Adversity and Uncertainty vs. Creativity and Collaboration, with Robb Wells

Episode 185

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Robb Wells, President and CEO of the Greater Beaufort-Port Royal CVB, has been a Destination Marketing Professional for more than 15 years. His industry career began as Executive Director for Duplin County Tourism in North Carolina, before moving to become Sr. Director of Marketing at the Knoxville Tourism & Sports Corporation. He then became Vice President of the Tourism Division for the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce before taking on his current role as President and CEO of the CVB. Robb is successful at establishing the vision and strategies necessary to ensure a destination’s continued success. He excels at creating relationships, networks, and business connections while partnering with all core tourism constituents to significantly increase the area’s visitor experience and overall economic impact. In this episode of Destination on the Left, we are joined by Robb Wells, the President and CEO of the Greater Beaufort-Port Royal Conventions and Visitors Bureau in South Carolina. During this conversation, Robb discusses his journey in the travel and tourism industry, and shares invaluable lessons about responding to adversity and uncertainty. Learn how Robb’s organization is using creativity and collaboration to cut through the noise and make a positive impact on the Beaufort community.

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Robb’s journey into the travel and tourism industry
  • Robb’s role as the President and CEO of Greater Beaufort-Port Royal CVB
  • How Robb’s experience with collaboration and interdepartmental connectivity has changed since he first started
  • Why partnerships shape the perception of DMOs in their communities
  • How Robb has used creativity to make Beaufort stand out from the crowd
  • How Beaufort builds powerful public relations campaigns to cut through the noise
  • How Robb uses creativity to overcome the adversity and uncertainty of hurricane season
  • How Robb is working with other departments and organizations to create something bigger than themselves
  • Future projects for the light at the end of the tunnel
  • Advice for how to approach a successful collaboration

Greater Beaufort-Port Royal CVB

Robb Wells is the President & CEO at Greater Beaufort-Port Royal CVB in South Carolina. Robb started his journey in travel and tourism with a DMO in a small rural community that was still under economic development. The lessons and experience Robb picked up in that role set the stage for his career and prepared him to lead the operation with the Greater Beaufort-Port Royal CVB. In this episode of Destination on the Left, Robb shares invaluable insights about responding to adversity. Robb’s community has to prepare itself for hurricane season every year and the lessons he has learned from dealing with that uncertainty are widely applicable to other scenarios as well.

Never Stop Learning

Robb’s first day on the job was a governor’s conference. As a twenty-four-year-old who got thrown into the deep end, Robb had to learn on the fly and work outside of his comfort zone constantly. It is something most of us do now and then, but to this day, Robb is educating himself regularly to serve his community the best he can. Whether you find tourism or tourism finds you, it is important to stay ahead of the changing landscape by leveraging all of the resources you can find. Travel and tourism is a highly competitive space that requires creativity and collaboration to thrive in, and it is woven into the fabric of our communities’ economies.

More Than Tourism

When Robb first got into the travel and tourism industry, everything in his community’s tourism strategy was siloed. Robb put a lot of energy into facilitating interdepartmental connectivity and collaboration. He maintains that emphasis to this day because it shapes the way communities view DMOs. People might not understand the tourism industry, but they understand the role of a DMO in their community because of the prevalence of partnerships. Robb is working with his partners on things like content creation and festival production, contributing to an even greater presence of the CVB in Beaufort. Whether it is aggressive public relations campaigns or new attractions, Robb’s organization is focused on a much bigger picture than tourism alone. They are making an impact on the Beaufort community with everything they do.

Nicole Mahoney: 00:21 Hello listeners, this is Nicole Mahoney, host of destination [inaudible]. Welcome to this week’s episode with another fantastic guest, Rob Wells, president and CEO of the greater Buford port Royal CVB and South Carolina. In our conversation, Rob shares how his career in tourism started with a small rural County under economic development and how getting his training from this viewpoint prepared him for leading the CVB and beautiful [inaudible] today. He also shared great insights into responding to adversity and how his destination prepares for the uncertainty of hurricane season. Every year. Rob offered some great takeaways that can be applied in today’s uncertain times. A little more about Rob. He has been a destination marketing professional for more than 15 years. Starting his career as executive director for [inaudible] Duplin County tourism in North Carolina before moving to become senior director of marketing at the next bill tourism and sports corporation and then becoming vice president of the tourism division for the Buford regional chamber of commerce before taking on his current role as president and CEO of the CVB, Rob is successful at establishing the vision and strategies necessary to ensure a destination’s continued success. He excels at creating relationships, networks, and business connections. Well partnering with all poor tourism constituents, the significantly increased the areas visitor experience and overall economic impact. Now let’s dive into the interview. Rob, thank you so much for joining us today. I’m really excited to learn from you today and to hear what is happening down in beautiful Buford and South Carolina. But before we get started, can you share a little bit about your story with our listeners? I didn’t add so much more context to our conversation.

