Eyewitness News’ Brad Byrd talks to Jim Wood who is the new CEO of the Convention and Vistors Bureau in Evansville about his vision of tourism.
BB: Welcome to In-depth. Evansville has always been considered a hub for conventions and entertainment. But can it be more? Can it be a destination place? How do we get people to come here to see what we have to offer? Joining me tonight is Jim Wood he is the new CEO of the Convention and Visitors Bureau and Jim you’ve been in the tourism business for some time. You shared a personal story, you’ve been in the tourism business in many ways for a very long time.
JW: Since I was 15 in a half years old my first job in the hospitality industry was washing pots and pants at a smorgasbord which would be like a Golden Corral type of restaurant. That was my .. into the hospitality industry and I couldn’t wait to get promoted to dishwasher and get a 10 cent an hour raise.
BB: Specifically what attracted you to this job in Evansville?
JW: You know I finished up my employment contract in Atlantic City. I’m from the Louisville area. I’m also from southern Indiana. The Indiana area as well. So when we moved back, my wife and I move back to Louisville I was going to take little time off but Evansville reached out and said would you be interested in coming here and being our next CEO. We put the opportunity together and here I am.
BB: Okay, and I know its a work in progress what do you think of the town?
JW: I think the town is great, back in December my wife and I came here and we walked around and saw it. They really done a great job with the flair, it felt like a hallmark movie downtown. They did a great job with landscaping and decorating it for that. It was nice. I said you know what I think I can make an impact here. I can really help elevate Evansville’s hospitality industry.
BB: What’s going to be the biggest challenge in doing that?
JW: Well the biggest challenge we have right now is that we’re still light in hotel rooms. We have a 241 room hotel. DoubleTree connected to the convention center. Statistics tells us were are probably 300 or 400 rooms light in that area
BB: There are some critics who said there are too many rooms. We just had a hotel and that was the first time we called you when the Holiday Inn airport closed. But you’re saying we need more than that?
JW: Yes we do. The holiday Inn, it’s a 200 room property that closed. They were going through some transition there. We’ve been able to relocate all the conventions business that was booked there. But if you take a look at our convention center. You take a look at the metrics when we did the analysis. It really shows us that we need more rooms to support in filling that convention center for us here in Evansville.
BB: There are hotels that are under construction downtown. They had been under construction for 3 years. How much of an impact will that have on drawing those into Evansville?
JW: You know it’s going to help. It will help us as we produce more hotel rooms. That means we can bring more people into the city. If they can’t sleep in your city then they’re not going to stay. What that does is grows the size of conventions that we can attract. So we’re very happy about that. We still would like to grow a little bit more.
BB: Evansville’s in the middle of what I call quadrangle of major markets. Lousiville, Nashville, St. Louis, Indianapolis. There is a smaller city but Owensboro attracts conventions to the east of Evansville. How do you compete with all that?
JW: It starts with people who live here locally. It local business. We tap into that campaign “e is for everyone”. If you’re a member of an association, fraternity, sorority, a company. If you have the ability to bring that… or convention or that organization that you’re a member of we will help you. We’ll assist you with that. It starts locally. We grow that business locally. Then we’re also out there networking and we’re farming for new business when we attend our industry trade shows.
BB: Lets take a look at those attractions, outside of the conevtion business outside of some of the long time events like the frog folly and groups like Jehovah’s Witness. A destination where people are going to come not because theres a convention in town but because its Evansville. We want to go there just like we want to go to Gatlinburg. We want to go to Disney World. What’s your vision for that how can that be accomplished?
JW: Well one of the things that we are doing right now is that we have a … on the market and were going to be hiring a consulting firm at the end of this month. We’re hoping that we can identify that next great attraction or attractions for Evansville that can carry us forward for the next 10, 15, 20,30 years.
BB: Very briefly the resources. The umbrella of the resources you have.
JW: Currently were funded by the hotel bed tax. We use those dollars. We reinvest the hotel bed tax to grow our economy. It’s a constant reinvestment of money that are being paid by the out of town folks who are staying in the hotel.
BB: How big is your team?
JW: Right now we have a team of 12. That swells up to about 50 or 60 during the summer. We also have a sports park and we hire a lot of part-time people that function at the sport park.
BB: Jim Wood welcome to Evansville, we will see how this all plays out in the next few years. I appreciate you being here tonight. We’ll be talking to you again here at this table.
JW: Thank you for having me.
BB: You’re watching Eyewitness News at 9 Brandon will be back in Just a moment.
(This story was originally published on February 14, 2020)