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New CVB head wants everyone to sell city

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- She's barely unpacked since coming home last month, but Alisa Bailey has already come up with a new tag line for Charleston. How does "Hip, historic ... Almost Heaven" grab you?

As the new president and CEO of the Charleston Convention & Visitors Bureau, Bailey said she needs others to embrace the new line.

"We can sell Charleston as a safe place to visit, nestled in the mountains. You can be at Kanawha State Forest or Coonskin Park in five or 10 minutes," she said.

"To sell that, we need partners. We need buy-in from the business community, particularly the tourism business community. I think by selling Charleston to the leisure tourism community, it's going to reinforce to the business traveler -- conventions and meetings -- we can differentiate ourselves from our competition."

Even during job interviews with CVB board members, Bailey pitched the idea of setting Charleston apart. She replaced Patty Bradley, who was fired last year in the wake of the embezzlement scandal involving former director of operations Tracie Breedlove Dennis.

"I think one strategy we must employ is to brand the city of Charleston as a premier destination," Bailey said Monday. "That's what you sell, the positives of the city, and you must differentiate yourself from the competition.

"What this city can sell, we are a hub for the creative class. We're an historic city -- architecture, our churches, these are things people like to see.

"We're also hip -- Mountain Stage, the Clay Center, the Symphony. Just since I came here, we're getting ready for the Charlie West Blues Fest. And our artists. Even here in the Civic Center we have art on our walls. Art Walk on Thursdays, art galleries.

"To most people it's a small town. To me it's a pretty hip place.

"We use 'almost heaven' because we have another Charleston we're often confused with, so thank you John Denver. That differentiates us."

Born and raised in Charleston -- she's a graduate of Charleston High and WVU -- Bailey held a variety of state government and public relations jobs. She served as state tourism director until lured away to greener pastures, and a bigger salary, as head of the Virginia Tourism Corp.

But after nine years in Richmond, she got homesick. She missed her parents.

"I thought when I first went over there I would be coming back quite a bit. But I traveled quite a bit around the state, even out of the country, weekends. It's five hours door to door, but after you travel three days a week you want some time to do your laundry."

Wednesday marks her first month at the CVB.

"It's a bit like being dumped in a class V rapid, a lot going on -- summer festivals, lots of events coming in. You take a new job, you'd like to take a couple months to learn things. I don't have that luxury."

She's been reintroducing herself to the Charleston community, a luncheon speech to a women's group here, a cocktail party there. She tossed out the first pitch at a Power game Friday evening following a whirlwind tour of the Capitol.

The Capitol trip was the first of planned monthly visits by the CVB's "hit squad" -- another Bailey initiative involving her entire staff.

"There are two prongs," she said. "The first thing is to learn what the experience is like for a tourist. You've got to know your product.

"And you've got to have a dialogue with tourism businesses and organizations to understand: Are they on our website? Do they have a marketing budget? Can we share resources? What can we do to help them be successful?"

Much of the public outreach is focused on education, Bailey said.

"We represent the city and we need leaders of the city to understand what we do so they can appreciate what I believe is a good return on investment.

"In 2010, Kanawha County tourism had a $580 million impact. I like to point out that the state and local tax benefit is approximately $49 million. So, with that, we can pay for 5,300 Kanawha County students to be educated.

"My point, a little bit, is tourism ... we bring people in, they have a good time, spend some money and leave. We didn't have to pay for their education. It's like taxation without representation. It's not just economic impact, but tax dollars."

Bailey says the "Hip, Historic" tag line could be temporary.

"Typically the process is you do a lot of market research. We don't have that. So we will be budgeting for tourism research. It's more science than art. I've found advertisers love to be creative, but if you don't make the website click, you've got to go back and see what went wrong.

"Until then, you'll be seeing the tag line 'Hip, Historic ... Almost Heaven.'

"The tag line is not a magic bullet. You have to deliver on the promise. We have to work with our partners to do that. There's an old adage: If you have a good time you tell six people, if you have a bad time you tell 10 people.

"Now if you have a good time you tell 6 million people, if you have a bad time you tell 10 million people, and you don't wait till you get home to do it.

"You can have great marketing, but if they don't like it here, if they don't like the customer service, we have to work even harder to get new people here.

"We have to make sure we're open in the evening. We have to make sure if we have tourists riding bicycles in the evening on Virginia Street, people are sensitive and courteous. We call that in Virginia 'living the brand.'

"We need the citizens of Charleston to love Charleston and to sell Charleston to keep our friends and relatives coming in. If we can ensure ourselves Charlestonians are embracing Charleston, it makes our marketing dollars go so much farther."

Reach Jim Balow at balow@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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