Macon’s two visitors centers -- on Interstate 75 and downtown -- saw lots of action this year. More than 600,000 people came into the centers during the last fiscal year.

That statistic was among the end-of-year results presented Thursday during the 34th annual meeting of the Macon-Bibb County Convention & Visitors Bureau. About 75 people attended the luncheon meeting at Middle Georgia State College.

“It’s been a great year for Macon,” CVB President and CEO Monica Smith said.

More than 250,000 people visited the bureau’s website during the past year, and 226,500 of those were unique visitors, Smith said.

“Overall the team confirmed 15,154 room nights, hosted 23 site tours and presented to six prospective groups,” Smith said.

Upcoming conventions include 2,000 people for the Mary Kay conferences in 2015 and 2016, 525 for the Georgia Science Teachers Association in 2015, and the Georgia Baptist Convention is expected to draw 2,000 attendees this November.

Two people who come in contact with many of Macon’s visitors were recognized during the meeting.

Gwen Arrington, director of administration at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, was awarded the 2014 Otis Hughes Tourism Spirit Award.

“She has been the driving force behind the museum ... and always encourages staff members to offer help in any way they can,” said CVB board Chairman Jim David, who also is superintendent of the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park. “Gwen is also a talented docent.”

Courtney Jackson, a server at Molly’s Cafe, was presented the B.J. Cain Top of the Line Award.

“Courtney is always cheerful when greeting and serving customers,” David said. “She goes out of her way to ensure the needs of her customers are being met.”

CVB kicks off branding initiative

The featured speaker at the meeting was Steve Chandler, owner of Chandlerthinks, a branding and digital strategy firm based in Franklin, Tennessee.

The CVB hired Chandler to help develop a destination and community brand for Macon. The process of creating that brand, which includes research and planning a strategy, will cost about $50,000, Smith said after the meeting.

“A brand is what customers and potential customers think about your product and services,” Chandler said. Everyone in the community will be part of the branding initiative “because you already are.”

A brand is about being distinctive, but it doesn’t mean everyone uses the exact same logo, he said. For example, Nashville’s brand is “the music city,” but its chamber, city and others have different logos with one thing in common. They all use a music note in their logos.

The typical top players in a branding process include people from the tourism bureau, city, chamber and economic development, he said.

“We need the people who have put their heart and soul in this community to be involved,” he said.

Branding a product is easier than branding a city, Chandler said.

“No one entity owns the name ‘Macon,’ but almost everyone uses it,” he said. “You remember a place because of the way it makes you feel. Destination branding requires storytelling. You need to understand the character and personality of Macon.”

To contact writer Linda S. Morris call 744-4223.