Music Tourism Convention: sweat the small stuff

by Elizabeth Cawein

I’m behind (what’s new?) in sharing my experiences at the Music Tourism Convention, produced a few weeks ago in Frankin, Tenn., by my friends at Sound Diplomacy/Music Cities Events (the same team behind Music Cities Convention in Memphis in – eek! – just a few weeks).

I enjoyed speaking on a panel alongside Judy Hood from the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation and Jasen Emmons from the Museum of Pop Culture on making the most of your music attractions – given the varied perspectives from which the three of us approach that topic, the conversation was winding and layered. I was particularly excited to meet Judy and hear about how Muscle Shoals has created a thriving music tourism industry and built supports for its music industry all on the back of this documentary – the work she and the MSMF are doing is really cool. I’m itching to take a trip down there to check things out.

And because I love a good list(icle), here are my three favorite takeaways from the Music Tourism Convention:

Sweat the Small Stuff

The first presentation of the event was from Butch Spyridon, President and CEO of the Nashville Convention and Visitors’ Corporation, who talked about the development of the Nashville Music City brand. His 30 minutes onstage were undoubtedly the highlight of the entire conference for me. Partly this was because he didn’t keep us at the 30,000 foot view – he took us into the weeds, just enough to understand how the strategy came together and what was important – and because it was clear that he had been involved from that 30,000 foot view all the way down into the microscopic levels of the strategy. The mantras he repeated throughout his talk: be intentional, be deliberate, and sweat the small stuff. In almost every conversation I’ve had recently about building identity in a music city, I’ve talked about the need to be intentional. In fact, I even blogged about it here recently. There’s great value in hearing new ideas at a conference like this, but there’s equal value, I think, in hearing from experts something that reinforces your approach and thinking. In addition to those three mantras, I’ll also add two that he talked around but never explicitly said: be collaborative and be inclusive. The first thing he shared with us at the top of his talk was that 140 people came together across 18 months work on the city’s brand strategy, across sectors from tourism to business to music. That number is daunting, especially the idea of creating true collaboration in a group that size, but 140 isn’t a magic number – the magic is in having stakeholders at the table who shape the plan and ultimately buy into it at the highest level.

Take a different approach

The highlight of the second day’s programming was Julian Guerrero Orozco, VP of Tourism for Pro Colombia. Any frustration I’ve ever had, whether inside the city limits or out, about the negative perceptions or associations with the Memphis brand – well, it pales in comparison to leading the tourism effort for a country like Colombia. What I found intriguing and inspiring was that Pro Colombia, in one of its most successful campaigns, chose not to avoid the negative perceptions but to drive headlong into them. The tagline was “The only risk is wanting to stay.” And I loved it. It’s bold (risky, one might say) and is exactly the opposite of what you’d expect. And certainly, it could’ve been a flop – but luckily for Colombia, it’s a gorgeous, ecologically diverse country with a rich cultural and musical offer for tourists, and Pro Colombia was able to illustrate all of those elements alongside the smart tagline in a way that didn’t just work – it exploded growth in Colombia’s tourism sector. Unrelated to Colombia, specifically, but to some of the tactics they deployed: In Julian’s presentation I also learned that the music video for the song “Despacito” increased interest in traveling to Puerto Rico by 45 percent. A music video can have an incredible impact on international interest in a destination, if it has the viral potential.

Music City Music Council 

Okay, so technically this takeaway didn’t actually have anything to do with the Music Tourism Convention, except that I was able to grab coffee with Justine Avila from Nashville’s Music City Music Council while I was in Franklin. I had the pleasure of meeting Justine when we sat on a panel together at AmericanaFest the week before, and I include our coffee in this highlight list because it’s right on theme with the rest. MC2 was formed in 2009 and its focus is on music business. Justine actually works in the Mayor’s office and the council is co-chaired by Mayor Megan Barry. This is definitely another example that underscores the importance of collaboration, getting stakeholders to the table and of music as a force for economic development, but it also illustrates the importance of top-down support. The council was formed as a partnership between the Mayor’s Office, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Nashville CVC with enthusiastic support from the mayor (well, mayors – it started under Mayor Karl Dean and has continued and grown under Mayor Barry). To do meaningful work, I’m realizing more and more, the folks who are steering the ship for a city must believe that music is a critical piece of that city’s economy, its tourism/brand identity, and the life of its communities.


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