HARPERS FERRY – The agency charged with ramping up tourism in the county has hired a new chief executive officer as part of what it calls “a major re-structuring.”
John Whisenant, who was originally brought in as a consultant in October, says he will lead the Jefferson County Convention Visitors Bureau through a transition toward a more aggressive tourism marketing strategy. He will head the agency for six months before returning home to Tennessee.
“They realized that they were going to need some help to take them through the transition period. So they asked me if I would be interested in coming on board for a six-month period, and I said I would be glad to do that,” Whisenant said, adding that he will help the CVB seek out a permanent CEO to replace him.
Whisenant is currently preparing a final report outlining a strategy to drum up tourism throughout the county.
“Mostly, we’re looking at our marketing program and our sales program. We are getting into place some very aggressive programs, seeing what we can do to bring more visitors here. That is our bottom line,” Whisenant said.
Whisenant said the strategy will have to address a few fundamental questions.
“How can we more effectively position ourselves as a product out there?” asked Whisenant. “Particularly for certain markets – the group tour market, the AAA markets. How do we position ourselves to most effectively market our two strongest assets which are, of course, the heritage community – the small-town charm of the three major cities – and the gaming side? How do we blend those to get a complete experience of the district?”
“How can we get gaming visitors to extend their stay to enjoy the heritage assets?”
Whisenant said that the new marketing strategy is necessary to ensure that the county maintains a competitive edge as surrounding tourism destinations step up their game. He says he wants to “build on the good work that has gone before … to take the (CVB) and Jefferson County tourism product to the next level.”
“What has been done is good. Very good. But it is time to ratchet it up to the next level,” Whisenant said.
“Your competition is growing. There are a lot of folks out there in your competitive set that are doing a very good job of attracting visitors,” Whisenant said. “There are other heritage areas that are really getting themselves out there. There are also additional casinos coming online too.”
Whisenant emphasized the importance of tourism to the county’s economy in a press release this week:
“Tourism already plays a vital role in the economy of Jefferson County. In 2010, visitors to the county spent $769.6 million and generated $12.6 million in local government revenues. The tourism industry in Jefferson County employs 7,170 people.”