I’ve visited the Augusta and Co. storefront a few times over the past few weeks, primarily while I covered Small Business Saturday. I wanted a better understanding of how the business and its parent organization, Destination Augusta, impacted tourism and local business in our area.
Destination Augusta obliged that request, and I was able to meet with Bennish Brown, president/CEO, Jennifer Bowen, VP of destination development and community engagement and Lindsay Fruchtl, VP of marketing and communications.
This trio hosted me in their offices, lofted above Augusta and Co., and, in Brown’s words, “hijacked” the conversation in order to educate me on what they do.
“We were formerly Augusta Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, or CVB, and we focus on generating economic impact through attracting visitors; whether groups or leisure travelers, and hosting conventions and conferences themselves,” Brown said.
However, that name did not really represent what the organization does, Bowen said, and earlier this year, they rebranded as Destination Augusta to clarify that their purpose is to promote and develop Augusta as a destination.
Bowen said if a company is considering doing business in Augusta, the Destination Augusta team puts together experiences for that company’s representatives that show what Augusta has to offer. Those experiences can include dining, indoor or outdoor activities and Augusta’s natural scenery.
“We paint the picture. We shape the brand of what Augusta is,” Brown said. “Hopefully, through what we do, people can close their eyes and visualize the Augusta we see.”
Brown said that no matter whether it’s a company or just one person thinking about moving to Augusta, it all starts with a visit, a first impression.
Fruchtl’s team brings in travel writers to explore Augusta and write about their experiences seeing, exploring and tasting Augusta to help promote visits to the CSRA.
People want to know where the locals go, Brown said, and everyone on the team at Augusta and Co. is trained to lay out the sights and sounds of Augusta to anyone who wanders into the storefront.
“We kind of trick people when they walk into this business. They come in and shop and then see some of our advertisements. Right on the property, we have people already prepared to tell them more about it,” Brown said.
The organization also creates marketing materials and social media content to help promote events and activities in Augusta. The team’s marketing campaign, Come See Augusta, won the 2021 Shining Example Award for best marketing campaign from the Southeast Tourism Society in October 2021.
“The ‘us’ in Come See Augusta is very much our locals; both the ones that work on this campaign and the feel we want to project, as well,” Fruchtl said. “We really needed to change up our approach with the young creators, young innovators and cyber community coming into town. Augusta is changing and we wanted to adjust our branding to show that.”
In terms of the nuts of bolts of Destination Augusta’s mission, Brown said their goals have certainly been on-track since the Destination Augusta rebranding in May 2021.
The second half of 2021 showed a definite uptick in tourism, according to Brown. He said they track hotel lodging, and since June, the community has rebounded “extremely well” both with overnight visitors and conventions and conferences returning to the area in greater frequency.
He tabs the 2021 Masters, which went on with limited attendance, as a good kick-off for the uptick, and the summer brought the Nike Peach Jam, a nationally-relevant high school basketball tournament that takes place in North Augusta each year, bringing hundreds of players and college personnel to the area.
Looking ahead to 2022, the team said a major announcement should come in January about the first-ever edition of the International Soul Music and Food Festival, an event the Augusta Commission approved in September.
Bowen teased a few other developments, but to take a page out of Michael Meyers’ book, you’ll just have to wait and see what some of those are.
I left the meeting with Brown, Bowen and Fruchtl with a ton of information and a better understanding how Destination Augusta shapes both the current view and the future vision for Augusta. These three clearly have a heart for Augusta, and each member of the staff I’ve interacted with project the same love for the great city we live in.