Visit Lake Norman, with Cyndi Bartley

Episode 153

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Cyndi Bartley is the Operations and Marketing Director at Visit Lake Norman. Throughout her entire professional career, she has been devoted to the hospitality and tourism industry. She began her role at Visit Lake Norman in 2007 as a marketing intern and continued to advance her position and responsibilities to her current role today. During her time here, she continues to enhance their ambassador and internship programs. Bartley enjoys continued education and networking through conferences and learning sessions. Currently, she is in the process of undergoing Destinations International’s CDME program. On this episode of Destination on the Left, I am joined by Cyndi Bartley, Operations and Marketing Director at Visit Lake Norman. She delves into the marketing tactics and strategies that have been successful in drawing traffic to a small destination.

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Cyndi’s journey to Operations and Marketing Director at Visit Lake Norman
  • The multi-functional nature of Cyndi’s position, and how she prepared for it
  • How Cyndi’s and her team maintain a competitive edge in the travel and tourism industry
  • What enables Visit Lake Norman to continuously improve their marketing processes
  • The challenges that Visit Lake Norman is currently facing, and how they plan to overcome them
  • How Visit Lake Norman’s internship program is impacting their capacity
  • Different roles that Cyndi’s interns assume
  • How interns are selected, and the responsibilities that they have
  • Why Visit Lake Norman is collaborating with other organizations in the area
  • What is in store for the future of Visit Lake Norman

Visit Lake Norman

After a lot of moving around, Cyndi’s family finally settled down in the Charlotte area of North Carolina. When she transitioned into high school, she gained a better sense of direction for what she wanted to do in her career. Business seemed like a field that aligned with her aspirations, and Cyndi was drawn to the specific niche of marketing. She received her bachelor’s from UNC, but her passion for marketing developed well before that point. Cyndi is now the Operations and Marketing Director at Visit Lake Norman, and she has been with them for 13 years. However, she started as just an intern. She never could have predicted that she would end up in a leadership role, but hindsight is twenty-twenty. Looking back on her career, Cyndi’s early professional development with Visit Lake Norman is one of the main reasons she became a successful marketing leader. She had the opportunity to dive deep into every facet of the organization, which prepared her to wear a number of different hats in the future.

Maintaining a Competitive Edge

Travel and Tourism is an extremely competitive industry, so to win foot traffic for Lake Norman, Cyndi and her team had to go above and beyond. Being with the organization for over a decade is a huge advantage for her. Cyndi has seen everything that has worked and everything that hasn’t. She has also seen all of the tactics of surrounding tourism boards which builds a distinct profile of their competition. Visit Lake Norman works hard to constantly refine their efforts and create a polished appearance that portrays them as a larger destination than they actually are. With Cyndi at the helm, Visit Lake Norman has experienced a lot of success, but with new successes come new challenges. As their organization grows, they struggle to maintain enough manpower to meet demands. It is difficult to consistently produce high-quality content and marketing collateral when they don’t have enough resources to do so. That means new creative is the first to get cut. But Cyndi is combatting that deficiency with a robust internship program, providing Visit Lake Norman with bodies in the form of marketing, product design, and sports marketing interns.

Increased Manpower Through Internships

Every year they bring more bright minds on board, creating meaningful content and increasing Visit Lake Norman’s capacity in the busiest season of the year. Cyndi worked hard to augment the program, which now gets upwards of 30-40 resumes a year and continues to grow. The interns are able to provide important resources to Visit Lake Norman because they follow a stringent plan from day one. But that is not to say they aren’t given some degree of free rein over their work. Each student is placed in a role where they can contribute to the big picture and exercise their strengths. So, Cyndi’s team always wins together because they are always on the same page.

What’s in Store?

Visit Lake Norman has some big things on the horizon and their team is working diligently to promote their message in new ways. That means producing new video content, creating innovative marketing initiatives and campaigns, and exploring different platforms that they aren’t currently leveraging. Bartley is also making a greater effort to collaborate with other organizations in the area to reach a larger audience and they have already experienced great success with that. Visit Lake Norman is taking major strides in the travel and tourism industry, and they are a model organization for marketing small destinations.


Nicole Mahoney: 00:25 Hello listeners, this is Nicole Mahoney, host of destination on the left. I am passionate about travel and tourism and love learning from the experiences professionals in the industry and that is why I’m so excited to introduce today’s guests, Cindy Bartley. Cindy is the operations and marketing director at visit Lake Norman in North Carolina. Throughout her entire professional career, she has been devoted to the hospitality and tourism industry. [inaudible] began her role there in 2007 as a marketing intern and continued elevating her position and responsibilities to her current role today. During Cindy’s time with visit Lake Norman, she continues to enhance [inaudible] passenger and internship programs. Cindy and joy’s continued education and networking through conferences and learning sessions and currently she is in the process of undergoing destination internationals dd m e program. Thank you so much for joining me, Cindy.

Cyndi Bartley: 01:11 Thank you so much. Happy to be here. Thank you.

