“Never a dull moment.” With Candice Georgiadis & Chenelle McGee

One should always find purpose in leaving the world, industry, state or neighborhood park a better place. Now, more than ever before, small acts of kindness are needed to reinvigorate and reignite all that is good. As part of my series about “exciting developments in the travel industry over the next five years”, I had […]

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One should always find purpose in leaving the world, industry, state or neighborhood park a better place. Now, more than ever before, small acts of kindness are needed to reinvigorate and reignite all that is good.

As part of my series about “exciting developments in the travel industry over the next five years”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chenelle McGee. She is the President / CEO of ShelbyKY Tourism in the Bluegrass State. McGee earned a Travel Marketing Professional Degree from STS Marketing College at the Univ. of North Georgia and is also a Certified Tourism Industry Specialist. She also earned the designation of Executive Bourbon Steward from the Stave & Thief Society Moonshine Univ. and serves on the Board of Directors for the Kentucky Black Bourbon Guild. McGee is also a Veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

From fine art to military boots and now the travel industry, I am always excited to take on new challenges and explorations. The Art Institute of California is where I first embraced a need for structure. Instead of taking a more traditional path of ad agency life, I jumped on the opportunity to have an adventure as an Intel Analyst with the United State Marine Corps.

When my husband and I got out of the military, the Marketing position at the ShelbyKY Tourism Commission introduced me to this community in a way I could have never imagined. When one of my mentors — Katie Fussenegger — left the role of President | CEO of ShelbyKY Tourism, I knew applying for the position was the challenge I needed to continue the economic growth of the tourism office and our community partnerships.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

There is never a dull moment and no day is ever the same! From strategizing and implementing marketing, to jumping over culverts to get the perfect shot of horses meandering in the fields.

Most people may find it interesting that, growing up, I never liked bourbon. Living in California before the big bourbon boom, I used to tell my Kentuckian husband all bourbon tasted like wood or burnt wood! Today, I serve on the Board of Directors for the Kentucky Black Bourbon Guild, went to Moonshine University to complete the Executive Bourbon Steward program and am always on the hunt for my next delicious bourbon!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Just one? I’ve slipped in front of a parking lot full of travel writers, gotten lost on more backroads than you can imagine, forgot my script during a presentation, and the list goes on. I learned very early on that things don’t always work out the way you plan them. You just can’t take things too seriously!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

There is a sense of community pride and hospitality that I am so pleased to say the ShelbyKY Tourism Team all buy into. I’ve overheard our Receptionist Sonja Craft help travelers with some of the strangest requests or complaints and they always leave happier than they walked in. Sonja exhibits true southern hospitality and is the first one to offer a helping hand. I couldn’t imagine a better fit for the face of Shelby County to our visitors.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?

Like many around the world, COVID-19 devastated our community. With reports of the U.S. Travel Industry set to lose $500 Billion in 2020, the continued progression of this virus proves to be a challenge to our industry. However, there’s also opportunity. As we continue to develop and recreate how we do business during this “new norm,” we must be willing and eager to evolve and always be cognitive of the effects our decisions will make on our community. We see this in virtual tours, the increase in video conferencing and the sheer number of entertainment innovations.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

In the tourism industry, I have been so fortunate to have so many mentors such as Katie Fussenegger, Saundra Robertson and Dawn Przystal. I have also been inspired and mentored by individuals I’ve never met through my love for reading and the ever-present realm of social media.

Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?

As we plan for the coming years, it is my intention to focus more attention on partnerships, data and innovation to assist with the economic growth and recovery of our community. One way we are looking to pursue this strategy is through our Community-Based Committees, which will participate in the development of ShelbyKY. They are intentionally diverse and bring together a vast array of industries, ages, race and experience. These committees will focus on the five main pillars of our strategic plan: Marketing, Development, Enhancement, Workforce and Advocacy.

Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation?

Tourism promotion is a tool that helps our local community by putting people to work and making our communities a great place to live. As an industry, we are so focused on our mission to bring outside dollars and tourists into our community, we rarely explain or share our story to the communities we represent. These community-based committees open the conversation on how to grow our recovering economy, improve our community and, in doing so, drive tourism.

How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?

Tourism is an investment in our community and our people. By investing time in these community-based committees we build upon our transparency, accountability and create ambassadors for the tourism industry.

Can you share 5 examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to travel?

-Safety will be a leading factor in travel for some time.

-Diversity is no longer a luxury, it’s an expectation.

-With budget cuts and a recovering industry, businesses will need data to back every decision moving forward.

-Good customer service is no longer an option. Reviews will continue to play a strong role in the travelers’ mindset when selecting a destination to visit.

-Technology will continue to change faster than ever. Employees at every level must continue to learn and evolve.

You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?

I love to “hub and spoke” when I travel. Selecting one main city for a vacation while doing day trips to the surrounding cities is a worthwhile way to explore a region.

A great catalyst for that is the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. The distilleries provide visitors with a taste of Kentucky’s native spirit while offering a full scope of what this picturesque state has to offer. From heritage brands that have called this great state home, to rolling pastures and backroads that make you want to stay lost, I recommend visitors pick a few spots and see what adventures may come.

If bourbon isn’t your thing, try one of the many culinary trails found in Kentucky. From tacos to Hot Browns, you’ll be sure to thank me later!

Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

One should always find purpose in leaving the world, industry, state or neighborhood park a better place. Now, more than ever before, small acts of kindness are needed to reinvigorate and reignite all that is good.

On a professional level, I am currently the Committee Chair for the Freddie Johnson Scholarship Fund. After receiving approval in 2020, the Kentucky Black Bourbon Guild is developing a Scholarship Fund in honor of Freddie Johnson. Johnson is the third generation of his family to work at Buffalo Trace Distillery. He is a true legend not only to the bourbon industry, but the African American heritage. The Freddie Johnson scholarship was created to assist minorities interested in entering spirits related industries.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

One of the key things I will continue to hold onto after COVID is the return to investing and buying local. So, my movement would be one that urges people to always support local.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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