Three months on the job, Visit Quad-Cites CEO Dave Herrell is asking residents and community leaders: "Who do we want to become?"
"If you're Nashville, people know you're the music city. If you're Austin, people know you're the live music capital of the world. We don't have that one thing here," Herrell said. "We need to work together to promote, market and proactively sell this destination. If we want to compete on the national stage, we need to have conversations about who we want to become."
The Quad-Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau named Herrell, of Jacksonville, Fla., as its leader in September. The organization's chief has an extensive background in marketing, plus sports and music promotion. His accomplishments include, for example, helping bring the NFL's Houston Oilers to Nashville.
After taking on his role at QCCVB, Herrell rebranded the organization with a new name: Visit Quad-Cities. Now he's setting "big goals" for the regional destination management organization.
They include crafting a new strategic plan, building community partnerships to boost economic development, increasing hotel occupancy and using data and analytics to explore new tourism opportunities.
But largely, Herrell said he wants to find new ways to share the story of the Quad-Cities.
"We will be a disruptive brand," he said. "We will be different than we ever have before. We will tell our story very differently. This will require time, energy, resources and collaborative thought. But that's where we have to be if we're going to be successful."
Selling the Quad-Cities
Herrell wants people across the world, from Seattle to London, to know the Quad-Cities.
"That's my desired outcome for the Quad-Cities. And that's a big challenge," he said. "Some people might say that it can't be done. But I don't subscribe to that philosophy. I worked on a team where people said there's no way you can bring NFL football to Nashville ... But my mindset is always, 'why can't you?' Why not?"
One of his greatest tasks, he said, is creating one comprehensive brand for the Quad-Cities. Herrell said tourists want to "experience the local way of life," adding the region should better market what makes it unique.
"Every individual market, every city or county in the region, is a consumable brand," he said. "Every city has their individual and respective brands and stories. We want to elevate those and celebrate them. But we want to do that within one umbrella marketing package. Downtown Davenport or East Moline can be very different products. But from a branding perspective, there needs to be increased consistency."
Herrell wants Visit Quad-Cities to highlight what the region has to offer, including local art, live music and sporting events. With people traveling from Chicago to the Quad-Cities to purchase art, for example, he's exploring, "how do we market that in our messaging? How do we elevate that?"
"It's the same thing with live music. The word of mouth is that our live music scene is very strong," he said. "So how do we build that story? And what are the right ways to market it? We need to have very successful venues that are different and set ourselves apart from other markets. It's our job to work with the community to help build our brand so people have an emotional connection with it."
That, he said, means supporting the music, arts, sports, military and business segments to capitalize on what they bring to the region. And Herrell said he's working on a program to equip hospitality workers, including at hotels and organizations throughout the region, to be "brand champions" and promote the Quad-Cities with one, unified message.
A new way to reach new opportunities
Marketing the Quad-Cities in a new way — with the goal of gaining national and global attention — could lead to increased tourism and hotel occupancy, Herrell said.
"Our occupancy ebbs and flows for obvious reasons," he said. "But we trend at (around) 50 percent occupancy. I want to get that to more than 60 percent. There are times we exceed that, but I want to grow so that we always exceed that number. Our hotel/motel tax is around $6.1 million collectively, let's say. How do we get that north of $10 million?"
Herrell said he's not afraid of "owning big goals." And, he's looking at new ways to achieve them, including examining data and analytics to discover tourism, business and economic development opportunities.
Tracking who visits exhibits at the Figge Art Museum or sporting events at the TBK Bank Sports Complex, for example, could lead to a greater understanding of how existing resources should be leveraged, he said.
"One example is the John Deere Classic. My responsibility is to work with their team to think about how to use that platform to drive more business opportunities," he said. "Is there an opportunity to host executives, meeting planners and people considering hosting sporting events, so they can experience a product like that?"
Tourism as a 'first impression'
Making a memorable first impression on "Quad-visitors," as Herrell calls them, is a major step in boosting economic development in the Quad-Cities, he said.
His long-term goals include attracting college graduates to find jobs in the Quad-Cities, retaining local talent, growing the hospitality industry workforce and bringing new business to the region.
And Herrell said doing so will require the support of the entire community.
He's working to improve communication between Visit Quad-Cities and the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce, for example.
"I believe talent and workforce development is a shared responsibility. And it's the most important thing we can do as a region," he said. "That's an important philosophical shift for our organization, and I really want to put some meat on the bone behind that. I want to think through, programmatically, how we can do things to create more jobs and opportunities."
Herrell said Visit Quad-Cities is currently receiving proposals for a new strategic vision and master plan. He hopes to identify a partner for the project by next month.
Along with a strategic plan, Herrell has identified six new cornerstones to guide Visit Quad-Cities. They include brand acceleration and protection, organizational vitality, authentic product experience, business growth, lead conversations and collaboration.
"We haven't had these cornerstone focus areas for the organization, so I felt it was important coming in to try to figure out exactly what those key things are," Herrell said. "These are the things we'll focus on moving forward. Where the rubber meets the road is taking that plan and putting that into motion."
Herrell will discuss his vision for Visit Quad-Cities and accelerating the region's brand at 7:30 a.m. Jan. 16. The event, hosted by the Chamber of Commerce, will be held at Jumer's Casino and Hotel in Rock Island. For more information, visit the website.