The Gonzales Chamber of Commerce & Agriculture is ready to promote heritage tourism in Gonzales, especially with the bicentennial celebration of the founding of the city just a few short years away.
The Chamber and City of Gonzales officials held a press conference Monday, Sept. 12, to announce how the Chamber will be taking over tourism promotion efforts in the city, for which they will receive hotel and motel occupancy tax revenue to fund their work.
“Right now, we have a contract with the Chamber for the visitor center, so we'll be adding on to that for the tourism coordinator position,” City Manager Tim Patek said. “The chamber will be getting hotel-motel tax money to be able to fund that and be able to pick up where the city has left off — being able to promote and advertise all those good things for the city.
“We're excited about it. I know the mayor and the council are excited about it, and we really look forward to the Chamber taking that over and doing a great job promoting the city.”
Chamber executive director Melissa Henderson said while her current efforts are concentrated on putting together a successful Come and Take It celebration for this Sept. 30 though Oct. 2, when the city’s new fiscal year starts Oct. 1, “I will dive into tourism, and my vision for tourism is planning kind of the long-term vision, starting with our bicentennial.”
“In 2025, we will be celebrating our 200th birthday here in Gonzales,” Henderson added. “I'm going to take tourism and start building up to that. The mayor brought up that there are some really big anniversaries for the state of Texas coming up. Starting with our bicentennial here, we can kind of see what that looks like for our local celebrations and then become a really big player with the state of Texas in celebrating Texas independence.
“That’s going to be my goal is looking at the long-term calendar of how we can celebrate our birthday, and what does that look like getting people to come to Gonzales now, learning about the history of Gonzales, and then building to that big year with a full schedule of events.”
Henderson said she plans to enlist the help of the city’s Tourism Advisory Board as well as the Chamber of Commerce board of directors in “building that tourism calendar for our big birthday event.”
Other goals include working with hotels, motels and short-term rentals “seeing if we can start to increase heads in beds,” as Henderson said she sees value in the input those businesses can give.
“Really, they are the experts in the field,” Henderson said. “They know about who's staying in those hotels and how we can get them to either stay longer or have a better experience while they're here.”
Henderson said the Chamber will hire a tourism coordinator and is looking for “someone with content development skills — someone who can create content and then execute the content.” That individual will be using Facebook and Instagram to create little-to-no-cost digital advertising.
“It is really easy,” Henderson said. “I mean, we have great content, and it already exists, so I just need somebody who can go and get the content and then constantly be putting it out for people to see. That's the easiest way to reach eyes for a smaller amount of money.
“If you know of anyone who fits that position, please let us know. I'd love to have somebody who has some experience in tourism or in graphic design, and somebody with a ‘go get 'em’ attitude, because it's going to be a lot and it has a lot of creative potential, too.”
The tourism coordinator will be a Chamber position and not a city employee. It also will not be responsible for or have its performance tied into keeping up with bookings at the city’s “convention center,” the JB Wells Expo Center — those duties remain with JB Wells Expo facility manager Amanda Garza.
“When the city tourism director position went away, those responsibilities had to go elsewhere,” City Secretary Kristina Vega said. “Who better than someone that knows the arena and expo and all of the amenities than the arena operations manager? She's the boots on the ground there, selling the events, selling the rentals out there.”
Henderson said she will be meeting monthly with the city’s CVB and Tourism boards to give a report on how the Chamber is spending hotel-motel occupancy funds, while also reporting quarterly to the city council with a report that will be part of the public record.
Chamber president Carolyn Morrow said the Chamber has developed a “pretty large advertising budget” to help promote tourism in Gonzales.
“This first year is going to be really, you know, what can we do,” Morrow said. “We're gonna set some loose goals, and see where we get. We don't want to set ourselves up for failure. Once we hire the tourism coordinator, then we'll be able to really kind of map out a five-year plan.”
Morrow praised the hiring of Henderson as the Chamber executive director, touting the experience the latter had accumulated while working in Fort Davis.
“Obviously, Melissa was the right candidate for the directorship, because she comes with such vast knowledge for running the chamber, but also her tourism background,” Morrow said. “We knew she was the right piece to the puzzle, so we are very, very excited to bring her here and get started with tourism. She's just hit the ground running, that's for sure.”