Listed on Forbes’s Best Small Places for Business and Careers, Macon has made great strides over the years. As Macon-Bibb CVB director of tourism, Steven Fulbright believes in the power of tourism to create long-term prosperity.
“Tourism is a huge economic engine for our community and the arts also has an impact,” Fulbright said. But it’s knowing that and investing more in these things that are key. We need to use them as an economic driver even more than we do today.”
Fulbright’s time at MainStreet Macon revealed the city’s current challenges. Blight and economic opportunities are still concerns for the community and with the city and county consolidation, progress has slowed.
“Choosing the consolidation was a very difficult decision,” Fulbright said. “It reduced the budget by 20%. That’s a lot. People had the same expectations for the services being offered to them with less funding. I think that will get better over time. The older the government gets, the better it will become.”
MainStreet Macon addressed blight issues through downtown cleanups and continued partnerships with Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful, Public Works and Federated Garden Clubs. It also used economic restructuring tactics to provide employment opportunities. This includes creating avenues for new business and resources for current establishments. Tourism supports these businesses, providing a steady flow of patrons.
The Power of Tourism
Aside from generating revenue for local business, the tourism industry creates jobs. It also has the potential to transform visitors into residents. This is why Fulbright attempts to provide each visitor the best experience possible.
“Whenever I’m talking to someone, I always try not to be negative, but not exactly a Mary Sue either,” Fulbright said. “I try to let them know what we’re doing to address things .‘Yes, we’ve had that in the past, but here are the cool things we have going on now.’ Staying positive in the face of negative people is key.”
This sentiment is the idea behind the I Am Macon program. A free three-hour course, I Am Macon familiarizes participants with local businesses and destinations. It also provides customer service training to create workers that provide true Southern hospitality.
In addition to strengthening the workforce, the Macon-Bibb CVB plans to incorporate more digital strategies to attract visitors. This includes harnessing social media, reviewing digital analytics and in the future, creating an app. The goal is to be an innovator by not only understanding current trends but setting them.
A Life Long Calling
Positivity is a hallmark of the hospitality industry. Much of Fulbright’s day-to-day involves continuous collaboration with staff as well as the community, which often requires a “glass half full” mentality. Fortunately, this comes fairly easy to Fulbright, who caught the tourism bug while growing in Virginia. Fulbright loved his town’s rich history and how it connected the past with the present. He wanted to create similar positive experiences for others.
“Putting the world into context for people is what I love,” Fulbright said. “Seeing people enjoying it, promoting experiences, promoting the town that I love, it’s great. I’m so lucky I get to do what I love.”
Know When To Lead
Although Fulbright may see the world with rose-colored glasses, he does not simply take things at face value. He believes that while listening to multiple perspectives is great, knowing when that advice should be rejected is also important.
“I am a very intuitive person,” Fulbright said. I believe in listening to your gut and I think that’s what makes you a good leader.”
Ultimately, Fulbright believes the real power of tourism comes from Macon’s unique identity.
“Macon is like a little magic kingdom,” Fulbright said. “There’s this warp, this loop that draws you in…that comes down to the people, past, present, and future. People who have hardships create opportunities and the people who come and stay want to make more amazing things. It’s the people. It’s got to be.”