Spotlight: Chattanooga Tourism Company

Destinations facing challenge with resilience and creativity

Chattanooga Tourism Company's #ConnectChatt Initiative

Resilience and creativity have always been hallmarks of the travel industry. At Miles, we’ve been inspired by the innovative ways that destinations and organizations are exemplifying those qualities, adapting to meet the extraordinary challenges presented by COVID-19. We will be spotlighting those efforts here each week to help share that inspiration throughout the industry.

Social distancing means finding new ways to connect. Read on to find out how Chattanooga Tourism Company has been supporting, inspiring and showcasing their local community through their #ConnectChatt efforts.  

Challenge: Crisis Within a Crisis

A focus on local community is a key pillar of Chattanooga Tourism Company’s brand identity, so when their city began to feel the effects of COVID-19, the DMO focused communications almost solely on their local audience. Then, less than one month after Chattanooga Tourism Co. closed their visitor center due to COVID-19, a tornado touched down, causing damage to thousands of homes and businesses and injuring multiple residents. Their city and local communities and businesses needed them more than ever before.

Strategy: Support Local

Within days of Tennessee’s stay-at-home order going into effect, Chattanooga Tourism Co. launched #ConnectChatt, a collection of virtual experiences focused on two pillars: entertainment and education. Virtual scavenger hunts and tours hosted by local partners, including attractions like the Tennessee Aquarium and Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center, are showcased on the DMO’s website and Facebook page, @VisitChatt. The Facebook page has also been a hub for fun virtual concerts featuring local talent.

.           .         Stringer's Ridge Band

As Chattanooga Tourism Co. strengthened their focus on their local community, they also had to consider their new brand, which had just launched in January 2020. The original plan for launch included promotional efforts outside of local audiences. However, with the immediate shift in leisure travel behavior, Chattanooga Tourism Co. has been quick to shift gears, using Cinebody to couple new brand video assets with user-directed content from local businesses. These videos, which will be released over the coming weeks, will supplement #ConnectChatt in showcasing and supporting their local communities and business.

View Chattanooga Tourism Company’s first local business vignette, featuring The Mad Priest Coffee & Cocktails:


Results: Singing a New Tune

What began as a way to engage Chattanoogans and support local talent may end up increasing the city’s brand awareness among regional markets as a music destination. In addition to the positive comments and impressive number of people tuning in, performers are reporting tip amounts in the hundreds for single sets.

Chattanooga Tourism is also considering looking for partners in an effort to monetize #ConnectChatt if the success for virtual events continues when stay-at-home orders are lifted.

We emailed Chattanooga Tourism Company to learn more about the origin of the idea, how the organization is selecting local talent and partners for virtual experiences and any advice they have for other DMOs wanting to give special attention to their local communities during this time.

What initially sparked the idea for #ConnectChatt?

When the severity of the crisis became apparent and shutdowns imminent, the conversation involving our team was never, “Should we be doing something?” but, rather, “What could we be doing to help?” Like others, we turned to our owned media channels. While our Facebook page was primarily used to push content before the pandemic, our thinking quickly turned to a more collaborative approach with our community. With 363,000 followers, the VisitChatt Facebook page was the perfect platform to connect Chattanoogans to each other—and visitors to Chattanooga—during a time when quality information was paramount.

But it also served as reprieve from the daily news-cycle, highlighting the talents of our thriving music and arts scenes through virtual experiences shared with thousands of past and future visitors to our city. An April 13th tornado created a crisis-within-a-crisis, but it also strengthened our sense of community, and we used #ConnectChatt then, too, to support and give hope to Chattanoogans. 

The spark of the idea for live musical performances came on the day before St. Patrick’s Day. All bars closed that day and a local band, Stringer’s Ridge, lost the three gigs they were set to perform. We asked them to perform a live stream — even though they’d never done one before — and it was a tremendous success. They played in front of the largest audience they’ve ever played for and earned enough from our stipend (we ended up paying all artists a stipend) and tips to cover the lost gigs.   

What are some of the overall goals/objectives for the project?

#ConnectChatt has three primary goals: 

  1. Connect people at home in Chattanooga through virtual experiences and connect visitors to our destination, digitally.
  2. Highlight Chattanooga musicians and visual artists on our owned media channels to serve as a distraction from the crisis and a showcase of our diverse music and arts scene.
  3. Raise money for artists through “virtual tips” during their performance (and the stipend we allocated). We noticed the comments on the first live stream reflected our goal of lifting spirits and bringing the community together.

How are you selecting the live experiences you host? For the virtual concerts, how are you selecting musicians?

