’re able to go out and find those partners and really make something happen. And I think that’s such a valuable lesson, uh, you know, not to get, you know, you don’t hit that roadblock and then stop, right. You just kept pushing along and trying to find a way to, uh, to make this happen, to have the right content, the right amount of content and the right partners, um, in order to pay dividends. Right.

Curt Bedei: 43:21 I think that’s fantastic. Yeah. I think the biggest thing learned from all that is, you know, don’t look at the next community down, down the road or the next restaurant down the road in another community as, as a competition, because, you know, if you work together, you’re both going to benefit from that visitor coming in to your community or their community guys, they’re going to share stories back and forth, you know, and they’re going to say, Hey, you know, after you’re done with your meal, you should go check out such and such an Ottawa. You know, that, it’s a great thing. I, I take my kids there, you know, anything like that. And just word of mouth type of thing is a great selling point to visitors.

Nicole Mahoney: 44:04 Yeah, absolutely. So through that experience, um, were there any lessons learned in terms of, you know, working together, uh, on a project like that? Uh, you know, if there are some listeners that might be thinking about doing a similar collaboration, are there any lessons learned that you think they should be aware of?

Curt Bedei: 44:22 I can’t, I can’t necessarily reflect on any particular thing, but I think the most important thing is always stay in contact with that’s involved. Communication is the biggest thing that you have to make sure that everybody is informed. Everybody is on board and, um, just updates as things progress. Um, you know, things will happen very quickly. There will be, there’ll be things that will come up and you have no, um, you didn’t wouldn’t have expected those things to happen, but you have to be able to shift gears very quickly. And, um, come up with a solution. I got deemed the nickname, the fixer, because even though, you know, they were filming the shot or getting the, getting the shot together so that they could edit it later, I’m in the background behind the camera, on the phone, talking to different people throughout the whole process, trying to find a rental car or calling the next destination saying that we’re 20 minutes behind, we’ll be there soon. Or, um, you know, you know, get a, get a, a hamburger and a and fries together on a plate, uh, for a, for a shot or, you know, whatever the case may be. So just make sure that you’re always communicating with everybody that’s involved in the whole process.

Nicole Mahoney: 45:51 Absolutely. That’s, that’s great advice. So current, I have one last question to ask you, and this has been just a fantastic conversation so far, and we’ve talked a lot already about, you know, how important it is to engage with your community. And that’s something that I’ve been seeing a lot lately that destination marketers and tourism offices are doing really being more, uh, like you had mentioned earlier, looking inward, you know, and, uh, not just focused outwardly. And I’m wondering, you know, you’ve already given us several examples, but I’m, I’m wondering if that’s what you have been experiencing as well. Just kind of this evolution of your role in terms of being more focused in, on the community, as well as externally on the visitor and how you balance.

Curt Bedei: 46:43 Yeah, certainly, um, in, in SAR, in some aspects, yes. I, I have seen that starting to happen, you know, the, the community that you’re a part of, or that you’re promoting as a destination, you have to have them buy into the brand or the story as well. If they’re not going to buy into it, then you know, they’re not going to support it. They’re not going to be your ambassador out in the community. So when you do have a visitor or travelers coming in your community, and they’re going out to the restaurant, or they’re going to the attraction, or they’re going to one of the shops, if you have, they’re going to run into a citizen, no. What of your community? And it’s important to have that citizen be that ambassador for you out there. Because as, as a destination marketer or tourist guide, I can’t be with the tourist 24 seven, but the community is always out there.

Curt Bedei: 47:48 And they’re always going to be citizens of that community no matter where the tourist is going to be. And so if you have the community bought into your story and your brand, they’re going to be able to pitch that to the tourists that they’re going to ask them questions about, Hey, you know, we’re looking for a great place to eat, or where do we go, or, you know, we’re looking for something to do. They’re going to ask the person that’s closest to them. And more than likely it’s going to be a member of your community. And, um, they have them be very cheerful and excited about seeing somebody from another community in their community and looking for things to enjoy, um, is very important for us to be able to, as a selling point for people to know that they, no matter where you go, you’re going to see a friendly, friendly face, and you’re going to get the information that you’re looking for.

Nicole Mahoney: 48:46 Absolutely. And I think that’s just a great way to wrap up and current. I appreciate so much you taking time with us today. Um, can you let our listeners know where they might find you or where they might check out, uh, information on alwa?

Curt Bedei: 49:04 Yeah. So you can visit our website at pick us Ottawa, I, or you can even find us on social media channels, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I’m on Facebook. We have the Ottawa visitor’s center. And, um, and then same as the other, uh, social media channels, Instagram and the Twitter. So, uh, definitely check us out. Um, there’s a lot of information out there about our community and the attractions that we have and the restaurants and, you know, everything that you would possibly need to learn about, um, our community. You can also visit our YouTube channel too. We have some commercials and, and videos on there about our community and just visit, uh, pick us Ottawa, uh, on YouTube. And you’ll see those as well.

Nicole Mahoney: 49:58 That’s terrific. And we’ll make sure that we’ll have links to all of that on your show notes page as well. Current, thank you so much for joining us and we’ll look forward to catching up with you again soon.

Curt Bedei: 50:08 Yeah. Thanks for having me on. And we look forward to seeing you in our community at some point.

Nicole Mahoney: 50:12 Thank you for listening all the way to the end of this week’s episode. This gives me a chance to tell you about our influencer ebook that gives you the inside. Look at how my agency break the ice media implements influencer marketing for our tourism clients. The book goes into detail on all of the tools that we use to find that niche manage and measure influencers. You’ll find information on key follower, benchmarks, how to vet influencer channels, getting your destination partners on board, creating itineraries, managing influencer expectations, and measuring for ROI. Visit break the ice forward slash influencers to download the full ebook that’s break the ice forward slash influencers.

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