Nicole Mahoney: 01:14 I’m excited to learn from you and I’m sure we’ll get into this as we get into the interview, but Lake Norman is located near Charlotte, North Carolina. And so I’m sure, hopefully throughout our conversation we’ll be able to talk about, um, being a destination next to, you know, a larger destination and kind of how that balance plays out. But before we get started with the conversation, all right, I’d love it if you could share with our listeners a little bit more about your journey. The Bio just gives a small glimpse of, you know, how you got to where you are today and I find it adds so much more context when we hear it in your own words.

Cyndi Bartley: 01:48 Of course. Yes. Um, I’m actually, my parents were in the military originally from Michigan, but so we moved all over the place but eventually settled in the Charlotte area. Um, so I’ve been here on most of my life now, you know, from middle school and up [inaudible]. Um, I think through high school I just decided, you know, I wanted to be in the business field. I marketing and trick me with those classes. I was able to get [inaudible] a scholarship kind of right away through central Piedmont community college and then eventually transferred to UNC Charlotte and got my bachelor’s within the marketing industry. But, um, throughout that time, very early at CPCC, I wanted the internship, bye. A and looking in our area, they lived in the Cornelius area of Lake Norman and pretty much [inaudible] no, that’s when I was first introduced to the travel and tourism industry had a wonderful team that was already there and in brace me.

Cyndi Bartley: 02:58 I, you know, I had that one year internship that I was with them and then darted part time and stuck with them throughout, um, my college career, almost being able to apply what I learned during college through the internship. Um, so, so I loved that during, during the time too. I, no, I have married my high school sweetheart. We have two kids now. Um, and so now, you know, I have, since I graduated from UNC Charlotte in 2011 and I’ve been in my current position for about eight years now as operations and marketing director, or I’ve been able to just see the transformation within our organization or for a visit like Norman of how it’s changed over those years from, from, you know, me being an intern and just the branding and the look and feel on how it’s, it’s changed that way too. And just always building and those responsibilities and that task flowed over a time, um, and having so many different facets. And that’s, so I love being part of a smaller destination is that, you know, I, not only am I marketing, I’m also media and communications. I do finance and operations, I do our board reports, I do research. So there, there’s so much that I’m able to, to put my hands on. I love to hello. You know, that I loved having that passion that I’m bringing back. Sure. Our community that I love so much already, so. Okay. Um, so yeah. Yeah. That’s it in a nutshell.

Nicole Mahoney: 04:33 Well, I think that’s, it’s really awesome. And um, I think it’s cool about that is just your appreciation, what you point out about working at a smaller destination. You know, a lot of times on this show we talk about some of the challenges that smaller destinations might face, um, over, you know, larger destinations. But what you just pointed out is it’s one of the things that you’re so passionate about, which is that ability to where you know, those many different hats and you really dig deep into all facets of your organization rather than being maybe siloed or just in one, one small piece of it and feeling like you have that bigger impact my tracking with you. Right?

Cyndi Bartley: 05:10 Absolutely. Yes. Yep. We have to be able to step in on a moment’s notice and priorities may shift and change and, um, being able to be there for your colleagues and, and whatnot. So, you know, I can, I can play the dos sales hat or needed a wedding for someone, planning a wedding may come in our visitor center and if they’re out, we’re there and we know what to do to kind of get the, get the ground running. So we [inaudible] we do it all. We try to make sure, I think communication is by far the most important of why it’s so successful. Um, you know, we meet regularly, but we’re always kind of talking about we know what we’re working on and what we’re in in with. And so that I’ll just, with everything

Nicole Mahoney: 05:58 that we write, we do also. Yeah, I think, I think that’s a, that’s a really great point. And, um, I’m really interested in hearing your perspective on some of these questions. So let’s dive in on creativity. And, um, I always like to start out with this question about how competitive the tourism and hospitality industry really is and how many choices there are for are people these days to eat, to visit, you know, different places to visit, different experiences to have or even the choices that they have to maybe stay home. Right. And that not to actually travel. So I’m wondering what you have done in Lake Norman with doesn’t like Norman to really stand out from the crowd.

Cyndi Bartley: 06:39 Yeah. Um, I guess because we are on the outskirts of, of larger destinations with visit Charlotte and visit Cadbury’s and Morzel is even just north of us on like Norman also. Um, I think making sure we are doing the basics well, making sure that, you know, we have, we are sending out on a regular basis constantly refining what we do and making it better each time we do it. I mean, I think for me, knowing that I’ve been here for 12 years, coming on 13 years, that no, I, I know year to year, you know, how the plan is the ever evolving. Um, schedule of, of certain campaigns that we want to do on a regular basis or what worked well on what, um, maybe fell short and being able to constantly refine and, um, make it look good, the best way possible. So I think, no, using all our channels, whether it’s on social and on our newsletter or website, you know, just making sure everything is consistent and concise and make us look like a larger destination than what we are with, you know, our funding and our manpower, um, to the resources that larger, um, destinations have also.

Nicole Mahoney: 08:08 Yeah. I, I, uh, I can appreciate that. So really kind of, you know, um, little bit more of those like guerrilla tactics, right? And figuring out ways to kind of, um, maximize your, your budgets, but also find those areas where you can really showcase the destination and like you said, um, make you look, look like a larger destination, um, just in how you kind of Polish, right. And how you show off your assets.