Robb Wells: 02:15 Yeah, well, you know, first thanks. Thanks to go for having me on. It’s such an honor to be on here today and having a conversation with you in this space. It’s a pretty cool, uh, listening to the podcast for a while now and being a part of it, you know, and as part of it, you know, when I got started in the tourism industry, I was actually at a trade show in a small County in rural North Carolina. Um, and I was approached by the County administrator. You said, Hey look, we have an opening for a, I’m a marketing person to be in our economic development know department and economic development at that place had tourism and as a part of it oversight. And so I went through the, you know, went through that process and was fortunately hired. And the week before I started, the administrator called me, said, Hey, listen, we’re going to throw in your curve ball.

Robb Wells: 03:05 We’re going to split the two teams out. We think economic development and tourism walk closely align. They need their own focus. Tourism’s got some major projects coming up and we’d love for you to be, I oversee that. Does that change your mind? I said, no. He said, okay, good. Well, your first day on the job will be in Charlotte. North Carolina had the North Carolina governor’s conference on tourism. And so that was my first day on the job was a governor’s conference. And in being in this industry, it was an eyeopening thing and I think it help me kind of get an understanding of what was necessary early on. And I still do it today. Go to learn, I look for different research resources to learn because I was learning the job on the, on the fly as a 24 year old. Ah, you know, trying, trying to, you know, jump into an own department and, um, and so that, that job opportunity, you know, for me kinda grew.

Robb Wells: 04:00 Uh, I think the County, you know, added a, uh, agricultural extension, a facility of 74,000 square foot entertainment center, uh, on the fairgrounds and the tourism division became the operator of that, of that venue. And that sort of started and kind of culminated with, with me being here in Buford, South Carolina. Um, the path has been, it’s taken me to some [inaudible] pretty cool destinations and, uh, I’ve gotten to learn a lot during a som periods and I think they all kind of play on, on one another. You know, growing from a, a rural North Carolina to Knoxville, Tennessee, uh, and now here to a, one of the most beautiful coastal destinations in America.

Nicole Mahoney: 04:45 Yeah. I think, um, I think that’s great. And I, I, I love it when my guests share their, their story about how they kind of stumble into this industry, right. And, and find it or the industry finds you how, however you want to look at that. Right. But I think what a great perspective it is to have that, uh, that rural North Carolina County that had tourism under economic development from the get go. And what a different perspective that must’ve been for you as you were learning about the importance of tourism and how that fits into the economic kind of fabric of our communities.

Robb Wells: 05:20 Yeah. I mean, you know, to kind of set us on pace because, you know, what are we hearing now in our industry? Uh, we’re hearing how much, you know, a destination marketing organization should be partnering with, with all these entities within our community. And economic development is one of those. And that was basics of how it started for me. I mean we, it was kind of, uh, I, I really haven’t known anything different. I didn’t come into it. Everything was siloed to such degree. Um, you kind of had to work in those, in, in those departments, in, in interdepartment department, Liberty and you know, we, we, we would put out a promotional piece and let economic development, you know, change some of the copy book, use the same piece for their, their recruitment tools. And it was kind of one of those things and it’s kind of carried forward, you know, to where we are now. And I think, you know, I think as we shape it and what we’re looking for is kind of given a, at least for me, a, an opportunity to have that a different perspective is one that have carried forward some, I guess since the, since the start of this, this career path.

Nicole Mahoney: 06:23 Yeah. I think that’s a really interesting to you. Do you think because it was a smaller destination that perhaps it was easier to do that, you know, inner departmental cross sharing of materials, like you just, um, talked about where is it easier to collaborate kind of across, uh, you know, instead of being in those silos, like so many talk about these days.

Robb Wells: 06:44 Yeah, I, I see a C. dot. I see that as a possibility. You know, I, I think back to those days and realize that I was just, you know, kind of bumping around and I think I had a lot of folks that were in, you know, senior in that position and they were, they came alongside of me and, and were basically mentoring me through the process. That was where the silos were, were not, we’re not [inaudible] there. I didn’t have my own, you know, thought process or, you know, kind of level of understanding. I was kind of learning and growing at the same time and those walls weren’t up versa. Um, I do believe that as the tenure was closing there and Duplin and Duplin County and moving on towards another job opportunity in the industry, you could see some of the silos starting to come up, uh, due to how some of the funding structures were being organized in the County.

Robb Wells: 07:33 Uh, we lost, uh, you know, the County administrator, uh, retired and he’s, he’s, he was a mentor of mine. And, uh, I still lean on him, you know, for a lot of great example. He set for me. Um, but yeah, some of that stuff was changing. So, you know, I see that that was coming up. Uh, and then when I, when I got, when I came to Buford, there was silos within our own [inaudible] organization. [inaudible]. Uh, and it led to a different set of challenges. But now what is, what it has to happen though over time, is that it really has shaped, uh, the mental stamp, the point of, of what the, what a DMO should look like, could look like and how it should be performing in his community. Because whether [inaudible], you know, you know, my neighbor who, who may not understand the full capacity of the tourism industry, you know, he, he does understand a little bit more about what the DMO is doing because it’s, you know, more prevalent now because of our community and our collaboration with other partners as opposed to just being a marketing group. Now we’re working in content generation and festival production and just working with our, with our partners. I think that’s good. Such a help, but you know what, I don’t know if I would’ve gotten, I would’ve been so eager to do that had it not started off the way it did for me, you know, so many years ago.

