Among the familiar faces in the crowd of the Oct. 10 Gonzales City Council meeting, one distinctly new figure made her first public appearance to the city. Saddled in between public comments from Come and Take It Celebration chairman Keith Schauer and a representative from the Guadalupe Valley Family Violence Shelter, Ashley Simper took to the podium to introduce herself as the city’s new tourism director.
“I appreciate the opportunity to serve Gonzales,” Simper said. “I look forward to working with our tourism partners, with our city staff and with our citizens to build upon the foundation of tourism that you’ve created here in Gonzales and to strength it.”
With that brief statement to council, Simper not only introduced herself, but also established her Gonzales tourism thesis: build off the established base.
A Texas transplant from Georgia, Simper is a longtime veteran of the tourism industry. Career opportunities brought her to the Lone Star state in 2011 where she worked in the public relations and marketing departments of the Hurricane Alley Waterpark in Corpus Christi. Simper eventually became the director of communications for Visit Corpus Christi in 2014. In 2016, she launched her own destination marketing company, Emerge Destination Marketing Concepts, LLC., and was in contact with Gonzales to do promotional work. It was Simper’s husband, Cody, a native of Gonzales, that initially introduced her to the city in 2013.
“In coming to Gonzales, I just was really taken by the charm of it. I think as a small town in Texas, it has that quintessential Texas charm,” Simper said. “I’m excited to bring an outside perspective in of what the assets are in this community, what I see as someone who was a visitor to this community for so long.”
With years of knowledge and experience working with local officials, Simper now takes over as Gonzales’ de facto tourism czar. She takes the reigns over from Clint Hille, the city’s inaugural tourism director, who resigned from the position in June. Though she will be considered a full-time city employee, Simper has been granted unique permission to perform much of her duties remotely from her home in Corpus Christi.
“They (Gonzales) were gracious enough to offer the opportunity to come on board with them full-time, rather than through an independent contractor status, and we worked out an agreement because I do live in Corpus Christi that I will work remotely,” Simper said. “The reason why that is OK, and really more than feasible, is because I’m selling Gonzales. When I’m here, I’m working with tourism partners, that’s what I’ll be doing. But the rest of the time, it’s really about promoting this destination. It’s getting out into other areas of the state, it’s networking, it is being, again, on the phone, it’s connecting, it’s making sure we do everything that we can to promote the destination, which is absolutely something that can be done, and quite frankly, is done very often in other destinations.”
Though she will primarily work remotely, Simper did mention she would be at most city council and Gonzales Convention and Visitors Bureau board meetings.
Simper said she came into the job with a long to-do list that “just keeps getting longer.” She highlighted taking advantage and further building up local attractions like the city’s annual Come and Take It Celebration as a vital task.
“We have a great foundation there, that’s already been started,” Simper said. “Obviously with our annual Come and Take It festival, that’s been around for over 60 years. That is a festival, that, again, as a visitor to Gonzales for the last six years, I’ve noticed has an incredible local draw but has also fantastic potential to truly be a tourism hit.”
Simper mentioned increasing collaboration between the city and the chamber and other tourism partners, making sure events in the city are properly marketed, leaning into the city’s historical assets and potentially partnering with Palmetto State Park as other goals on her list. It’s one of Simper’s primary goals to get more heads in Gonzales hotel beds during all times of the year and week and her strategy for that is simper: consistent and deliberate promotion.
“The ways I think we can do that, again, is to promote our assets that we currently have more,” Simper said. “We have a lot of room to grow and improve from the city tourism department in terms of really celebrating our assets that we have, being intentional with getting the word out about what we currently have and being consistent in our promotion of those attractions.”