Butch Spyridon is the president and CEO of Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp.
Why is Nashville currently such a hot destination among meeting groups?
There has been a concentrated effort to brand Nashville as Music City and improve our facilities over the last 12 to 13 years. The branding has paid huge dividends: The Music City Center [MCC, a downtown convention center that opened in 2013] has elevated downtown, including our culinary offerings, and all of our major hotels have undergone significant renovations. At the same time, the national and international media has been very kind to us in our evolution, and the ABC-TV show Nashville has spotlighted the city with a one-hour, prime-time commercial 22 weeks a year for the last three years. So, strategic planning, focus, hard work, customer relationships and investing in ourselves has paid off and moved us into the national conversation.
How much revenue does the meetings industry bring to Nashville?
The old downtown convention center allowed us to begin developing downtown as a secondary destination and now, with a completely renovated Gaylord Opryland and the still-new MCC, we’ve become a Top 10 Meeting Destination in the country, according to Cvent. Meetings represent 42 percent of Nashville’s $5.5 billion annual visitor spending.
What are some of the major challenges you’ve faced as president and CEO of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau (NCVB), and how have you met them?
The first defining moment in my Nashville career was the simultaneous closing of Opryland theme park and the downtown tornado in 1998. At that point, we changed from relying solely on the Gaylord Opryland hotel and the theme park, and began to recognize the importance of a brand/identity, the need to market year-round and the importance of a healthy downtown. Strategic planning, cooperative marketing efforts and partnerships have been our hallmark since that time. We have continued to stress the importance of improving our offerings while being consistent with our marketing and delivering the best of Southern hospitality. We have recovered from the theme park closing, 9/11, the great recession and a 1,000-year flood (the flood on May 1–2, 2010, in which Nashville and nearby locations received 10–20 inches of rain over a 48-hour period). Each time, we bounced back stronger, more unified and more focused than before.
What new and innovative marketing strategies have you implemented with the NCVB?
The two most visible strategies were part of a community-wide branding initiative launched in 2003. Getting the consistent buy-in across all business sectors was a major hurdle and major accomplishment. Secondly, after the theme park closed, we began to develop a slower marketing strategy to rely on events to sell leisure rooms and brand the city. Our goal has been to create at least one major annual event each month, and we have been extremely successful in that effort.
Why is Music City Center important to meeting groups and tourism in general?
The decision to build MCC was a choice by Nashville to stay in the meetings business. We were faced with losing a lot of business, and needed to decide whether we wanted to be in the business or rely solely on Opryland’s success. Two years after opening, the center has been a huge success, and Opryland has had back-to-back record years. We have elevated the awareness of this city on a number of levels through the MCC. That has enhanced our attractions as well as our restaurants, and opened up a whole new leisure market.
You’re also involved in many Nashville community efforts. What role have you played?
Being a long-tenured person in my position has proven to be very advantageous. While I didn’t see it when I started or during my first five years, being involved in the community and getting to know the players—as well as establishing credibility—has allowed this organization to play a role in shaping how Nashville looks as a destination. That is a rarity in our industry. Most of the time, we don’t stay long enough to influence major development outcomes.
What do you attribute your success to?
As I mentioned, longevity has played a key role in our ability to accomplish a number of lofty goals. Besides the fact that I am highly competitive and persistent, I would attribute our success to great relationships in the community and a stellar, professional staff.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Working out and trying to get on the water, preferably to fish, are two of my favorite leisure activities. Fortunately or unfortunately, my other preference is discovering great acts in a town full of great music.
Hometown: Born in Pittsburgh, and grew up in Pascagoula, Mississippi, 21 miles east of Biloxi
Education: Bachelor’s degree in business administration from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee
Career: Began as a sales manager for the Mobile Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau in Alabama; then worked as manager of the Travel and Conventions Department at the Mobile Chamber of Commerce and CEO of the Baton Rouge Convention & Visitors Bureau before being hired for his current role in 1991