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Merging History With Today at Your Destination, with Jim Walter

Episode 145:

Jim Walter has been in the Destination Marketing world for the past 16 years. He got his start leading Madison County Tourism in upstate NY for 10 years as its executive director. For the past six years, he has led the sales and marketing efforts for Visit Cheyenne in Wyoming. He is a former president of the New York Travel and Vacation Association and is currently the president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of PCMA. He enjoys creating memorable experiences that help grow the local economy through tourism.

Jim is an avid backpacker, runner, hunter, and snowshoer and enjoys spending as much time in the mountains as possible, and seeing his daughter and friends. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University and holds an M.S. in Service Management from the Rochester Institute of Technology. Jim is recognized as a Certified Destination Management Executive by Destinations International.

On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Jim Walter about how he meandered into destination marketing and the creative ways he continues to attract crowds to Cheyenne, Wyoming.

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Some of the various meandering ways that people end up in the tourism industry, including Jim’s own story
  • How Jim earned his title as a Certified Destination Management Executive
  • The creative tactics and ideas Jim has employed in his various roles to compete in the tourism market
  • Jim’s strategies to bridge the generational gap and get young people interested in the Old West culture of Cheyenne
  • Some of the rich history of Cheyenne and Wyoming and how Jim and his colleagues use that to attract tourism and celebrate the destination
  • Features of good “co-opetition” in the tourism industry and what matters most to the tourists you attract
  • How Jim sees the travel marketing industry evolving and the best practices to keep up with this evolution

Meandering Into Destination Marketing

Jim Walter wanted to be a baseball broadcaster when he first entered college. During one of his summers he got to do just that, only to realize it wasn’t what he wanted. He worked in radio for a while until he got fired, which led him to take a job doing sales for the Greater Syracuse Chamber of Commerce. Ever since then, Jim has worked in destination marketing and has loved every minute of it.

Jim’s career has taken him from upstate New York to Cheyenne, Wyoming and taught him ways to be flexible and creative along the way. While working in Madison County, Jim experienced the advent of digital marketing and got the opportunity to improve the area’s hospitality industry in unique ways. He started “Mad Foods,” a food blog dedicated to telling the stories of cideries and farm-to-table restaurants in the county. This same creativity transferred over to his efforts for Cheyenne, where he decided to start wearing a cowboy hat, boots, and a buckle to conferences and networking events. He attracted attention and solidified the brand of Cheyenne as a real Old West destination.

These destinations have taught Jim how to play to his brand’s strengths without trying to make the destination something it’s not. This can sometimes present challenges, as it’s tempting to morph your brand into something new in order to fit with the times. In Cheyenne’s case, Jim knows that the Old West brand is a mainstay and that it’s best to integrate it with the modern day rather than scrap it completely.

History and Looking Forward

Many people don’t know of Wyoming’s rich history, and the younger generation continues to grow further removed from America’s Old West roots. In his “That’s My Cheyenne” video initiative, Jim had locals share the fun attractions that Cheyenne has, such as its nightlife, mountain biking trails, arts, and symphony. Cheyenne’s Frontier Days, the largest outdoor rodeo in the world, even hosted Post Malone, a stellar example of integration between a brand’s roots and modern times.

Once people are attracted to Wyoming and Cheyenne, they can continue to learn of the history of the area. Wyoming was the first U.S. territory to grant women the right to vote and the right to hold office, and Cheyenne has been celebrating the “Year of the Woman” to mark the law’s 150th anniversary. You can learn more about the state’s incredible women’s rights history in their newest inspirational video, “Cheyenne, Wyoming: The Birthplace of Women’s Suffrage” (link here: https://youtu.be/VOYkf_g79LQ).

As the tourism industry continues to evolve, Jim has plenty of best practices to keep up with the times. Jim reminds us to always leverage “co-opetition”, citing the Brew Central campaign of New York as a great example of collaboration between competitors. As it becomes easier to advertise and market your destinations via social media, Jim stresses how important it is to devote your resources first to building a place people will want to visit. If you do that, eventually people will want to live there, and then businesses will thrive there. This is great advice for any tourism professional, and I hope you commit it to your heart as you grow and progress all of your special destinations.

Resources:

Episode Transcript

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