Nicole Mahoney: 08:54 Yeah. I think that’s, uh, I think that’s great insight and I, I appreciate you sharing that. And uh, that’s why I love to start with that question cause it’s always, it always provides really good, really good thought provoking conversation. So let’s, let’s dive into a couple of these questions here on creativity and I, I’m sure you’ve got a lot to share with us and you know, we’ll, we’ll start with, um, just talking about creativity in terms of how competitive the tourism industry can be. And I’m wondering through all of your experiences, um, what types of really creative programs have you done to help [inaudible], uh, your destination stand out from the crowd?

Robb Wells: 09:34 Right. Well, I, you know, it’s, I love competition. I do, I really do. I find, and I’m competitive by nature and the tourism landscape is, is it is so very competitive in a lot of ways. Um, so just for, just for a logistical standpoint, just for kind of on the map where we sit, uh, Buford sits, uh, directly, you’re right in the middle between Charleston, South Carolina, one of the premier destinations, [inaudible] country in Savannah, Georgia. I know they’re a premier destination within the South. And having those [inaudible] tremendous destinations at North and South of us, uh, has presented it’s own thing because of brand awareness. And so from basics we, we’ve had to, you know, create a different path, forge a different path in that say, a traditional path. Um, we realize that our budget size being a smaller destination is not going to be able to compete with the larger destinations as far as ad buys.

Robb Wells: 10:34 So we’ve had to core value some, you know, some other ways of doing that. And we’ve, we feel like we’ve made some headways in that. I’m, one of those is we’ve been very aggressive in our relation campaigns. We have utilize travel, uh, content writers, uh, who come in who had a built in audience until their version of, of Buford and shared their experience in Buford with their, with their readers. And what that has done is it allows us to kind of remove, uh, one of those layers between someone, you know, finding out about Buford and actually, you know, potentially be [inaudible] becoming a visitor. Because one thing we do recognize through some of the research that we’ve been able to put together is that once they get to view for an experience [inaudible] the authenticity of the low country here in Buford, Fort Royal, that it’s, yeah, we, we retain those visitors, you know, more often than not they become longterm and tourism ambassadors, if you will. Mmm. For our destination. But for us it started with PR and we, we really sought out to have other folks help tell us our story because we knew that we weren’t going to be able to like buy our way into it, right. And advertise our way into it. And so we were able to put that in there. And so I can pinpoint,

Nicole Mahoney: 11:52 okay.

Robb Wells: 11:52 Probably a of early successes from 2013 to 2016,

Robb Wells: 11:58 um, that really helped good lift to our market and some brand awareness. And you know, while Buford is pretty well known within the state of South Carolina, South Carolina is also one of those States that has a, a, is growing with a new influx of people moving and relocating to the area. And so what we may have had to historically knowledge of you for, we were, you know, there are new people coming in who were learning about Buford for the first time. So this was our way to introduce Buford in a very warm manner as opposed to, you know, you know, a general brand campaign if you will. And that’s, that’s what started it for us. And we feel like we’ve been able to carry that forward. And I’m still a very vital part of BARR advertising and marketing campaign.

Nicole Mahoney: 12:43 Absolutely. And, and the, I certainly love, uh, love to talk about PR. It’s something that, uh, that I’m very passionate about as well. Um, but I’m curious, you pointed, uh, you said there was some early successes that you could point to between, I think you said 2013 and 2016. I’m wondering if you could pull out one of those early successes and just talk about kind of what that looked like. I think, I think our listeners would benefit from understanding how PR really can move the needle.

Robb Wells: 13:13 Yeah. So for us it was working with um, um, coastal living magazine with their happiest seaside town. And it’s a social, uh, social media share of, uh, kind of, you know, [inaudible] type scenario where people go online, Facebook and, and vote for their favorite destinations, be a seaside town. And so we worked with our social media team and to put together, um, a great way of getting it out and, and [inaudible] our destination, much like any other destination. You have DMO centric Facebook pages and you have local Facebook pages and you have the merchants and you have all these people who share in this public space and on Facebook. And we were able to call us all of them together and, and kind of the needle moving in, in the votes started up taking, it became very much a, a social gathering for the community. Something people took pride in and it was vote checking and it was participation from across the board.

