Macon-Bibb County has a new community brand and logo: Where Soul Lives.

That announcement came during the 35th annual meeting of the Macon-Bibb County Convention & Visitors Bureau, where people who contributed to local tourism efforts last year were also recognized.

For visitors, the new logo may reflect the music, festivals and food, and for residents it represents the beauty, history and energy of the area, CVB President/CEO Monica Smith said.

"It's that combination that has created this beautiful thing we call soul," she said.

The ambassadors of the community brand will be led by a 28-member committee that includes representatives from organizations, businesses and universities.

During the past year, the CVB booked 108 group tours that led to 2,650 attendees and 18,000 hotel room nights. Also, the top five repeat conventions and the top five new conventions drew more than 22,000 people. The CVB website attracted more than 240,000 unique visitors, and page views totaled more than 775,000 last year.

The Macon Visitors Center welcomed more than 658,000 travelers and referred nearly 47,000 of those to local hotels, restaurants, attractions, shopping or camping locations.

During the meeting, a three-person panel discussed how they branded their communities. The panelists were Donna Carpenter, president/CEO of Cabarrus County CVB near Charlotte, North Carolina; Randy Newcomb, executive director of Kentucky Lake CVB in western Kentucky; and Marcy Jarrett, executive director of Visit Enid of Oklahoma, the official destination marketing organization for the city of Enid.

"Branding is not to say that we are absolutely the best and the only, but branding is used in order identify ourselves as a community and distinguish it," said the moderator, professor Charles Aiken with the School of Business at Middle Georgia State University, where the meeting was held.

The panelists talked about how they had branded their areas -- and some of the pitfalls to avoid.

Carpenter said that although she has a healthy budget, she has been able to get items, such as a retired race car, donated to the organization and then wrapped the vehicle with the CVB logo. Because the racing industry is so important to that region, the race car was a logical symbol.

Newcomb said a thoroughbred horse farm owner is using the Kentucky Lake CVB theme on its jockey silks, and a local jeweler is designing custom pieces with a nautical theme that matches well with the lake as a tourist and fishing designation.

"Have goals. Stick to them," he said. "Do not get ahead of yourself."

The event also was an opportunity to honor people who help promote tourism.

CVB President/CEO Monica Smith presented the President's Excellence in Tourism Award to Jonathan Andre, general manager of the Hilton Garden Inn Macon at Mercer University.

"(Andre) has contributed significantly to the Macon tourism industry and volunteered his time and talent to support Macon's growth," Smith said. He has served on the CVB board for eight years "providing continuity in leadership during a period of transition."

The B.J. Cain Top of the Line Award was presented to Joy Conde of the Candlewood Suites Macon.

"Joy moved to Macon three years ago from Miami and embraced the city as her own," said Susan Welsh, executive director of the Museum of Arts & Sciences. "Joy familiarizes herself on the local restaurants and attractions so that she can make informed recommendations to guests."

Welsh presented the Otis Hughes Tourism Spirit Award to Cristina Saldana, conference center director of the Professional Sciences Conference Center at Middle Georgia State University.

"Her passion for service is contagious, and Cristina does all she can to accommodate specific needs for groups and events" Welsh said. "Cristina always treats her clients as honored guests."

Welsh said the soul of Macon was something you see, feel and hear everywhere.

"We experience it in our architecture, restaurants, attractions, theaters, art galleries, events, and so much more," she said.

To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223 or follow her on Twitter@MidGaBiz.

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