Current Company and Position: Visit Bloomington, Director of Tourism
What was your major: Recreation, with an emphasis on Tourism Management (there was no tourism degree at that time)
Year you graduated: 2005
How did you get into this field? I stumbled upon the tourism program after spending the first several years of my college experience exploring other majors. I had done a bit of traveling and decided that I wanted to do something in the travel industry. I was a little naïve, thinking that a tourism management degree would automatically mean I would be traveling a lot. There are options out there for that, but of course that’s not the only option! Through the program, and through part-time work as a student at the Bloomington Visitors Center, I found that Convention & Visitors Bureaus were a huge part of the tourism industry and great places to work. I did my internship here and it lead into a full time job.
What’s the best part of your current job? I’ve had a couple of positions at Visit Bloomington, doing sales (the best part about that was meeting a wide variety of people and travelling for tradeshows) and now doing leisure marketing. In my current role, there are two things that keep me excited- we get to be creative and I get to meet A LOT of people. I help build our advertising campaigns and designs, so I get to think creatively but still use all our marketing research to frame those campaigns, so it’s a little bit of left brain and right brain. Because we promote all kinds of attractions, events, and visitor resources, I have to be knowledgeable about all of those things, so I meet with and talk to a ton of people every day. My professional and social network is huge!
What’s the most challenging part of your current position or the industry in general? One of the biggest issues facing the tourism industry, and CVBs in particular, is that we are undervalued. Our focus is to bring people to our community, so we spend our resources talking to people in other towns, and don’t do a lot of touting in our hometowns. So it’s easy for people to overlook how much money tourism brings to a community. In our community, the major stakeholders know it but the local residents don’t. Local people will often say “why would someone take a vacation to Bloomington?” But we have over two million visitors each year, and they come for a variety of reasons. In fact, one of the challenges of my specific position is trying to focus on just one reason to visit Bloomington, when we have so many! It’s frustrating that many people don’t see the cultural and monetary value of the tourism industry.
What skills and characteristics are most important for success in this field/position? Everyone that I meet that works at a CVB has a few similar characteristics: they’re friendly and outgoing, they’re very well-organized and good at multi-tasking, and they have good communication skills. Basically we’re talking with or writing to people all day, trying to sell them on a trip to Bloomington, so you have to be a people-person and be able to communicate. And we all juggle about a thousand balls at one time, so staying organized and motivated is key.
What does a typical day or week look like for you in this position? My current position is a pretty typical 9-5 job (though for me it’s 7:30-4), where I’m in the office most days. I review our marketing projects for that week, meet with our designer to discuss them, coordinate promotions by emailing or calling our hotel partners, and attend a lot of meetings. Seriously, a lot of meetings. Some days, I’m representing Bloomington at an event, handing out info or answering questions. I work some weekends, when our staff is needed to help host events. Other people in our office are out more than me—traveling to tradeshows, meeting with clients from out of town, working events. Each position is a little different.
What do you wish you knew when you were a student at IU that you know now? Network! I got my job here as a student because of people I knew from other jobs and classes. And when I took Valerie Pena’s class, she was the director of the CVB at the time, so I talked with her and she got to know me, which lead to my internship and my full-time job. Every person you meet, whether it’s at a crummy part-time job you hate or volunteering at an event, is someone who might be able to help you land a job that you love. So be yourself and pay attention to the opportunities that are out there.
Any other advice you would give to a student wanting to break into this industry? Most definitely explore your options: you may think you want to be a meeting planner but you might find through part-time work or talking with industry professionals that hotel work is where you want to go. Talk to people, work or volunteer at interesting places, just get out there and try it all.
What do they miss the most about IU/Bloomington? Thankfully I’m still in Bloomington, and get to explore the community and campus all the time, and then tell visitors about it! So I still feel very connected to the school.
Julie Warren has shared her email address if you have any questions regarding her career path feel free to email her Julie@visitbloomington.com
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