Robb Wells: 14:12 And you had, you know, the community supporting this endeavor because, you know, for first time we were, there were some notice coming to the area and it became very much a embraced contest, if you will. And so Buford, uh, proud of its, uh, lineage and heritage and all of these things, um, was designated as the happiest seaside town in 2013. What came from that though was the number of requests and people raising their hands and Hey, you know what I’m hearing know reading about this. And I did saw that beautiful was the happiest seaside town on the today show. Um, how, how can we, you know, get some more [inaudible] plan a trip. And that’s where we started to see how PR could really help, or a destination of our size that didn’t have the necessary budgets to, you know, to, to buy away in the different markets.

Robb Wells: 15:03 That’s 2013 and that carried, and there were several stories in there. And then, and the, I believe it was October, November, December area of 2015, um, we were contacted by a travel writer who was on contract for a nother publication. And they came to town and they were, had three stops in South Carolina, but they canceled the last stop. They wanted to stay in Buford an extra day. It kind of put us in a bind because it was, it’s kind of peak season in the fall here. And, um, but you know, our commitment to at all costs, that’s kind of how we do we say yes, and then figure out how we get to that point. Uh, for travel writers, we were able to, to work with our partners. We have a great relationship with several partners, and when we made that effort, sure they happen. Um, and lo and behold, when the writer return home to submit their story, uh, there was a opportunity to submit destinations to a fairly recognizable publication.

Robb Wells: 16:00 And in 2016, the New York times listed there 52 top places to visit in 2016. And lo and behold, Buford, South Carolina was number 52. And the amount of lift that we receive from the New York market was impressive. I mean, Nicole, there’s, we, we couldn’t have, we couldn’t have literally paid for it. The type of Mmm, recognition that we received during that time period, sir, our partners that were [inaudible] you never mentioned in the story in the piece, you know, they keep coming back and like, Hey, can we do that again? That’s the kind of, you know, opportunity. But again, those are two specific times in which hour at any cost, if you will. Um, the arc campaign and strategy has paid off and paid big dividends. And so when people talk about, um, you know, some, some strategic ways for smaller deemos to, to focus, our boards tend to find out in, in, in others like to see, you know, the great creative, right.

Robb Wells: 17:00 And I, and I understand that I, I love [inaudible] creative is as well, but strategically you have to find a way to stand out just a little further. And for us, for our destination that, you know, shows very well and pictures, uh, the imagery is [inaudible] is astonishing. Uh, video content [inaudible] that will, will never dry up as far as beautiful content that can be produced from this, the natural beauty of this area. Um, shoot, uh, Pat Conroy wrote stories about the low country and used the star. Those stories are the locations here in the low country and Buford is, and it was one of his prize jewels in those, in those stories and in you can use the words to tell how beautiful this place is. And that’s where our PDR strategy is built from. Uh, it naturally flows very well and it’d be game something that we’ve made a big impact with.

Nicole Mahoney: 17:53 That’s fantastic. And, and I love those two examples. And I, and I imagine, I, I also love how you said a, it’s strategic and B, it’s at all costs. And when I just want to clarify for listeners is this is a longterm strategy. It’s not that you just had these two hits happen, uh, all by themselves, right? There’s ongoing activity that’s sort of bubbling up that’s moving you towards these bigger opportunities. Is that correct?

Robb Wells: 18:20 That is correct. Yeah. So we’ve, we’ve, we, it is not a one time, you know, kind of shot in the dark. We, we work with our state, um, our state office, uh, we worked with our local PR team. We, um, we actually, you know, if, if some, someone local has a connection or a contact, we will vet, we will vet it. Um, and we’re not, we’re not shy about using social influencers, um, you know, but, and we, we host travel FAMs. Uh, we try to do two a year. Um, we postpone for whatever reason, a travel writers coming to the area. It, it’s, um, yeah, it has to be for a major reason. Uh, we, we make, we kind of do is basically it at any cost, um, strategy and that’s [inaudible] we just felt like it was one of those opportunities for us to kind of make an impact.

Robb Wells: 19:12 And it’s, and it’s worked very well. Now there are ebbs and flows in, in, in how you, how you’re getting that copy written. Right. And it’s, it’s hard to stand out. That’d be, um, you know, Charleston and Savannah and, and even Hilton head Island, uh, for its recognition, we’re just blessed to be in a, in the great port of the world. It has a lot of great, uh, destinations. Uh, we’re just trying to carve out our market, if you will, and, and make it work for our community. And this is one of those ways that does it and it fits both our strategy and our inner budget or community size very well.

Nicole Mahoney: 19:48 Absolutely. I think that’s fantastic. So I want to change the conversation just slightly. This next question is one of my favorites to ask and, uh, given the times that we are in, cause you and I are recording this episode here in April of 2020 when we’re, we’re all in that stay at home orders and working from home. Um, but I, I really love this question because I find that when we’re faced with some sort of adversity or a challenge where at our creative best, and I’m wondering if you know, as you think about that, um, if you can share [inaudible] a challenge, um, that you have faced as an organization and maybe the creative solutions that have come as a result of that.

