Case Study: VisitNorfolk Coffee Talks
Engaging Your Entire Staff, Even Those Who Couldn't Attend that Major Conference
VisitNorfolk President and CEO Kurt Krause believes that, as destination organizations, we are the stewards for all visitors, whether they visit us for business, leisure, or some other reason. He wanted to offer staff an outlet to network and connect with each other while simultaneously educating them on significant tourism-related topics. As Kurt says, we want to educate our teams on the topics that are on the minds of visitors because it makes us better at our jobs by contributing to an educated workforce and helps us stay present during changing times.
VisitNorfolk leadership went to task on this in the summer of 2022 by creating its new Coffee Talks initiative. The purpose of the Coffee Talks has been three-fold:
- Create a space for staff to connect with each other in an organized, guided way,
- Bring together team members from disparate departments, roles and backgrounds to get a holistic view of staff perspectives and,
- Educate staff on significant topics related to tourism in Norfolk, Virginia.
The Nitty Gritty
Each Coffee Talk features a detailed agenda, presentation, and note-taking to keep conversations fruitful and on track. VisitNorfolk Coffee Talks take place in person, encouraging everyone to be present, share time, relax, and have an open conversation together. When staff members enter a VisitNorfolk Coffee Talk, they are given a number to make sure groups are randomly assigned to ensure team members do not self-segregate by department (e.g. Sales would normally sit with Sales). Each group reflects on a shared topic and then the larger group comes back to reflect together as a team.
The first-ever Coffee Talk began with a conversation about the mission and vision of the organization and what the visitor cares about. The team asked themselves, “if you had to re-write our mission and vision statements, what would they be?” The group plans to review the mission, vision, and values during each coffee talk.
If you had to re-write our mission and vision statements, what would they be?
In addition to keeping them fresh and top-of-mind, each meeting topic will affect how the team conceptualizes the mission, vision, and values. They have even considered using Coffee Talks as an opportunity to renew them at the end of each year.
Sharing the DI Annual Convention with the Entire Team
It’s an unfortunate truth that most destination organizations can’t send their entire staff to each conference or industry event. VisitNorfolk leadership wanted to enable staff that missed the Destinations International Annual Convention in Toronto to share in the knowledge gained. As Kurt explained, “the topics covered at Annual are so influential to how we as tourism experts run the business, handle groups coming in, and guide the future of how tourism will look in Norfolk.”
“The topics covered at Annual are so influential to how we as tourism experts run the business, handle groups coming in, and guide the future of how tourism will look in Norfolk.”
The focus of the first-ever VisitNorfolk Coffee Talk was a presentation by attending staff on their learnings and takeaways. View the presentation here. Everyone had the opportunity to share thoughts from the conference, allowing those who could not attend to feel like they were there. Just because some team members missed the Convention, didn’t mean they would have to miss learning some of the important content that was covered.
In groups, the staff discussed topics that mirrored those discussed at Annual Convention: crime and safety, the need for a community indicator and Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). Staff members put their heads together to answer questions such as:
- What are our proactive strategies, messaging & campaigns addressing the question, "Is it safe to visit my city?"
- What is currently being done to address the growth in violent crime?
- What can we do differently/or keep doing?
- What strategies address the question “Am I welcome in Norfolk, VA”?
- Are we including “all” in our messaging?
- How do we ensure our community leaders and residents understand the impact tourism has on our city and what we do as an organization?
- How can we get our residents involved in activities in the tourism industry?
A favorite takeaway surrounding Destinations International’s Annual Convention was to be and stay curious.
"BE and STAY CURIOUS."
The team openly discussed resident and visitor sentiment and came up with innovative ideas on how to address concerns such as crime and safety in Norfolk. They even planned to set up meetings with various community stakeholders to get the ball rolling on potential initiatives.
Changes were subtle at first, but the staff showed interest in continuing regularly scheduled Coffee Talks. They felt conversations were valuable. VisitNorfolk leadership expects that if they offer the talks on a quarterly basis, they will notice an impact on how people work and how they communicate with the public.
Moving into the Future
One challenge that arose was the limited timing set aside for the meeting. As time became short, some conversations had to be cut off. In future meetings, they plan to schedule fewer topics into each agenda to keep discussions more focused and concise.
Another future consideration is to open each Coffee Talk with an external subject matter expert from the Norfolk, Virginia community. Not only would this provide an additional educational opportunity for the team, but it would also help build relationships among entities in the community. One idea is to have the speaker take up the first half of each meeting and leave the second half for the team to discuss the day’s theme amongst themselves.
Future guests VisitNorfolk is considering including are a local EDI professional, the producer of their Virginia International Tattoo event (fun fact: Norfolk is home to the largest naval base in the world), the president of their local HBCU, a representative from the Chamber, the City Manager, or the Mayor of Norfolk. President & CEO Kurt Krause prefers to skip PowerPoints at Coffee Talks because he wants to provide information no one else has that doesn’t feel canned and maintains authenticity for his team.
VisitNorfolk’s internal Coffee Talk initiative gives staff the opportunity to engage with each other, learn about topics pertinent to tourism in Norfolk, and foster an inclusive environment for all members of the team. Already, the ideas that have emerged from these talks have led to some fruitful brainstorms and new connections being formed in the community.