The Rebirth of the Waco Brand, with Carla Pendergraft

Episode 179:

Carla Pendergraft is originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota. She has a B.A. degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and has a master’s degree in business from Texas State University. Since 1990, she has worked for the Waco Convention Center and Waco Convention & Visitors Bureau, first in the convention sales area and for the last 4 years, as Director of Marketing. Carla is the proud grandmother of Aviana, who is 8 years old, and Rosie, 2 years.

In this episode of Destination on the Left, Carla Pendergraft, the Director of Marketing for the Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau, discusses the growth of tourism in Waco, Texas. She walks us through the introduction of tons of new attractions like Magnolia Market at the Silos, and she explains the impact that television shows like Fixer Upper have made on Waco’s community and brand.

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Carla’s journey into the travel and tourism industry
  • What Carla has done to help Waco stand out from the crowd
  • How Waco overcame its negative image and increased tourism
  • How the Waco brand has changed over the last thirty years
  • The main drivers of tourism for Waco and how Carla has leveraged them
  • How CVBs can do their job while serving the locals
  • How destination marketers are playing a role in local support instead of just tourism alone

Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau

Carla Pendergraft is the Director of Marketing for the Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau in Waco, Texas. Since 1990, Carla has developed a broad perspective on the success of her community and the Waco brand. She was there for the Waco Siege of the Branch Davidians compound and witnessed the rebound of the Waco brand after the smoke cleared. There is a lot to be said about a community’s willingness to band together and thrive, especially in times like these. That is why Waco continues to stand out after years with Carla at the helm. In this episode, we talk about the success of the Waco brand and how it has changed throughout Carla’s career. We also discuss the significant impact Magnolia Market at the Silos and Fixer Upper has made on the growth of tourism in Waco.

An Uphill Battle

Carla fell into the CVB world by accident, but she has been there for thirty years now. There are certainly some glamorous elements to the job, but for the most part, it is all about getting in the trenches and figuring out how to make your destination stand out. Because of Waco’s history, standing out was never the problem. It created an uphill battle for destination marketers like Carla who were tasked with shedding Waco’s negative image. Texans have always known Waco well, but people across the world determine the appeal of smaller destinations in one or two thoughts—if they are negative, it is a lot harder to market the destination.

Putting Waco on the Map

As time went on, the Waco community began to develop organically. Baylor was always a major driver of tourism and as the school grew, so did the travel market. Waco became home to many new attractions like the Waco Mammoth National Monument, the Texas Rangers Museum, the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, and it is the birthplace of Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Fixer Upper on HGTV. Everyone in Waco has a story about how the television show impacted their life. It completely changed the public perception of Waco and made the CVB’s job so much easier. Instead of fighting a negative image, they could focus on using creativity to grow. There is always a way to cut through the noise with creativity and collaboration, and Waco is a testament to that.

Episode Transcript

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