If Fort Worth were a traveling circus, the team at Visit Fort Worth would be the dynamic ringmaster who guides and engages the audience from act to act, making good on the promise of entertainment, and ultimately ensuring a packed house for the following evening’s performance. However, throw in an unprecedented global pandemic and debilitating winter storm, and it’s an entirely different juggling act for the organization responsible for promoting our city to visitors far and wide. But as they say, the show must go on. And this show needs local participants to get involved.
Mitch Whitten, executive vice president of marketing and strategy for Visit Fort Worth, will quickly admit that it’s been an unusual (and busy) year of messaging. As a response to the burgeoning concerns around COVID-19, his team helped create the Y’all Stay Home campaign in March of 2020.
“You’d never think you would hear a tourism agency say to stay home. But we wanted to be a part of the solution,” said Whitten.
Soon after, VFW teamed up with Mayor Price’s office to launch the Y’all Wear A Mask campaign, which aimed to promote safe social practices throughout the community as businesses began to reopen. Fast forward to 2021. This month’s altruistic theme, Love Local, is the city’s warm reply to the impact of the winter storm that hit right before Valentine’s Day and lasted through Feb. 17, leaving a shocking number of Texas residents and businesses without heat, power, and water for days after.
“We created the Love Local campaign to be a shot in the arm to our local businesses. We wanted to remind locals that restaurants need their support, that our small businesses need their support,” said Whitten, who wants to return the kindness to the many businesses that acted as a lifeline to our community last month.
“During the snowstorm and power outages, we saw so much outreach to neighbors. The bar, Tulips, became a firewood distribution center…chefs were making meals for people.” Whitten goes on to acknowledge that “almost no industry has been affected like hospitality,” which has suffered greatly in the last year.
“The heartbeat for us is the hospitality industry; it’s one of the biggest employers in Fort Worth. And 3 out of every 4-hospitality business is [a] small business,” said Whitten. According to the organization’s website, hospitality and tourism employs over 22,500 industry workers and welcomes an estimated 8.8 million visitors to our city annually.
When asked what it means to “Love Local,” Whitten explained that it’s quite simple. VFW, along with fellow campaign partners such as the Fort Worth Chambers of Commerce, United Way of Tarrant County and Downtown Fort Worth Inc., is encouraging residents to contribute their time and money when and where they can over the next 3 to 4 weeks. That means supporting a local restaurant, arts organization, or nonprofit. Fully aware of the virus concerns that remain present, Whitten recites his team’s mantra.
“‘Forward, safely’ has been our guide. Fort Worth has opportunities for people to get out safely and we want to promote these opportunities.” This campaign, Whitten says, is “a feel-good campaign to remind Fort Worth what a big heart it has.” It’s also a nice reminder for us to get out and explore our own backyard from time to time.
Although she prefers burnt orange to purple, Hannah Bush is happy to call Fort Worth her new home. She began freelance writing a few years ago to break up the monotony of her 9 to 5 and to prove to her parents that she’s making good use of her journalism degree. When she’s not hanging out with her cat, Hannah can likely be found on a patio with her fiancé, talking about her cat.