Cyndi Bartley: 08:34 Yep. Absolutely.

Nicole Mahoney: 08:35 Yeah, I think that’s great. So one of the things I love to learn from our guests is, is the creativity that happens when you’re faced with a challenge. Um, and in your organization, I’m wondering if there is a challenge that you have faced at visit Lake Norman. Um, and then maybe if you could share with us the creative solution that came from that.

Cyndi Bartley: 08:57 Of course. Um, I guess, um, I see I kind of touched on earlier, but also I think it’s, it’s kind of having the manpower to be able to create great content and always kind of have a refresh or, you know, when we were staffed with just three people at one time for a few years, then, you know, you can only, and when you wear so many hats, you can only put so much time toward, you know, new marketing initiatives or, um, new campaign ideas or things like that. Um, and so our creative solution is more so in developing an enhancing our internship program. Um, it’s really, um, we’ve had great success in bringing in great, um, team, um, team members to our organization through that also. But, um, right now, you know, well then the last we tried to make sure it’s an evolving process of having interns every summer, um, fall and spring and certainly in our summertime where it’s our peak season, we have the most going on.

Cyndi Bartley: 10:11 So, um, bye. But, you know, having marketing, graphic design and sports marketing interns almost as our team, you know, we’re enhancing our team from what we have four now. We’re adding, we had five this last summer and it was amazing. We actually out of the photography in turn at the last minute, Jim, how about this one? But their focus is content, you know, creating new content for us. We give them one new blog article a month to work on, have a deadline, um, post for us to review, make any changes, um, get imagery, things of that sort than using it on all cross channel, um, marketing initiatives that we have between the website, social, um, you know, putting out those content, um, calendars and being able to schedule them and review them. Um, and of course now we’ve actually implemented outings to our partners and our attractions. Um, some of those students coming in are in the Charlotte area, may not come up to like Norman that off then.

Cyndi Bartley: 11:22 So Alrighty. It’s an educational process about our destination to them and they’re experiencing it as a visitor would. And so there they’re going to all our towns, we have Cornelius Davidson in Huntersville, no suburbs of Charlotte practically, and they’re just beautiful, quaint town. So we’ll go to each of them throughout the internship program there. Let, you know, gathering new content, new tidbit, talking to our partner space base are taking, they’re using that imagery on all the items that um, they update on our channels I mentioned earlier. Um, and they feel that they are able to do better work by doing those outings and having those face to face things. Of course the networking, I mean, they, their work, our front desk, they [inaudible] to the visitors coming in. They help with merchandise purchases. They’ll go out to events and FAFSA information booth out there. We bring them in on marketing meetings.

Cyndi Bartley: 12:26 Um, you know, however way a luncheon that might [inaudible] [inaudible] going on during that time. And they even sit in on our board meetings, we make them speak and introduce themselves to the group. It’s a great way to get in front of them and see the structure, what it’s like. So we try to bring them in on every facet of our organization during the, the three months that they’re here with us. You really do see at the very end, you know, they’re, they’re leaving and they’re telling us the feedback as meaningful work. They appreciate it. They and Julia and you know, kind of bringing them in. They may have interest in marketing, but I didn’t know about hospitality and tourism and maybe that might be something for them down in the future or at least I can take that with them in their career. [inaudible] [inaudible] professional development that way too.

Nicole Mahoney: 13:14 Yeah. Um, you just gave, so, um, so many golden nuggets. I wanted to make sure our listeners caught, caught all of that or really get the essence of, of what you laid out here. But, um, first of all, what I, what I’m hearing is that you’re really augmenting your team. You’re small, you know, three person team with these interns, um, to help give you basically more hands on deck to help you implement more marketing programs. Um, am I, my first follow up question is, um, you, I, I hear from people and I’m a huge believer in internships as well. I love what you just laid out. Um, yeah. You’ll hear other people talk about interns and how much time it takes to manage them or to run a, a good intern program. Um, can you speak a little bit to how you manage the time, you know, how you manage the interns and then kind of like what is the return that you feel you get for that time invested?

Cyndi Bartley: 14:10 Absolutely. I get that feedback a lot when I talk [inaudible] to others when I’m at conferences or what not. So, um, I guess I see it, I mean, I, I don’t know if those don’t feel comfortable in delegating them, but I mean, day one, when I know that I have four new interns coming in, I already have a plan for them. I have it laid out, written out. Exactly. You know what they’re going to be working on. And really that first okay coming in is the bulk of it, the time that you’re going to put in throughout the whole [inaudible] internship. And it’s training them, talking through their assignments, then showing them our platforms and how they can use that. But after that, I mean, and I do have help, I’m, I told you we had three staff members, but now we have four up a marketing coordinator with us now and he kind of oversees the internship.

Cyndi Bartley: 15:09 I may be their main supervisor and planning the work ahead, but he’s the goto person and may take more time, but it’s a wonderful professional development tool for him to learn and, and relay um, Simon that way too. So it kind of goes back and forth that way. Also, he used to be an intern also. I kind of picked them out of a, a wonderful collection of what we had already. But um, no, so, and you know, I think as long as I know we don’t do a lot of, they want to work independently, they eat. There’s not a lot of handholding. You definitely, I am interview process and making sure that you have those types of, of individuals that are high achievers and the want to, you know, do the work and put it in and experience it certain ways. Um, you know, when it comes to content, some are great writers and some are, you know, so, so I think as long as you give them proper feedback and you see improvement over time or if there’s different things, you know, I think they always want to make sure they’re doing, putting their best foot forward as the internship.

