Since 1982, the Marshall County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau has been working to get the word out about what the county has to offer.
In 1982, the mission of the MCCVB was much the same as it is today, and MCCVB President Katy Norton said it was formed with the goal of advancing economic welfare in relation to tourism with the mission to publicize, advertise and encourage further development of natural, historic and manmade attractions within Marshall County.
“While our mission statement may have been tweaked a little bit, to some extent we’re still working that same mission,” Norton said. “And that is really just to promote overnight stays, traveling tourism to our community by highlighting all of our beautiful natural resources and assets that we have.”
According to Norton, the MCCVB was made possible by the Marshall County Commission. She said the commission draws 1% of all lodging taxes in the county, but “drew up paperwork” to allow the MCCVB to receive that funding.
Tourism impacts the economy, and today more than ever, Norton said it’s important to have the MCCVB, “whose sole purpose is to market the community to the visitor to build brand awareness” for the county’s assets, like Lake Guntersville, Jules J. Berta Vineyards & Winery and Sand Mountain Park & Amphitheater, which will soon be opening in Albertville.
“It makes sense that we would be the organization that would help build that brand and make people aware of it,” Norton said. “And to really craft and tell our story. I think that story could get convoluted if you didn’t have a single voice whose sole job it was to focus on tourism.”
Norton said the lodging tax revenue in 2018 was $782,557, which is 12.5% increase over the last two years. But, from when she started in 2016, she’s seen 60% growth in six years.
“I think that speaks highly to this organization, and how we are marketing our brand and sharing our story with the potential visitors that are out there,” Norton said.
She said the impact of tourism on Marshall County is “huge,” and there were 2.38 million “tourism dollars” spent within the county in 2018. There was a 6.2% increase in revenue generated from tourism from the previous year, she said.
“We’re growing every year, the tourism dollars that are coming in, the lodging tax revenue - all of that, and that gets funneled back into our cities to help our cities grow,” Norton said.
Norton said the MCCVB has found today’s potential visitors are “more savvy” and looking for a “very unique experience.” Through social media and the internet, she said everyone is exposed to “so many more” options for travel making the tourism market “very competitive.”
“You have to be able to distinguish your destination in a way that really sets it apart and makes it unique,” Norton said. “You have to tell your unique story.”
Since telling the county’s “unique story” is the goal, Norton said the MCCVB is in the process of a rebranding project. She said Chandlerthinks, a company from Tennessee, was hired to help with the project. With Chandlerthinks working solely with tourism and being, as Norton describes, “one of the top destination branding companies in the country,” the MCCVB is on its way to bringing in more visitors to the county.
“We felt like it was time for us to reevaluate what is our story and how are we marketing our destination,” Norton said.
According to Norton, Chandlerthinks spent a week in Marshall County and held five focus groups, which included people “directly and indirectly touched by tourism in some facet.” She said Chandlerthinks held interviews with the mayors of the four major cities within the county to do further research. The branding company sent communitywide surveys to residents to see how tourism was perceived, and she said more than 200 of those surveys were collected. Chandlerthinks also asked people outside the community, within the MCCVB’s “drive market,” to see what they thought of the county. She said the potential visitors were asked tourism-related questions, to assist the MCCVB in marketing the community.
Norton said the MCCVB destination markets to the leisure traveler and direct markets for sports and fishing. She said the MCCVB attends conferences to gain one-on-one access to sports directors and persuade them to hold tournaments in Marshall County. The MCCVB partners with places, like the Lake Guntersville State Park, to recruit conferences to the county.
“When we talk about brand marketing or destination marketing, that’s where we felt like it was time for us to have a refresh - a rebrand - to figure out how to reach those leisure travelers to get them here and to sell them on our community,” Norton said. “So, that’s what we’re in the process of doing now.”
Since tourism has changed, Norton said it’s the “perfect time” to rebrand. She said this is the first-ever rebranding for the MCCVB.
“We’ve been the Marshall County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau since it was formed in ’82, and we’ve had the same logo for many, many years and kind of looked the same,” she said.
When a person Googles a place to visit, Norton said most people wouldn’t search “Marshall County,” but people search “lake” or “hiking.” She said the challenge with the MCCVB’s current name is it sounds “too governmental or formal.” She said the name needs to say more about the destination than about the organization. Hopefully in spring of 2020, she said the MCCVB would unveil its new brand.
“We’ve got to change how we approach our destination marketing, that’s what this is all about, and we’re really excited about it,” Norton said.
A rebrand isn’t the only new thing coming in the near-future for the MCCVB. Norton said the county’s tourism would definitely see further growth in 2020 with the opening of Albertville’s Sand Mountain Park, the Bassmaster Classic’s fishery at Lake Guntersville, Kayak Bass Fishing (KBF) National Championship and Expo in 2020, Dixie Pre-Majors World Series, a triathlon and if the board approves it again, HydroFest.
“Just knowing what’s on my calendar as far as events, and then when you add all that in, we’re going to have a big year,” Norton said. “We’re excited about it.”
The MCCVB is a two-man team, including Norton and Communications Director John Davis Rollings, located at 200 Gunter Ave. in Guntersville. With such a small team, Norton said she is always in need of volunteers. If anyone is looking for a way to give back, she said to call 256-582-7015 or toll free at 1-800-582-6282. For more information, visit marshallcountycvb.com.
Who’s in Charge? As a regular, continuing feature in The Reporter, readers can learn why local boards, commissions and committees were assembled and see what they do for their respective communities.