Traveling salesman: CVB director Chuck Martin discusses selling the city of Cape

Thursday, February 22, 2007
Chuck Martin, director of the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitor's bureau, talked about his love of Cape Girardeau while in his office, Tuesday, Jan., 30, 2007. (Diane L. Wilson)

By Liz Bertrand

Business Today

Ever since Chuck Martin was a little boy, he has loved to travel.

So it makes sense that he chose a job where he meets travelers every day.

As director at the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitor's Bureau, he gives visitors tips on sights to see while their visiting the area.

As Chuck clears off his desk for his Business Today profile picture, we chat about our favorite places to visit and what he does at his job. In addition to bringing visitors into Cape, he encourages locals to experience their own town as if they were a visitor.

"You know, we always take for granted what we have right here," said Martin. "There's just so much to see and do and so much history in this town."

Chuck took time out of his day to answer some questions about his passion for travel, why people love to visit Cape and positive improvements being made to the city.

BT: What did you do before becoming director of the CVB?

CM: I had some wonderful jobs. I worked with children with disabilities for a number of years and headed two different organizations: Kenny Roger's Children's Center out of Sikeston and I also worked with Easter Seals of Southeast Missouri. We had the opportunity to truly make a difference in peoples' lives and it was a great experience. I'll elaborate a little more because I guess the question that begs to be asked is how on earth I'm sitting here and why. It's one of those things where I've had the opportunity to live in a number of different places. I grew up, my earliest years in Anna, Ill., but I lived for four years in Stanton, Va., and loved the state of Virginia. Virginia had a really wonderful and aggressive ad campaign that has worked for them for decades and they still use it to a large extent it's called "Virginia is for Lovers." They talk about Virginia is for lovers of mountains, lovers of history, etc. It's a great state rich in history. I grew up in that environment and I always thought how neat of a position it must be to be able to market an area that you really do love. I think I've always had that in the back of my head and have loved the opportunity to do this. I've been here for a little over four years now and I truly love the job.

BT: What peaked your interest in the director job?

CM: I had always wanted to have the opportunity to market something that I truly believe in, in a big way. Hitting this age, you know, the days were clicking for me. When I saw the position was open to be the marketing director for the city of Cape Girardeau, I had the opportunity for an interview and I wanted them to know that I'm a big believer that sales and marketing is sales and marketing. It really does come down to just a couple of different variables: Do you believe in the product that you're marketing? Do you have the knowledge to market that product? And are you enough of a people-person to be able to build relationships and convince them that what you have is something that they're going to enjoy?

BT: What's the first thing that sparked your interest in travel?

CM: I grew up traveling a lot. My mom and dad were great folks that every year we would make a super vacation each summer and had a chance to visit a number of the eastern states. We made great trips to Georgia, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia and West Virginia. I can remember all these trips that I made as a child to places like Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga or traveling the length of the Blue Ridge parkway. We would visit all of these great and wonderfully historic places and I think at an early age it impressed upon me the importance of travel and I've carried that tradition forward with my family. Every year we have traveled, and we've had the opportunity to travel to some of the same places I traveled when I was a child along with new places like Colorado? I could go on and on. So my children, hopefully, as I've shared my legacy with you, are going to share a similar legacy in the sense that they've grown up taking vacations and traveling. So, for me, at an early age that was important stuff.

BT: What are some of your favorite travel destinations and why?

CM: Wow, it's ironic because I'm one of those strange ducks that doesn't like to go to the same place twice. If I've had the chance to experience a place, I like to go to someplace new the next time. I do love Colorado simply because, when I went to high school, that four year period of my life was spent in the Blue Ridge mountains in Virginia, so, I love the mountains. So, Colorado, certainly Virginia and North Carolina; I love all those areas for that. My wife is a huge beach fan so we've had a lot of great vacations in Cape Sand Blast and Pensacola, Florida, Gulf Shores, Alabama all along the gulf coast. Those two kinds of destinations are where we've spent the bulk of our time: mountains and beaches.

BT: Why do you think so many people like to visit Cape?