Robb Wells: 20:33 Yeah. You know, it is, it is an interesting time for sure, especially recording this. But if our area and part of the world, uh, every June to November is hurricane season. And so we prepare each for some sort of adversity, whether or not that comes to, you know, reality is to be determined by the weather patterns. Um, but for the previous, you know, for the last, uh, three or four years, we’ve had some sort of, you know, voluntary, no evacuation order given, uh, for the coastline or in a hurricane, you know, comes very close to the coast. And we realize that, that adversity is something that the first time we faced it, we were probably not as prepared as we should be. But each time it has happened, we’ve become more and more prepared to handle the return to normalcy, if you will. And so while the current situation that we’re in, um, uh, does it line up, you know, ideally with, with it our hurricane strategy, we do have those strategies in place and usually it’s in a developed find creative ways, find your resources that you’ve been able to utilize in the past.

Robb Wells: 21:45 So, you know, for us, let’s take a [inaudible] I think 2016, uh, that that year we had some, you know, some devastating floods and some weather damage. And one of the things that we set out early on was we started our communications, you know, instead of outbound, it became inbound taking care of our in market constituents and stakeholders and making sure that before we went back alive to marketing and promoting the destination as an open for business, and I’m using air quotes there that we would, we would be able to service the visitor, you know, provide the experience it meet their expectation because, you know, in our office, and I think everybody in the DMO space lives by that, that, that, that mantra that the visitor experience has to equal to or be greater than their expectation because it didn’t, this is, you’ve lost that visitor for awhile and may not ever get them back in, especially with attention spans.

Robb Wells: 22:41 But, um, for our destination, we’ve been very, we’ve done a very good job of being able to meet their expectations. So coming back from that we’ve, you know, try to work with them to identify who’s open, who’s not, you know, what, what, what things can we message out there for them and then build around them. So the first time, and like I said, 2016 we put video to use, we had our shop owners and restaurant tours, hoteliers and you know, community stakeholders in all participate and we were able to get that back [inaudible] to the meeting space or to the market space pretty quickly. And then we use some of those, uh, communication is PR contacts that we’ve had in the past and called them up and, and, and work with them on, on helping us source, uh, some content in their market or some people they were working with.

Robb Wells: 23:28 And that was some way that we were able to get some and notification or just some understanding of where we’ve currently sat. Because you know, unfortunately people have heard for 10 days straight on the weather general that the Carolinas are getting crushed. All right. And that was, that was kind of the 2016. How was it? That was what was being said. And it was tracking very well negative. Uh, what we had to do was cut through some of that clutter on when we came out of it. And that was one of the ways that we were doing it. We use video, we use imagery, we let our local businesses and owners tell their story and get that out there. We also partnered with um, other destinations, uh, other communities in the state cause it was a statewide campaign and we did a full work with the state agency to, to put together a coast is clear campaign.

Robb Wells: 24:18 And those are the ways that we have been able to identify. So each year we’ve been able to take the, what worked, what didn’t work and apply it for next year. And I think that we have gotten, we’re getting better and better at being able to handle it and come out of that adversity. And it’s very important no matter what size destination you are, you know, weather events or in this case and then it affects us all. When it draws up, it does it. It’s not, it doesn’t say, okay, you have a budget of this size, we’re going to only torch you. That doesn’t, it’s not that [inaudible] it doesn’t, it, it doesn’t pick winners and losers. It, it affects us all. And so I think working together has been very effective, uh, from as coastal region, especially when it comes to hurricanes, but also working with our stakeholders in market during the time of the challenge and then coming out of the unified.

Robb Wells: 25:08 We’ve love for that. The last longer, in some cases it does, but you know, most cases we returned some sort of normalcy. And that’s the thing with a hurricane is so, you know, as pandemic there’s a, he know that and you know, some time in a 10 day window that hurricane’s going to move on. Right. And that’s the, I think the uniqueness of where we are now. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and while very optimistic about where we’re heading. Yeah, it’s still, it’s still at the end of the tunnel. That tunnel is still present. And, you know, I think we’re still waiting for that time for your day to end and get back to doing what we do in thats showcasing our destination. Absolutely. Showcasing our destination and supporting, you know, those businesses that, that rely on visitor and the visitor economy, right.

Robb Wells: 25:52 To survive. And so I love this idea of [inaudible] Mmm. Using video and letting the local businesses tell their story. Uh, I think, I think that’s great way, not only for you as the DMO to, um, you know, connect with your stakeholders, but also for the outside world to see this is what’s really going on here. You know, this is reality. It’s not, um, in the case of the hurricane, right. We’re not all washed up. Right. Well, I mean, thank you. Think about the interview. I hate saying the entertainment value of weather channel, right? I mean, they do provide a great service, but we understand that it’s TV, it’s, it’s, they’re, they’re keeping eyeballs on the thing and so they, they share the graphics. Then you know, the true effects of something of that nature is we get phone calls, you know, even late as, so that I think Dorian was the last was last year we were evacuated and then the evacuation was called off. It actually never gained close to us. We got a little bit of breeze. Um, that kinda thing. Well, you know what, we still have people calling us late into the fall and then in the first part of this year saying, Hey, are y’all okay?