Cyndi Bartley: 16:20 Are they maybe getting co-op credit through it also they’re making sure that they’re fulfilling it the best they can each way. Um, you know, they, there’s, I don’t know, I think I’m always, I w I love the mentor, um, aspect of, of it, seeing them develop professionally also. And You giving that positive feedback and reinforcement of what they do well and, and yeah, and why, and I think we missed the boat and explaining why it’s important of why I’m giving you this assignment. And I think as long as you are con like communicating that there, that process. So, um, they, they feel just a lot more invested that way too.

Nicole Mahoney: 17:04 Yeah. Um, again, you, you just gave so much time, good information. I just want to make sure I give this back to you because I think what you just did is lay out a formula for success that’s really for a strong internship program. And um, then I’m going to ask you a followup question about the interview process in a minute, but it sounds like you’re starting with a strong um, interview process that makes sure you get the right right for the, for the job, um, that you have those, um, yeah, the right characteristics especially for those that are self motivated and can work independently. And then I think the biggest, one of the biggest things that you said was to have a plan on day one. Do you do a little bit of your own homework in advance, um, and are prepared by the time they get air.

Nicole Mahoney: 17:48 And that, um, the first day is really where you see the bulk of your focus in terms of working with them on the training. Um, but I think it’s important for what you just said about when you give the assignments to tie it to, you know, the goal or to explain why it’s important so that they actually do feel invested in that helps with their motivation. Um, I think that’s huge. And then the other thing I heard you say is I signed a goto person. So even though you’re their direct report, they have someone they can go to you and they can lean on to ask the question. Um, and I love how you pointed up. That’s a professional development opportunity for that person. Um, so, you know, varies a cyclical in that way, right? I mean you’re, you know, the interns, you’re mentoring them, but at the same time, a marketing coordinator that you have in charge of the interns you’re mentoring now person, you know, in how you, um, have direct reports and how you work with them. So I just think that’s amazing. That’s awesome.

Cyndi Bartley: 18:45 [inaudible] okay. Um, and one thing throughout the internship, we always make sure we have some sort of mid point a valuation with them so that we can kind of sit back, reflect what they’re talking to them, what they’re doing well, their interests and, and what are you enjoying in that way almost you can enhance and build on to that task load. Because you told me you enjoyed this part of, of this assignment. Well, I can give you more of that or I’ve seen you’ve done well and flourished and that component, let’s focus on that. And you know, and, and they want that feedback. And certainly at the end is, is you know, when you kind of talk to them and then again a revisit those things. And I really applaud them for that. I mean, you want to make sure they’re leaving your destination already in a positive light. But I think, you know, with everything that they do, put in an expense variant during that time, they’re able to take that and, and you know, have more authentic. Right. Cause I mean, that’s what I feel like I hear as you know, today and age, you want to be able to talk like our visitors and relate to them. And, um, we’re, we’re almost putting our, our interns through [inaudible] their shoes too, so through that process. So, um, they, they, they enjoy seeing that business side of it, um, than just the personal side, so.

Nicole Mahoney: 20:15 Okay. That’s great. So can you talk a little bit about your interview process and how [inaudible] how you interview your interns? Is there a set, um, process that you put them through or certain criteria that you’re looking for? How do you find the best, you know, the best interns?

Cyndi Bartley: 20:31 Yeah. Um, so typically in, in the first initial recruitment process, we usually go to an intern or career fair. I’m at local universities nearby and tell them and educate them. And, um, we get, you know, 30, 40 resumes of people that may be interested in, we make notes for those that actually research us. No, what we are got the one that’s probably one of the hardest questions I get and I don’t um, penalize them for not knowing what a destination marketing organization. I think sometimes it’s hard enough for us two weeks. Mine was, it is to our family members and whatnot ourselves. So, um, no, so I definitely don’t penalize them, but I make sure to lane what but we are around and things of that sort of course. Um, once and of course, no, that initial recruitment at the intern fair [inaudible] they follow the look with me.

Cyndi Bartley: 21:34 I find like I ha I have good [inaudible] candidates, but at the intern fair I’m also telling them, okay, I think you’d be a great candidate. Please follow up with me with your resume again. [inaudible] too many people today and so that like, they know that I’m focusing on those just that first time conversation. But yeah. [inaudible] I’m not going to sit down and do an interview with him. [inaudible] um, that day, I think career fairs, I do have that. I want them to come into the visitors center. I want them to come into the office, see it. Um, I’m super, they’re going to be [inaudible] a good commute and, and all of that type of logistical things too. But once you sit down and have a 10 question list pretty quick, um, sometimes less than no, 20, 30 minutes Max. Okay. Um, get to know them, ask them about they know what visit Lake Norman is all about.

