Kevin Kane addresses the crowd at the annual meeting of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau.
New Orleans — not Memphis — owns the negative associations with crime, poverty, and danger among prospective visitors, according to a consultant hired by the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau (MCVB).
Hayley Berlent, founder and Chief Strategy Officer with The Additive Agency, told members of the Memphis hospitality industry Wednesday that her agency tested some of the connotations with travelers and that those negatives don’t really travel outside the city.
“Nationally, the narrative is not negative,” Berlent said. “Let’s lean into the positive. It’s us that worry. The rest of the world, they don’t think about Memphis that way.”
Berlent gave that insight and an overall look at the Memphis brand during her talk during the MCVB’s annual meeting Wednesday.
But negative is not all bad, Berlent said. Cities like New York and Las Vegas have owned their grit and changed their stories. Las Vegas, for example, changed from “Sin City” to the place where what happens there stays there. Memphis, she said, should do the same.
“We see a lot of handwringing in Memphis around the negative associations of Memphis,” Berlent said. “This is what I say: we can let others define the story for us or we can transform that narrative.”
In the last 12 months, Memphis and Shelby County attracted about 11 million visitors, according to the MVCB president and CEO Kevin Kane. He was bullish on the city’s ability to continue that trend, especially after the Memphis City Council passed a 1.8 percent increase on lodging taxes here last year.
That increase, he said, will produce the funds needed for a $60 million improvement project for the Cook Convention Center. The project, Kane said, will help Memphis compete for more meetings and conventions and “against those folks trying to take visitors away from us on a daily basis.”
Also, Kane said others are also optimistic about the Memphis tourism market as about 15 hotel projects are presently in some stage of development.