In yesterday’s blog post, we talked about some of the great work Visit Annapolis and Anne Arundel County does as the Destination Marketing Organization for the Four Rivers Heritage Area. Today, we get to know Dani Bottcher, Acting Executive Director, and learn more about her ideas for the organization’s future.
FR: People may not realize you’ve been with the Visitors Center for a while, what most appealed to you about going to work there?
DB: I have worked at the Visitors Center for 9 years. After I graduated from college, I started my career with a Big 4 accounting firm. I quickly realized I did not want to be on the partner track, but I felt like it was a great springboard for a fulfilling career. My main client was in Philadelphia, so I was traveling every week and living out of a suitcase. I wanted to settle down and buy a house and have a family, and I missed my hometown of Annapolis. It just so happened that the Visitors Center was looking for a new finance director. I fell in love with the organization and I truly believe in its mission. Our destination has so many wonderful, unique assets and I had never realized how many jobs the tourism industry creates in our County. It has been incredible to be able to experience the product we are selling and feel like I am making a difference in our community.
FR: In your opinion, how has marketing Annapolis and Anne Arundel County changed since you first started on the job?
DB: When I started with the organization back in 2011, it could barely make payroll. Our budget was just over $1M. The marketing efforts were small, but effective. Each year, our budget began to grow incrementally and we were able to do more. In recent years, we have had a strong presence in international markets and worked closely with Capital Region USA to market our area. Locally, we have executed fun marketing campaigns with MASN and the Baltimore Orioles. When I started, the casino at Maryland Live! had not broken ground, and that soon became one of our most popular attractions. Over the past decade, social media has really exploded and visitors now rely on user-generated content and influencers more than ever. This led us to launch our blog website, Annapolis Discovered. We have really grown with the destination, from a Conference & Visitors Bureau to a full Destination Marketing Organization focused on the consumer. Over the years, I have managed all sorts of budgets as we grew to $4M. Like most businesses, our revenues have been impacted and we are feeling the effects of COVID-19, but we will continue to market the destination and we remain excited about the ideas and opportunities we have ahead in the future.
FR: A lot of organizations have had to “pivot” during the COVID-19 pandemic. What are some new ways the Visitors Center has found to continue its mission under the current circumstances?
DB: I have used the word “pivot” in nearly every conversation I have had over the past two months to the point of nauseam. The team is remote but the gears are all still turning. To keep our one-hundred volunteers engaged, we have developed and implemented virtual training sessions that include a walking tour of the Naval Academy. We are hosting virtual events for meeting planners so that we remain top-of-mind when it is time to book again. We are reaching out to our partners on a daily basis so that we can learn what they need and what their challenges are moving forward. We have implemented virtual office hours for the businesses to call in and update us and we are planning on recording a brief “Marketing 101” webinar with some easy and inexpensive tips for local businesses to implement when they are ready to start advertising again. We are putting together a consumer survey so that we can identify the key issues and problems we face moving forward and the team will do an analysis of those results. We are rebuilding every day and I am looking forward to the days of less Zoom meetings and more face-to-face interactions.
FR: The impact on tourism by COVID-19 is a major concern from many who depend upon the industry, how will we get visitors to start returning to our area?
DB: Safety is the number one concern. Visit Annapolis and all of the businesses in our County are working to get measures in place so that we can all continue to serve our consumers in a way that is safe for both the customers and employees. Physical distancing measures remain a priority, but we are starting to see many parks, beaches, restaurants and retail operations beginning to reopen, with restrictions. All of that is a good sign as we navigate this “new normal”. We have two campaigns in the works, and we are going to start marketing to drive markets within 150 miles. Our first campaign focuses on the nostalgia within our destination and we are going to utilize the locals’ appreciation for the destination to highlight the best aspects of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County. Once it is safe to do so, we will launch our second campaign, “Open For Business.” The team has been working on a brand new Visitannapolis.org website, which will launch in September. The website has a strong partner focus, where we will be able to support all of our partnerships, which our success depends on, to draw visitors back to the area. Many of our partners are small businesses who have been greatly impacted by COVID-19, so I hope that our efforts and rolling out of a new website will help them showcase their businesses and get back on their feet.
FR: Now is a difficult time for most organizations, with many facing operational challenges, but there are opportunities as well. Is there anything on the horizon that excites you about the future?
DB: I am remaining cautiously optimistic. This has been an opportunity for us to completely reimagine our vision and how we operate. Since we started working remotely about two months ago, I have learned how strong my team is. They have been working nonstop and proposed some very creative ideas on how we are going to get through this and come back better than ever. We have such a unique destination that appeals to so many audiences. Whether you are a historian, a foodie, a water enthusiast or an artist, we have something to offer you here in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County. The community spirit is alive and well in our destination. People are being kind and helping one another. Every day, I see signs of that, and that gives me hope that better days are coming.
FR: You must meet many interesting people from all over the world. Tell us about a unique experience you have had during your time with the Visitors Center?
DB: As the Chief Financial Officer of a small organization, the human resources function fell under my department. To better educate myself, I went to a human resources conference in Chicago and had the opportunity to hear Coach K speak about creating the “Dream Team” – the 1992 Blue Devils. Being a native of Maryland, I have to say I was not a big Duke fan, but that all changed after hearing this speech. Coach K’s leadership style is so inspiring. There is no top-down leadership. A real team is a horizontal totem pole where everyone feels important and has a crucial role to play. It is imperative to make people feel good about themselves and what they are doing, and to make them feel like they have a chance to succeed. One thing he shared that has always stuck with me is that he has no rules, just standards. Those standards are: look each other in the eye, always tell the truth, never be late, have no bad practices and stay upbeat even when losing, care for one another and no excuses – ever. After his speech, I had the opportunity to meet him and shake his hand. He told me that you have to create a fight song. Teams see it, hear it and feel it. Teams win because of this when they come together. Visit Annapolis has a winning team. After that experience, I always kind of rooted for Duke, unless they were playing the Terps!
Thank you, Dani! As one of your partners, we’re excited to be part of the Visit Annapolis team!