Cyndi Bartley: 22:30 Give them the opportunity to tell you if they’ve had any research behind behind that. But overall, you know, when you ask them about challenges, yes, they’ve had or in past, okay. GRE In school or, um, different takeaways. You, I’m trying to find type of person they are, you know, and most of the time they may not have the skillset to come. We can train them, we can build that when they come in through the door. So I’m just trying to find out if this is a self-motivated individual that has a passion for doing well in, in whatever it is. And so, and you’re just making sure they’re good person overall. And I think you can usually [inaudible] good indicator right away. Um, and getting those types of examples that they provide when they talk about challenges and how they’ve worked there are them and how they do when it comes to meeting deadlines in different things with [inaudible] with the question. So I asked. So

Speaker 4: 23:30 yeah, I think a, I think that’s a good point in it. And I love how you said that, um, you know, you kind of do a little bit of the vetting at those career fairs in terms of having that first conversation and only inviting those who really, and it made an impression on you, um, for that next step. Like it’s a good way to, in a weed out some of the, um, you know, the ones that wouldn’t be a good fit and it seems like a much more efficient way to [inaudible] two, um, to go about it. And then I also liked that, you know, the importance, um, that you stress the importance of the interview at the office so they can check on the commute and just make sure that this, you know, that this is another in a test of fit that test, um, on both sides. That’s great. So, um, Cindy is there, is there any, anything else

Nicole Mahoney: 24:14 in regards to the internship program that I haven’t asked you about that you want to share before we move on? I think, I think this is such a great, um, program and you’ve gone into such detail. Um, I don’t know if there’s anything else that I haven’t asked you about that, um, you might want to share with our listeners or any kind of best practices that we haven’t already hit on.

Cyndi Bartley: 24:34 Yeah, I think, um, we do weekly task summaries, so making sure at the end of their work week they’re sending, um, what they’re working on tests and it’s to myself and our marketing coordinator. Um, so that’s a good check-in. We actually, we give them goals, um, to meet during the time frame. And, um, then that’s one of those is, um, we do collective partner for girls. So any of our ambassadors working the front desk that they talk to and refer Xyz restaurant attraction, you know, they’re driving those down and putting them into our CRM and trying to get 400 for the month as a [inaudible] team. Um, so it actually adds pretty good. Um, comradery. Um, you’ve noticed, I’ve noticed that our interns leave, they all leave us friends and they almost stay connected in some way or fashion, um, that way. And I think, and it’s also a great, great way for us to see how, what they’re working on, what their timeline is, um, through the task load too, so that when you can ask ’em, you may not be able to, I may not be in that day and, but I can always refer back, um, to their task lists and, and see where they’re at on something.

Cyndi Bartley: 25:59 And, um, and, and it’s a good way for them to see themselves, their own accomplishments during the week of what all they’ve gotten done. We’re responsible for completing our own weekly task lists and sending them to my son, mine out to our, exactly. It was, so she’s always in the know and I think that’s just the one form of communication that you don’t always have to have a meeting or, or set up a face to face or phone call for. We’re, we’re always in the loop that way also.

Nicole Mahoney: 26:30 Absolutely. And you just actually made me think of, um, two other questions and that is, um, are these interns, are they paid, um, are they coming to you for credit, uh, you know, for, for course credit. Can you talk a little bit about kind of the mechanics of it?

Cyndi Bartley: 26:46 Yeah, we, um, they are unpaid. Um, however we do reimburse mileage, um, and, and then we do a lot of parks. We make sure we’d feed them lunch, um, bringing them to this, no outings. I mean, you wouldn’t believe, you know, how far food, um, you know, going to their heart, going to their stomach, their food, then experiencing that, um, making sure we’re kind of incorporating working lunches and things of that sort. Um, but yes, there are certainly interns that take advantage of that co op, um, through their career services. They can gain credit, um, for, for the internship that way. And we definitely certainly recommend them. They, um, [inaudible] to go that route that they’re here for the internship already. Might as well get credit through. They’re there in every university.

Nicole Mahoney: 27:40 Yeah, absolutely. And do they work in your office or do they work out in the office or is it a mix?

Cyndi Bartley: 27:46 We do, they work in the office. They’re there out front in the visitor center. We actually have a work station. Um, I have like a high top table with four chairs, but there’s also kind of lounge chairs so that you can just get up and move around and sit on the couch and sand up at the, at the, you know, kind of move around that way too. But we try to make sure they’re in and out, um, of the office or not. There’s not so much office time is very important what the work that they’re doing, but making sure that they’re changing it up. Then going different places there and giving them kind of that the range to be able to go out and do things on their own that way too. If we don’t have an outing or or, um, a luncheon or something for them to attend.

Nicole Mahoney: 28:36 That’s awesome. Well, thank you so much for going into such detail. I think this’ll be very helpful to a lot of our listeners, those who have intern programs that they want to make better or maybe those who are thinking about how they can use, uh, interns, um, more effectively in insert an intern program for their own organization. So Cindy, looking into the future, are there any upcoming projects or anything that you’re really excited about that you’d like to share with our listeners?