CM: Boy, there are a myriad of reasons, but first and foremost it really is our people. I realize that sounds cliche? but in all sincerity I really do think if you talk with most people that visit Cape, if you read some of the comments that are recorded in our visitors book they will often tell you that people are readily open and go out of their way to try and help accommodate people in whatever way they can. The other thing is, Cape Girardeau has a lot to offer. We've gotten a lot of feedback on the new murals, the Red House Interpretive Center, all of the work that's been done to Fort D. When you take a look at the Nature Center, Trail of Tears State Park, Bollinger Mill State Historic site, believe me I could go on. In all sincerity, there is a lot to do and see in our area.

BT: About how many people visit Cape per year?

CM: I don't think anyone has a good number. The reason for that is a whole lot of people who do visit here each and every day are from our surrounding areas. You could probably list 50 or more communities that come into Cape for their medical needs, they shop here, they take care of their entertainment and recreation here. So, I don't think there is any way because we don't have anybody stopping people to determine who is a visitor and who is a resident. But, suffice it to say and I think you've probably heard that statistic that every day a community of 36,000 swells to well over 100,000 people. We know that every year we have people from not only a myriad of different states but well in excess of 15 to 20 different foreign countries, such as Germany, England and Australia, who find Cape interesting.

BT: What are a couple of must-see places in Cape?

CM: Must see places I think really are some of the historical offerings that we do have. We encourage people to take advantage of seeing some of the sites. I really want to touch upon the fact that we encourage our own residents to get out and see some of these places as well. The places we encourage people to go see are the Red House Interpretive Center which gives them a great overview of Lewis and Clark's visit and the life of Lewis Lorimer, Old St. Vincent's Church, the historic Glenn House which is located on Spanish street and gives you a great overview of what life would have been like for a relatively upper middle class family at the turn of the 20th century. Fort D is another great historic site, it is one of four Civil War forts in the state of Missouri that the earthen works are still authentic and still there. Every one of those places are certainly must-sees and they just have rich stories.

BT: Which one is your personal favorite?

CM: I'm definitely going to say that they all hold they're own unique charm.

BT: Why do you think people enjoy travel?

CM: Life just keeps coming faster and faster. I look at all the technological advancement and all the improvement we have and we just keep wanting to fine tune faster, more efficient, faster and better. You reach a point that if we're not careful, we forget how to live life because we're so busy making a living that we almost fail to take time... I think that vacations are just a wonderful way to get away, to have a rest from the demands of a world that is coming at us so quick and so demanding.

BT: In what ways are you trying to improve travel?

CM: We've done a number of different things. A lot of energy and effort has been put into what we call "destination development". If you look four years ago there was no Red House, there was no Mississippi River Tales murals, there were no improvements at Red Star access where we now have a picnic shelter, a double boat ramp and a paved parking area. We can go right down the list. Fort D at that time had no enhancements, now Fort D has living history days. So we're biting off a little bit each year of trying to develop infrastructure and destination attractions that people say 'wow, while we're there we really need to experience that.' For example, this coming year the city of Cape Girardeau is rehabbing the old bridge entrance. It's going to be a great park area. You'll be able to walk up to what remains of the entryway of the bridge and there will be historical signage there that will tell you about the importance of that bridge. You'll be able to see both up and down the river, there's going to be a wonderful parklike area with plants and benches. Right at the far edge of the property there will be tie-in with the River Campus trail and two extensions will be made to our existing trails and our river walk will be extended probably about three quarters of a mile and will go all the way up to Sloan Creek, just shy of Red Star access, so you'll be able to walk along the river front for a full mile. An extension will be made to La Croix trail and it will extend all the way up to the Missouri Department of Conservation and will tie into White Oak trace. Another thing we are creating is an audio tour for visitors to use walking or driving through Cape Girardeau and have everything explained to you through a CD or you can put it on your iPod. There are a number of things that have been done and a number of other things that are being worked on so that in future years there's going to be even more for people to see, do and experience.

We are always trying to look and say, how can we better market this community? I really do think it's a great time to be marketing the city of Cape Girardeau because there are so many positive things that are happening out there. We are trying in a big way to differentiate ourselves from other communities that are out there and if you look at our numbers I think that is happening, that more and more people are coming into the community. We're out there trying to tell the story and I really do think the message is being received.

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