Butch Spyridon, CEO of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp.

By Julia Masters  –  Reporter, Nashville Business Journal

The future of Nashville’s tourism industry relies solely on what it was built upon: the character of the city.

Butch Spyridon, CEO of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp., has spent the last 30 years cultivating the Music City brand and making Nashville a recognizable name both domestically and internationally.

Heading into 2022 with that goal well accomplished, he acknowledges the growing threat to Nashville’s culture — something he plans to focus on preserving.

“If we lose our unique authentic music character, creative culture, we’re done,” Spyridon told the Nashville Business Journal. “We don’t have any of the normal demand generators — gaming, theme parks, beaches, mountains — we’re living off our brand and the character of our community. That’s pretty vulnerable; you don’t have control over it.”

Both Spyridon and new President Deana Ivey are committed to creating a Nashville that balances the needs of residents and tourists and revitalizing the authenticity the city had several years ago.

While issues of over-tourism and rising costs present challenges, game-changing projects like the new Nashville SC stadium are on the horizon.

The Nashville Business Journal spoke with Spyridon and Ivey about the Visitors Corp.’s focus heading out of the pandemic and its long-term vision for the city.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

How do you balance the needs and interests of tourists with those of the residents and business that are here?

Spyridon: We are way more sensitive to and in tune with that question than anybody would imagine or give us credit. The neighborhoods are invaluable and really exemplify the unique character of this city. … There is a responsibility and some of it’s on us, but also with the city to manage the growth. And the entertainment vehicles are the best example, for any number of reasons. They went unchecked and anything that goes unchecked ends up out of control. So, paying attention to the Airbnbs of the world, paying attention to how many vehicles can be on the streets, what hours in what areas of town, that’s important. For what we do or how we do it, we try to create events that the locals would like.

What does overtourism look like here?

Spyridon: I think entertainment vehicles are an example of that. They were cute and funny in the beginning and then all of a sudden they were everywhere, with traffic noise and behavior. … We’re guilty of making Nashville popular. But the unintended consequences take all of us coming together to manage it so that it is not a problem. And you can have long-term success.

How is Nashville’s brand evolving and should it evolve?

Spyridon: It should constantly evolve and it also needs to maintain its authenticity and our unique character focused around music. We have to protect music. A year and a half ago, we stepped up to help save live music venues, the independent venues. That’s a place where we were trying to take care of the authenticity, the brand and the character and nobody else was.

What will Nashville tourism look like in five years and what are going to be some of the differences?

Spyridon: I think as Nashville builds out, as the East Bank — Titans expand and take shape and the Oracle campus, I think it points to the continuation of our evolution of a higher-end customer. Our dining scene is probably going to continue to grow and solidify in its legitimacy. And then depending on what we end up building, at Nissan and a music venue in Nashville Yards, I think we will be able to offer more music at the same time.

What are going to be your priorities in this coming year?

Spyridon: For me, two things, getting our convention business back to full swing. And that focuses in August, we’re hosting the American Society of Association execs, which is a convention of meeting planners, essentially. That is a launchpad to ensure our future stability. We should be able to book business for the next three or four years out of that. Then, rebuilding our international [tourism] and taking that to the next level. Those are the two most important segments that we have to reignite.

Where, internationally are you marketing the most and why?

Ivey: The U.K. is really where our focus has been and it was even before we got the British Airways flight. But when the British Airways flight came on, where you have the direct flight, we really ramped it up. … So, the U.K. definitely, and then Germany, Ireland, we are doing some things in France, and a great market for us that we are going to go back into is Australia.

Nashville is getting more expensive. Does that worry you in terms of tourists coming here and having the workers to come here and work at new venues and entertainment attractions?

Spyridon: On the visitors’ side, as long as we are offering value, we have seen visitors willing to spend. Obviously, there will be a ceiling on that, but we haven’t hit it yet. … On the other side of that, there is significant concern about the cost of living for finding employees to deliver the level of service that is part of that value proposition. … We’re trying to talk to the city, we are working with the Hotel Association. We’re looking for ideas, particularly on the housing side, but also, wages are going up and have been raised significantly. 

What about the future of Nashville tourism keeps you up at night?

Ivey: The entertainment vehicles are drowning out the music and that’s what we don’t want to happen. We want those musicians on Broadway to be heard, for people to come and sit and listen to the music.

Spyridon: Being spring break 365 days a year is not our goal or objective or what we have tried to build, it is an unintended consequence of our success.

Is Nashville the city that you thought it would be when you started your role?

Spyridon: We are way better as a destination than I dreamed. I believed in Nashville when I first started, but I didn’t think Nashville believed in itself. … The growing pains have been more magnified that I also ever would have imagined … But overall, the acceptance of our broader music brand is pretty rewarding. … We’ve accomplished a lot and we have a lot more work to do.

This article was first published by the Nashville Business Journal