Cyndi Bartley: 29:04 Um, yeah, I’m, I’m in our very, very beginning stages. There’s, um, but I definitely, we need, we are in desperate need of incorporating more video into our marketing initiative. We did a destination videos two or three years ago and working with someone, um, that way. But the more and more I go to conferences and talking with others, how the, how being able to post it in different ways and know being able to have that message out. So I’m one of those that we have not done before. It’s put together an advocacy video and talk about visit like Norman and [inaudible]. Um, a lot of different efforts that my executive director could use that video for. Um, we didn’t know, um, different rotary lunches and leadership introduction, um, of programs that [inaudible] nearby our house fatality awards luncheon, our board of directors. There’s of course, um, that we can kind of show why, um, visit like Norman is impactful and important for the community and everything that we’ve done within that last year or more.

Cyndi Bartley: 30:15 Um, so, so that we’re in the very beginning phases. I definitely want the, um, start vetting that project out, but I have heard, so, um, whether we’re not able to invest, um, the dollars into a production of that [inaudible], um, I think, you know, reaching out to our locals floor, um, video and photography content is important and almost people don’t need perfect imagery and video. It has almost imperfectly perfect. Um, content like that is, is going to be my focus. So, um, however we can all work to work that in. But I’m, we’re fortunate enough, a couple of years ago we had a digital media intern, so after doing that destination project, he pretty much lifestyle a bunch of niche videos for us. And now we have restaurants and you know, Lake activities and, um, other than, and the, um, videos that way too. So maybe we can, um, focused that for our next intern to bring in to have some sort of video editing of capabilities that way too.

Speaker 4: 31:29 Yeah. Well, and that’s good for them to build their portfolio as they move forward in their own careers. So I think that’s a win win right there, so.

Cyndi Bartley: 31:37 Absolutely.

Speaker 4: 31:37 Yeah. Um, so I’d like to touch on collaboration a little bit. It’s a favorite topic of mine. Um, I just love how much collaboration happens, especially in the travel and tourism industry. And one of the things that I’ve noticed that I kinda like to call coopertition, which is where perceived competitors might come together to create something bigger, you know, on their own than they can and they could have done that are together then they could have done on their own. You know, when you see wineries come together, for example, to market a wine trail. Um, and I’m wondering if there is a collaboration, um, that has worked, are you, that you could share it with us?

Cyndi Bartley: 32:17 Yeah, I feel like there is opportunity, especially more on the media sector there. Um, what [inaudible] collaboration and, and that’s, that’s what I have found and working with, um, um, visit Cabarrus and visit Charlotte, they kind of rely on those larger for any type of inclusion when it comes to that. And, um, a couple, I think it was that travel writers came in and, um, they were looking to do a multigenerational Sam tour and they had visited [inaudible] Cabarrus county before. Um, but we’re coming back for the travel media showcase. And, um, so the media communications manager had reached out to me and reached out to the folks of this at Charlotte and was like, Hey, can we do some sort of triad, um, itinerary that each day or a partial day could be focused to yours destination and, um, there’ll be grandparents, parents, and their children. So definitely that multigenerational component of, um, storytelling opportunity there.

Cyndi Bartley: 33:38 And so, you know, we were absolutely, you know, wanted to, so be part of that. They’ve had success in working with [inaudible] done before, um, without inclusion. So, so really we were able to host this family, reach out to our partners, um, cut out, do the normal thing that you would typically do when you host media writers in your destination, but knowing that they’d be coming from the Charlotte area earlier that day and then they would be focused on your destination. Oh, for lunch and latter part of the afternoon and dinner. Um, and kind of setting this, the plan that way and really being able to see that article and fruition afterwards and, and being able to see that tie because I mean, our destinations are so close to each other and, um, you know, visitors don’t really care about the boundaries. And I mean already we know that on a regional side with visit like Norman, we cover three towns that are right next to each other. When we’re talking about our destination, we’re talking about a regional man, um, mindset. Okay. Certainly now on the a larger level and focus and almost empowered all of us to be able to work closely together to help host this team and, and hopefully we’ll have more of that type of opportunity yeah. Of writers trying to do more of a, a regional perspective Yep. When it comes to what’s around in that, that area.

Speaker 4: 35:09 Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s a great example. And um, you know, I, I love that, you know, that’s, that’s exactly the type of thing. I love that, you know, one of the other offices reached out to you and asked you about being included, you know, and you were willing to, you know, to join in. Um, I’m wondering if you, have there were any, anything that you learned from that experience or any best practices about, you know, making that go smoothly that you could share with our listeners?

Cyndi Bartley: 35:38 Um, I think, uh, a lot of it was kind of getting to know, um, so you know, the marketing, communication, um, manager and kind of face to face time, every, every, every once in awhile we’ll just set up a lunch meeting and kind of meet halfway and talk and we may see each other at conferences and to be able to talk and kind of, you know, share our nuggets of information. But, um, sitting down and having a lunch and yes, we have this, you know, actually talking about we’re working on this and [inaudible] and that’s where I think the collaboration comes in inadvertently. You don’t, you know, you don’t, May, I may not come into the meeting with that in mind, but after communicating with them about what things that we’re all working on and, um, or getting advice, but something that I, this may be a first for me here.