Nicole Mahoney: 27:01 Hmm.

Robb Wells: 27:01 So it, you know, it still has its effect. It has a rippling effect and um, you know, those are, those are things that we know sort of a yearly challenge. We, there’s always going to be a hurricane season. There’s always going to be, um, the hesitation, but there’s always going to be an opportunity for us to rise it at challenge, meet that challenge and come out of it, you know, hopefully stronger than we entered it. I think those are the, the, the good parts. It’s about it at this point.

Nicole Mahoney: 27:31 Absolutely. No, I think a great advice and I appreciate that perspective. I think it’s really great perspective, especially for the moment that we’re in right now and, uh, a lot of really good takeaways from that. Um, so thank you for sharing. So, Rob, I’m wondering if there are any, and I know this is tough question to ask in this time, but you know, are there any projects at the end of the tunnel okay. That you’re particularly hopeful for or excited about?

Robb Wells: 28:03 Yeah. What that takes on a different, did it look, when you say project now and I’m working from home, my landscape projects have been amazing right now. Uh, I bat mulch every done the mulch beds twice. Uh, it’s, it’s kind of impressive. But as far as projects for our destination, you know, we’re really seeing the market grow, you know, and I don’t know what [inaudible] I anticipate it will get to that point sometime. You know, in 2021, we were in the middle of a strategic, a destination strategic plan, long, long range plan started in January. We were happy and to have that part of the project completed, uh, at least for the planning scenarios as we headed in the budgets. Now that has been put on pause, but there are some aspects that we’re still going to be able to conduct coming out of it. And so I think having that updated strategic max or plan and, and kind of [inaudible] seeing what the new normal looks like, it gives us an opportunity to not, you know, kind of work that into the new strategic plan.

Robb Wells: 29:02 That’s my optimistic view of [inaudible] of how that comes out of it. Okay. I think that’s going to allow us to maybe, hopefully, you know, look at [inaudible] diversifying our market, um, a little bit further when you’re, you’re a small market, you know, we are, especially coastal, we Elysia travel makes up a, a big part of what we do. Um, we have, uh, such great partners within the community, uh, that help us facilitate kind of what makes up our area and what makes it unique. But you know, we are working on ways to diversify how people come to town. Not the type of visitor but who, how they come to town. So small market and in a group tours and a work working with uh, you know, our community to, to identify those, those association types of those are, they don’t move the needle outside my office in the office.

Robb Wells: 29:52 That’s a lot of what we talked about prior to. But coming out of it will be interesting to see what happens. Development of a meeting space, a convention space in our market was a, was getting a lot of in a run. Uh, there was a significant groundswell of support that was starting to be uh, identified and we had embarked on the feasibility study of set project. And so we’re sort of excited about getting back to a time where that is easier to discuss. [inaudible] and I think that is, that is something to look forward to. Is it something that we’re going to immediately pick back up? No, probably not. We have some other tasks ahead of us that we want to get back into it. And you know, our main thing is that we want people in our community that we entered this this time period with to still be present when you come out because every one of them make this destination, you know, they make up a part of the experience that visitors are looking forward to.

Robb Wells: 30:52 I mean there’s something pretty awesome about is a small, you know, tourism destination like this that that still takes time to, you know, close down main street and you’re during PE seasons and let the community come out and just, you know, whether it’s trick or treat for the kids in downtown or uh, you know, the holiday season during the peak shopping district just to be able to shut down, shut down commerce and have those community. I mean that’s, that’s special. I mean those are things that we look forward to getting back to and, and I think the project that will be coming out of this that I think is going to be the most important is, is, is returning some of those things back to life with some new focus. Right? I think we can all admit that there’s going to, it’s going to look different when that time period comes. Yeah.

Nicole Mahoney: 31:40 So Rob, thank you so much for, for sharing that with us. I think it is hard to really think about those projects that are going to be coming in the future, but I really appreciate your, you know, openness and honesty with how you’re kind of realigning what those priorities might be as we move forward. Um, I think a lot of people are thinking in the same way, right? A lot of the things that we were focused on prior to this time are shifting and changing. Um, but also there’s an opportunity for much better things to come. Um, and I think that’s great. So I wanted to move on to, uh, the topic of collaboration, which is one of my favorite subjects to talk about. And you’ve already mentioned so many collaborations actually in our conversation. [inaudible]. Um, one of the things that I, I really love is this idea of coopertition where I believe, you know, perceived competitors come and create programs that are bigger than Nikki do on their own. And I’m wondering if there’s a time when it, a collaboration like that maybe has worked for you.

