Rich Benjamin – Hospitality Educator Of The Year

Have you ever had one of those odd phone calls where you thought the conversation was headed in a certain direction… only to have to stop the conversation and ask, “What are you talking about?”  I recently received a phone call from a dear friend in Gatlinburg, TN. It was late on a Friday afternoon when Jackie called me.  I picked up the phone and after our usual greeting Jackie said, “I have some good news and some bad news.  You have won an award, but unfortunately it is in Nashville on a Tuesday evening.”  Jackie is on the board of several associations for which I had submitted web/social project bids. In my mind, I heard, “you have won an award”, but when Jackie mentioned Nashville, I had to ask, “What are you talking about?”  “Rich, you are being recognized as Hospitality Educator of the Year by the Tennessee Hospitality Association, but the award ceremony is Tuesday evening in Nashville.”  After a pregnant pause, my reply was, “Looks like I’m headed to Nashville Tuesday evening. See you there!”

Tourism Marketing Help, Public Speaker, Tourism Marketing

I hung up the phone and sat down to mentally replay what had just happened. I won what??

Hospitality Educator of the Year; I did not know that I had even been nominated—let alone won—a state-level award…Holy Cow!

I started to recount all of last year’s engagements as a marketing speaker around the state.  I had spoken twice in Memphis, once in Murfreesboro, and several times in East Tennessee.  All had been from the standpoint of a tourism professional who had switched sides of the game.  Now I am the Website – Digital Marketer who is selling my services.  I spend a great deal of my time educating my clients and fellow marketers as to how best to utilize the power of web & social sites for marketing. I began this whole journey almost 20 years ago, starting out as an area sales rep for Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, moving up to Group Sales Manager and, ultimately, became the second-in-command in the Marketing Department. Eventually, I moved on to become Director of Marketing & interim General Manager for WonderWorks Amusement Park for the Mind. Over the years, I have watched the influence of web traffic and search patterns grow and morph into the Juggernaut that we work with today.  I had been fortunate to be in the right places at the right times in order to stay on the rising crest of Internet marketing in tourism.

That is not to say that I have not had some BAD experiences along the way.  I actually had a horrible experience with a webmaster and when it came time to strike out in a new direction, I knew if that little webmaster terrorist could make a living in this industry, I could. I have been blessed with great friends and other web professionals who have collaborated with me over the years and helped me grow.

As I sat thinking of all these points from the beginning of my tourism career to the present moment, I realized that as I have traveled the state speaking to other tourism professionals the common thread to my topics is “You Can Do This.”  Every person who sits through my presentations leaves knowing that if they choose to engage in Web & Social Media Marketing, they can grow their online business. They may not want to take the time to do it themselves but they had a greater understanding of how the mechanism of Website Sales & Social Media Marketing works, and in doing so will be less likely to make an uninformed or wrong decision in their marketing strategy.

Not to get too preachy… but I am a firm believer that “we are our brothers keepers.”  In short, it is my job as a decent human being to help my fellow man make the best decisions possible.

Internet Marketing, Hospitality Educator of the YearI was extremely humbled to read the following nomination that had brought my efforts and beliefs in front of my peers from across the State of Tennessee.

“This year’s Hospitality Educator of the Year is a valuable asset to the tourism industry. He believes in the hospitality industry and is constantly coming up with innovative ways to make it better.

Over a year ago, he hit the ground running with his new company. A Digital Marketing Agency specializing in SEO consulting and web design. He has donated a lot of his time to educate our industry on the importance of the Internet and how to utilize all of that information. He recently held several classes for the Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce about social media and other Internet marketing. He is leading the way to help the hospitality industry embrace all aspects of Internet marketing and social media.

We are excited to honor Rich Benjamin as the 2012 Hospitality Educator of the Year.”

I owe a great debt of gratitude to some amazing supporters who took the time to submit such a wonderful nomination.  I sincerely thank all those who’ve taken part in any of my classes and lectures that have allowed me to share my love and passion for Internet marketing.