Riddle Completes First Year as Valdosta Tourism Authority General Manager
Wednesday, July 10th, 2013
On July 9th, Tim Riddle completed his first year as general manager of the Valdosta-Lowndes County Conference Center & Tourism Authority. Upbeat is the word he uses in reporting the progress the Tourism Authority has made in the past year.
"We as a team feel like we've got the pieces of the puzzle in place now – especially the staffing piece – and are ready to really hit our stride in working to increase both tourism visitation and conference business for Valdosta-Lowndes County," Riddle said.
"It may be 12 to 24 months before parts of what we do will bear fruit – but we now are all focused on the common goal and each person is very aware of the role they play within the organization and the larger role our organization plays in the economic development strategy of Valdosta-Lowndes County as a whole."
An Up Year
For fiscal year 2013, which ended on June 30, 2013, the number of events hosted at the James H. Rainwater Conference Center increased by more than 10 percent. The events generate food and beverage revenues for the conference center as well as lodging taxes, a portion of which support the operation of the Tourism Authority. For the Valdosta community, the economic impact of those events is estimated to be approximately $5 million.
"This year our total Food & Beverage Revenue will come in at around $575,000 to $600,000. It is a huge part of our revenue stream here at the Rainwater Center," Riddle said.
"We are fortunate to have a great F&B team here led by an experienced Executive Chef, Tim Wade. We often get compliments on our food service and as it is controlled in house, it is a valuable negotiating tool for use when wooing new business for the facility."
The Rainwater Center opened in early 2000 and is the focus of several budgeted capital improvement projects. For example, upgrades have been made to the center's lighting, sound and security systems, landscape and irrigation systems and HVAC equipment. Next year, capital projects include a partial roof replacement, new carpeting in the lobby and parking lot maintenance.
"While we all agree the facility is nice, it's starting to show its age and we need to institute a program of structured improvements and refurbishments to make sure we keep it at a first-class level," Riddle said.
Riddle spent much of his first year interviewing and hiring staff to fill vacant positions. When he was hired, seven full-time positions needed filling. The Tourism Authority currently has 14 budgeted positions, of which 12 are filled. The remaining two positions will be filled as business increases over time.
"The Board was trying where possible to leave positions vacant so that the incoming general manager could hire their own team. Sound thinking – but boy, have I been busy interviewing and hiring folks in the last year!" Riddle said.
"We also have 10 to 20 part-time employees that work primarily in Operations and Food & Beverage. That number fluctuates depending on the nature of events in the facility. As we handle all the food service in house, we staff up with a lot of banquet waiters when we have a lot of banquet business going on."
Increasing visitation to Valdosta-Lowndes County
Looking ahead, the Tourism Authority is considering what else it can do to bring more tourism to Valdosta-Lowndes County. Increasing impulse stops by those traveling on the interstate is one potential opportunity being explored with the idea of a billboard campaign on Interstate 75.
"It is not a campaign designed to bring Rainwater or the Tourism Authority direct revenues, but to increase the number of visitors utilizing our hotels, shops, restaurants etc.," Riddle said.
"Indirectly if it helps bring in more lodging taxes, the Authority and others would benefit as we receive a portion of lodging taxes for the operation of the Authority."
Riddle and his team met with Wild Adventures marketing staff and consultants to explore the idea and avoid duplication. They are also reaching out to meeting planners, association executives and professional groups in the Valdosta community to increase conference center business.
More information on the Valdosta-Lowndes County Tourism Authority and the James H. Rainwater Conference Center is available at www.visitvaldosta.org and www.rainwaterconferencecenter.com.