Robb Wells: 32:48 Well, yeah, I think there’s been some, some good times for us when we’ve had that. I mentioned early on that, you know, some of these, these social online competitions have been very, um, have been helpful for us within our own current market. We’ve also partnered with a regional, uh, demos two put together, some outdoor, uh, marketing and travel writers. And so I know we talk about PR a lot in our neck of the woods just because it’s, it’s something that we do and I’m not a PR guy, I just, we use it as made part of our strategy. But some of the things that I enjoy doing is working with other DM most to put together these, these types of familiarization tours or, you know, something that shows off our destination, uh, to someone who could help us either help us with, attract, uh, visitors or help us facilitate their experience when they come to town.

Robb Wells: 33:43 And so those types of collaborations amongst competitors, if you will, it’s been very helpful for us. And even even if it is with Charleston or Savannah or Hilton head, in most cases it’s or the state as a whole. Being a part of those has been very helpful for our destination because not only is it important for us to do, be seen on the same level or in the same concept as say Charleston or Hilton in those larger destinations, it’s been very good to be associated with them at the same time. It gives us a chance to show off. So I have a way of illustrating that as as if you put it down in my destination and other destinations. Oh, on the sheet of paper, black and white, just words and you described our destination. I think every destination is going to have something about history, right?

Robb Wells: 34:33 Every, every destination has some, some level of history. There’s going to be some level of food. There’s going to be placed to this day. There’s going to be activities and so on paper without descriptions from now as it is without going into it. That’s how we look and we look just like a gin, you know, any other generic destination. As a matter of fact, you could probably make many Southern destinations all look the same, but at the same word. So what we have taken that concept and say, okay, how do we, how do we enhance how we promote our area? And that’s where they’re [inaudible] coopertition as you put it, has allowed us to do that. Working with our regional demos and our [inaudible] partners to the North and South of us and highlighting these itineraries and bringing these, these, these tour operators or travel writers or a welcome center and blow, you know, managers or whomever to our area and see it for themselves.

Robb Wells: 35:22 It’s one thing for me to tell you, Hey look, there’s, there’s these dolphins swimming in the river. It’s another thing for you to actually be on the riverboat to see that often swimming beside the boat and you can see them as they come up and kind of reach the surface. Or it’s another thing to actually get on to hunting out in state park and walk the beach or see the trails. Or it’s another thing to actually your paddle in the kayak and, and, and see the oyster beds as you’re, as you’re kayaking at low tide being a part of those trips, that’s when we have created big wins for us. I think that is what started us, uh, when we started this collaboration between our other destinations to bring people to our market. And it’s been very helpful for us, um, for many different reasons, but it aligned us with some great brands and the travel space. And that has been very important for us, uh, for our long term sustainability, not just like impactful success, but longterm. Yeah. And we anticipate that, you know, coming back at some point in the near future.

Nicole Mahoney: 36:26 Yeah. I think that’s a really great point to that. You know, longterm it’s a good strategic move to be collaborating in that way. Um, and you’re so right that by experiencing a destination, we know that experience is what sells it. And, uh, that’s so important. Um, which is why those fam tours are also so important. I’m wondering, Rob, with your experience in working on these collaborations, are there any words of wisdom that you can share with our listeners about, um, you know, how they might approach a collaboration to make sure that it’s successful, some best practices maybe that you’ve picked up along the way?

Robb Wells: 37:05 Well, yeah, I for, for me it’s um, making sure that I am not the one trying to, uh, curate art experience from my iPad, my, my viewpoint. Um, it’s working with our partners in the market or people that are partnering with us in other markets, the share of things that they have found successful and then utilizing that way. Um, our very recent tour that we had, uh, in which we were showcasing a system travel writers, they got hung up on one particular topic and instead of just saying, Hey, you know what, this is the itinerary. You’ve got to go here, here and here. We just aborted the, the itinerary and focused on that focus on those, those concepts that they were looking for. And Nicole, the return for us was some of the best content that we could have ever paid for as these writers or operators have been telling our stories and sharing their experiences from just how we [inaudible] quickly shifted.

Robb Wells: 38:10 I mean, we weren’t just a rigid in that collaboration. I understand that there’s some sort of itinerary that needs to be focused just to keep everybody in line, but recognizing being intent or unintentional to what they’re asking and what they’re talking about and what they’re curious about creates a better experience in the end. Um, I know that’s not always, you’re not, you don’t always have that flexibility, but try to have that, you know, try to work on that flexibility [inaudible] places that you can connect. And that really came into fruition. We had a, uh, a partner of ours who had the group for the first leg of the, of this particular, you know, fam tour, if you will. And she came in there. We’re meeting that night, we’re getting ready for the dinner. We had all of our people out there and she came and she goes, [inaudible], they won’t stop talking about [inaudible] Roy.