Chattanooga Tourism Co. empowers its employees from top to bottom daily to embrace creativity, take risks and learn from any failures. Rapid response mattered in this crisis, and supporting our partners mattered even more. Initially, we were hesitant to allow musicians to broadcast live directly from our Facebook page (essential to maximize the platform’s advertising tools), but our hesitations were unfounded and the musicians have been utmost professionals.

Collaborating with several local music-focused organizations has been key to leading us to potential artists. We wanted to focus on artists that were immediately impacted by the crisis through cancelled shows. Chattanooga is known for its musical diversity, and we were able to find a variety of performers across genres. The most difficult aspect came when working with the artist on the technical aspects of streaming from the VisitChatt Facebook page. With full bands included in some of the selections, it was paramount that we keep social distancing in mind. Most of our performers have been solo or were already living with other band members. In short, our selections are based on availability to perform while keeping diversity of genres in mind.  

What audiences are you hoping to reach with #ConnectChatt? 

Although our @VisitChatt page is primarily used for visitors, our focus for #ConnectChatt was initially for Chattanoogans: targeting Chattanooga artists for Chattanooga residents. However, we saw on early live streams that people were “tuning in” from other cities and even internationally. In the past few weeks, we have explored seeking a monetary sponsor for the program to help boost these streams to a regional-drive and national audience. As we move from crisis to recovery, we will adapt #ConnectChatt to reach new audiences, while keeping some of the successful elements like live video streaming.

How are you measuring the success of #ConnectChatt virtual experiences? 

The organic numbers on the music live streams are positive, and putting paid dollars behind each video helps reach a larger targeted audience. Although, the real “measure of success” is the testimonials from the artists. Several have made more than $300 in virtual tips. The artists are also empowered to continue live streams. Stringer’s Ridge started their own live streaming sessions. Another artist, Nick Lutsko, raised nearly $500 for displaced workers from a local music venue.

We will also be measuring Chattanooga as a music destination among our regional target audiences to see if we were able to maintain or even increase our reputation as a musical city compared to before the crisis. Fortunately, we have that baseline.

Have you noticed any trends in terms of what’s resonating with users right now? 

Live streams are becoming ubiquitous, which is positive for our destination. Our local attractions have shared several virtual tours of their facilities and virtual chats, which are also resonating with people. Rock City, Ruby Falls and the Tennessee Aquarium regularly share live video, which engages our visitors now and will keep them excited about returning when it’s safe to travel again. We also had a successful “Virtual Date Night” with saxophonist Frank B. We encouraged locals to get take-out from their favorite local restaurant and then enjoy a live jazz concert at home.

While quarantine creates a captive audience, we will evaluate whether virtual experiences and live streaming continue to resonate with our target audiences. If so, we will seek partners to help us continue the program of broadcasting live music from our destination’s best musicians to our local community and potential visitors. 

Do you have any tips for other DMOs who are looking for ways to support their local communities?

Now more than ever we are Destination Management Organizations—we have a vested interest in tourism surviving and flourishing. Be at the table, be a resource and engage your local community. Our local communities need to understand our community brand strengths and be our greatest ambassadors. Without that local support and pride, you’ll only be fighting an uphill battle.

Don’t be afraid to be a trusted resource. We found our partners and community needed Chattanooga Tourism Co. to be a centralized hub of information and resources. We stepped up and did regular discussions with our partners—daily at first, then weekly. Post-crisis, we’ll transition to monthly discussions and keep this format of being a trusted local resource. People outside your organization might be able to provide information or research, but no one else will do it through a local tourism lens.

Are there any future exciting things coming up for Chattanooga that you’d like to share?

We are taking this time to ensure our community knows our community brand. We have taken our branding work and divided it into videos that stand behind each of our brand pillars. This is an incredible time to make sure your local community is armed with the right brand messaging to help sell the city when the time is right.

We know people are scared to travel. We must do everything in our power as DMOs to educate our partners on best practices in safety to rebuild that trust. It starts local and builds outward. We’re bringing our partners together to discuss these efforts and highlighting those that are doing it well. This first and foremost helps stop the spread of disease, builds local confidence, builds confidence in the leaders making regulatory decisions and finally builds confidence in visitors if we’re successful.

We also know from data that people will visit their friends and family first. This Visiting Friends and Relatives (VFR) market is more important than ever. Locals first is the key to recovery, so building out a strong VFR campaign or program will be key to recovery in our approach.

Get Connected

Follow @VisitChatt on Facebook to see Chattanooga Tourism Company’s upcoming live and digital experiences. Check check back often for new additions to the lineup! You can also find a variety of fun virtual activities on Chattanooga Tourism Company’s website