Cyndi Bartley: 36:36 Um, and that is, she was able to relay that on my side. I think media is, um, a new thing for me that I’m trying to dip my toes in more and more. And, um, so it was a great way to tell her, you know, okay, is this normal, is this, you know, certain things that I get on salary class or whatever it is. But, you know, to being able to have our alliance person at another destination that you may, you know, have a great focus on that subject matter. And she may turn around and ask me certain questions about, you know, I started talking about our, that program and, and um, you know, and in a week she’s like, Oh man, that would love to have that and [inaudible] each other’s strengths and, and be able to kind of work that. And, you know, and so I think it came about when, once that writer, how to approach her. Um, she was like, you know what, this [inaudible] this might [inaudible] a good thing cause you know, they’ve already experienced our destination, they’ll still experience us, but what more can we give on that’s nearby. And that’s when, um, and bringing in the little ones and things of that where we have more family focused, um, um, by, by having those type conversations.

Speaker 4: 37:44 Absolutely. I think that’s, that, that’s really great. And, and I love that you pointed out it’s, you know, it’s building that relationship but they face how important that face to face time is. And not just at the conferences, but kind of that designated one-on-one. We’re just here to, to, you know, the talk and the share, um, and how important that is and how that can lead to, you don’t even know what it’s going to lead to. Right. Because you just come into an open conversation and you never know what ideas might come up.

Cyndi Bartley: 38:12 [inaudible] yes, absolutely.

Speaker 4: 38:13 Yeah, I think that’s great. So, Cindy, um, this has been a, a really full interview and I knew it would be. And this last question, um, I know that I know you have a lot to share on this topic as well and, um, you know, this is the, the whole idea of, um, the evolution of destination marketers and, and how they’re kind of [inaudible] broader community managers and have this more holistic approach to [inaudible] working in their destinations and managing the whole time brand and story by engaging locals and that. And I know you have a pretty strong local ambassador program. I’m at Lake Norman and so I’m wondering if you can share with us a little bit about your experience and bringing the locals and how you’re really leveraging the locals to help, um, with, you know, marketing, um, visit Lake Norman

Cyndi Bartley: 39:05 [inaudible]. Yeah. Um, our, we’ve had this ambassador program since day one, I think. Um, we’re coming up to almost 20 years as an organization. And there, there are ambassadors that have been [inaudible] been with us or 17 and 18 years now. Um, and, and so that, that is wonderful. We keep about 20 to 25 bath ambassadors at a time. They are the front line, um, to our visitors. They’re sitting at the front desk, obviously. Um, we don’t have the manpower to, to have a full designated person to be out there. So the savings alone and having them, but overall just the community engagement because they’re local residents, they’re just as um, and motivated and just want to be out and about, know what’s going on in the area. Um, and talk to people. Um, a lot of them are retired, most of them are retired and want something to do and be in the know of what’s going on.

Cyndi Bartley: 40:11 And so, um, like are internship program, we also do outings with [inaudible]. Um, whenever there’s a new attraction or new venue, um, our new restaurant caterer, you know, subject matter that’s going on, we’ll put together an outing and go out and I’ll meet you there. And it’s a good way for them to all interact with each other. Cause on their day to day schedule, it’s Monday to Friday and they have a four hour shift from nine to one or one to five. Oh for that morning or afternoon time. Okay. Um, most of them have a permanent day. Six Day I’m here, I’m Carol and I’m always here on Monday afternoon from one to five. And they like that. They like got it, that weekly routine. Um, others, um, we call them floaters but they can fill in the gap whenever needed. They, um, you know, may travel a lot more or things of that sort too.

Cyndi Bartley: 41:09 So whenever there schedule permits are able to fill in that way also, um, we try to keep at least two ambassadors per shift, so then they have someone to chat with [inaudible] with, um, become friends with, um, kind of things like that. But certainly those floaters can fill in whenever we may all have a, a gap and only have person for that designated day and time. Um, we, you know, overall they, um, they love, well, I think that’s one thing as staff, we want to make sure that they are appreciated because it’s also on paid and they’re here as a, as a volunteer. So, but for us, we go out there and we make sure you take 15 minutes out of your day to go out and talk with them and you know, tell them about what their, they’re up to, what, what their next trip is and what we’re working on and things like that, that, um, um, they certainly enjoy the interns that come and go and talk with, um, that you’ve been, give us their feedback about them, what they think about them too.

Cyndi Bartley: 42:14 So, um, that’s the one thing on it, the weekly task I mentioned earlier, you know, if you get any information about the ambassador, write that down, let us know about it. So we’re always in the know what’s going on in their lives too, if we’re not there all the time too. So, um, we do no birthday cards and, um, anniversary cards of how long they’ve been with us. You know, we do our [inaudible] Christmas party at the [inaudible] end of the year. We also do a decorating party for the visitor center that everyone comes in at the wow. Okay. Um, decorate the visitors center for the holidays and it’s just, you know, it’s something to do still our off time, but it’s just something they look forward to. Um, also they go to our event information based when we’re out at the Scottish festival, Highland games every April, you know, they love getting tickets together, that type of event and they’re working their three hour shift during that timeframe and they get to see and experience it and tell visitors about that events are that, um, venue or attraction that they went to during the outing and, and be able to tell them firsthand that they’ve, they’ve experienced it that way too.