Robb Wells: 39:03 Mm. I said, I get that. That’s a, that’s a fan favor visitor favor. Everybody’s favorite. She’s like, no, you understand right. That’s all they talked about. And I said, okay. We called our P, uh, people at the pack, Conroy literary center. We made a, yeah, a special opening for them. They extended that stay. Um, we, we, we scheduled the trip around the ones who want to participate. And what we ended up happening is, is that we ended up splitting the trip and the two, I ended up getting a lot more. Ron, we got three stories. I love it from one writer. We had three different experiences within our destination. They were there to write one story about the Gullah Geetchy culture that’s in our area still. And while they did have a great story that came out for that, they were able to put together to others.

Robb Wells: 39:51 And you know, that was just, we’ve, we found opportunities. You know what, we listened to one of our partners, give us a great feedback, get in there. Uh, they were open and honest about it and we didn’t just say we weren’t just rigid, you know? And I think that’s where it’s kind of difficult sometimes. You got to weigh that balance between, you know, we, this is the curated plan that we put together and we stuck to our guns and, and we’ve done that before and we feel like it’s been, you know, when we had the opportunity to listen and curate it, it’s been kind of win-win, if you will.

Nicole Mahoney: 40:22 Yeah, I think that’s great. And um, I love, I love that idea of remaining flexible and listening and being able to react based on, you know, where, where your guests want the experience to take them rather than, you know, sticking to the, to the strict itinerary. And I know that’s no small feat to change an itinerary around. So I commend you for being able to do that.

Robb Wells: 40:49 Right. When you’re talking about what partners though, you want to be conscious of your partner’s time and their commitments as well. And so we were able to do that and may be flexible within our constraints. And you know, we weren’t just original RN and we were still able to make the next stop if you will, along the trail. And, um, and you know, everyone else had an opportunity. But again, that’s something that we’ve learned over the past because we have been rigid in our other partners have been very flexible and you see the outcomes and you’re like, okay, they did that very, very well. We, we did not do as well as we should have. Let’s learn from that. [inaudible] and then I think our destination, you know, our team is very good at learning from previous events and activities and improving upon them. And so I think no, that has been part of our success, uh, when we, when we have these partnerships.

Nicole Mahoney: 41:43 Absolutely. Well, Rob, this has been such a pleasure talking to you today and learning from you. I knew there’d be no shortage of things to talk about and uh, you certainly have given us a lot to think about. I’m wondering before we say goodbye, if you have any final thoughts that you would like to share with our listeners and also if you can let our listeners know where they might find you.

Robb Wells: 42:07 Sure. Well, if, if you have an opportunity to be engaged on the local level.

Nicole Mahoney: 42:14 Okay.

Robb Wells: 42:14 Um, for so many of us deemos it’s becoming more and more commonplace for us to be more and more involved in our communities and everyone has a different level of involvement in their communities. I have made the mistake in the past of assuming that people knew what we did and people don’t want me to just tell them the, the basic mission of the organization. They want me to walk it and talk it and live it and they want to know from if we’re going to be there when it’s in a foxhole time. Right. And I think that that has been something that we have grown as a organization by being involved in multiple levels with our stakeholders, with our leadership, with our [inaudible], sir, the community at large, because our destination is, is not that good of a destination without our community being, you know, a part of the solution.

Robb Wells: 43:09 And I think that’s very, that’s something I’ve learned over the last, uh, you know, probably the past 10 years is just being involved in the community. Let the community being involved in what you do and, and working those ways, especially in smaller destinations, it’s, it’s critical. Okay. Um, and I think that’s been very important for us. Um, if you, if you want to find out more about our area, uh, Buford, a S D. dot org. You can find all there is to do in and around the, uh, the second oldest town in South Carolina. Uh, you can find us on, uh, Facebook, uh, Buford to see or visit the Buford on Instagram. Um, and if you’re looking to to see me or reach out and have any other, any other contents, I’ll be glad to share any of our strategies or anything of that nature. I don’t think we can all learn from each other. You can email me Rob at Buford, it’s R O B or if you want to come paddle on the kayak, I can meet you out in the water. We’ll, we’ll sit and talk and watch the dolphins.

Nicole Mahoney: 44:12 [inaudible] I love that and uh, I definitely want to get down there and see the dolphins so I might take you up on that offer. Um, thank you so much Rob, for being with us today and for being so open and sharing and we will look or catching up with you again and hopefully visiting your beautiful area of the country.

Robb Wells: 44:33 Thanks for having me to go.

Nicole Mahoney: 44:34 Thank you for listening all the way to the end of this week’s episode. This gives me a chance to ask you for a favor. We have a goal to reach 100 ratings and reviews on our podcast by the end of 2020 we are already well on our way to meeting this goal. Need your help. I love sharing my interviews with you and if you enjoy them too, I would a greatly appreciate you giving us a rating and review. Click the iTunes or Stitcher link on destination on the relieve one right in your favorite app where you listen most often. It only takes a minute and your support

Robb Wells: 45:08 means a lot. It’s time to hit the road again. Visit destination on the during your travels for more podcasts, show notes and fresh ideas.

Speaker 4: 45:55 [inaudible].

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