Cyndi Bartley: 43:26 So, um, yeah, certainly a win-win and a great way to stay engaged with the community. And they see themselves as community ambassadors also because they’re talking to realtors that come in, they’re talking to, um, of course the visitors, but locals that might come in to get merchandise or something like that. Yeah. So, um, and they’re telling their friends and their neighbors also about us that may have not and aware that, hey, I never knew we had a visitor center here, you know, um, so that we definitely get those that would come in like that too.

Speaker 4: 44:02 Yeah. I think that’s a, that’s really awesome. And I can imagine, I’m not just telling their friends, you know, there’s a visitor center, but they’re probably that, that forever resource you and you know how you have those, that one friend that you can always call to find out what’s going on. And I’m sure they provide. Yeah. So there’s circles as well. Um, I’m curious if you, what you do for recruitment for ambassadors and how often you have to, you know, recruit new ambassadors. Does it happen if you’re word of mouth

Nicole Mahoney: 44:32 or how do you approach that?

Cyndi Bartley: 44:34 Yes, and that can definitely be sometimes a challenge. Um, there’s a few ways. Certainly we have an ambassador incentive program, so if they do refer friends or something that he becomes an ambassador and stays on with us. So we’d give them a $50 gift card as a thank you again for it, for bringing them on. Um, we also run, um, it’s always usually at the beginning of the year, but ambassador appreciation ads in our local papers and, and one that’s not only, you know, we actually put the picture of each person space on this ad. One, they love seeing themselves in the ad. Well, I think they do, but most of them they’re like, oh my gosh, I saw this. And um, but also a great way to show off [inaudible] that program to our community. Let, let them know that we do have this available on you have interest to come contact [inaudible]. Yes. And then a third way, um, there, there certainly are some communities nearby that maybe 55 and over and they have, they want, you know, a luncheon or presentation topics that you can get in front of them. And most of the time they’ve reached out to us and being like, Hey, can you, um, do that? And so that we always see that as an ambassador recruitment opportunity also.

Speaker 4: 46:00 Absolutely. Those are some really good ways, um, great ways to, to find them in the keep, keep your pipeline full so to speak. Right. As a, as you pushed the program out and make sure that

Nicole Mahoney: 46:10 more people know about it. I think that’s fantastic. So, Cindy, this has been an awesome conversation as I knew it would be. Um, before we say goodbye, if you could share, do you have any final words that you’d like to share with our listeners? Anything I didn’t ask you? And then also, um, share a little bit about your destination and where our listeners might be able to find you?

Cyndi Bartley: 46:31 Yeah. Um, I’m happy to, I really appreciate this opportunity. And um, really when it comes to visit, like Norma and I, I shared a little bit about about it to you guys, but we do consider our size. Oh, ourselves, the lake side of Charlotte, people, people know of us because of the lake itself. It’s huge. There’s 520 miles of shoreline. It’s actually divided in four different counties. So our second there, a visit like Norman is really only [inaudible], the northern [inaudible] portion of Mecca, Maroon County that also consists of Charlotte and their surrounding. Oh, the other surroundings studies. Um, so, um, we’re, we’re more of the developed side along the I 77 corridor, so and more so is it more so also is just north of us. Um, but a lot more, you know, of our hotels then, um, things to do on our side. I think, uh, one of our most, um, our largest attraction is a lotta nature preserve.

Cyndi Bartley: 47:36 Um, and it’s just 16 miles of trails for hiking. And I do segway tours and kayaking tours and there’s a few different actual attractions within the first serve like Carolina Raptor Center and historic Latta plantation. Of course, the lake itself brings a lot of different kinds of like [inaudible] [inaudible] between oh, rentals, swimming beaches and waterfront restaurants and waterfront park paddle boarding, things of that sort. So, um, but really our, our, a lot of our main focus is sports tourism. We, we bring in a lot of a, an event, the national regional events to our area, some of which are mostly youth sporting tournaments. Um, so we found that though we may not p a huge tourism driver when it comes to leisure, but we tried to show ourselves off like we are and but those are just additional resources that compliment the visitor services needed when bringing in those types of events and a lot of collaboration within, um, regional, um, the other tourism sector there is within those Charlotte and Kibera and even fort tendency really, it really is important to us of how we’re able to succeed and bring in bigger events that we may or may have not an ankle to host without that [inaudible] partnership.

Cyndi Bartley: 49:02 Okay. A lot of people may not know that about us. [inaudible] certainly, um, forts as a, a big travel market when I come here. Yeah. Our region. Um, and that, and then what follows of course, as weddings and reunions different. Great. Sorry. Okay. But that’s a little bit about Lake Norman and hopefully if anyone hadn’t heard about us before, I appreciate you listening in. So our conversation today.

Nicole Mahoney: 49:30 That’s fantastic. Well, thank you so much, Cindy, for spending some time with us today. Um, we definitely learned a lot and uh, we’ll look forward to catching up with you again.

Cyndi Bartley: 49:39 Great. Thank you, Nicole. Thank you for having me.Speaker 1: 49:42 It’s time to hit the road again. Visit destination on the during your travels for more podcasts, show notes and fresh ideas.

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