LRCVB's Gina Gemberling Says City Must Capitalize On Its Assets

LRCVB's Gina Gemberling Says City Must Capitalize On Its Assets
Gina Gemberling tells Arkansas Business this week that the metro needs to build on its existing assets to attract tourists. (Jason Burt)

Gina Gemberling became chief of the LRCVB earlier this year, replacing Gretchen Hall. Gemberling joined the bureau in 2018 as vice president of sales and services, and was promoted to vice president of sales and marketing in 2020.

She previously spent 24 years working for the convention and visitors bureau in Springfield, Illinois, where she held roles in sales, service and marketing before becoming executive director.

Gemberling is also a certified destination management executive.

What is your strategy to attract conventions?

A key component of our sales strategy is always to be proactive — sell Little Rock as a top group destination. Our sales team is constantly on the road connecting with convention, meeting and sports event planners from around the country, showcasing what every corner of Little Rock has to offer. Little Rock has a variety of facilities, event venues and hotels across the city, and we’re fortunate to have large event venues like the Robinson Center, the Statehouse Convention Center, War Memorial Stadium and the Arkansas State Fairgrounds spread across town. We work hard to make sure every meeting attendee who leaves Little Rock can be a one-person billboard for all the wonderful things to do here. Positive word-of-mouth sentiment from travelers to meetings or events can significantly affect future leisure travel.  

What sorts of amenities would help central Arkansas?

From a leisure tourist’s perspective, I think it’s essential that we continue to build on the assets we have. In recent years, we’ve had tremendous growth in the city’s cycling infrastructure, and we’ve seen visitors respond favorably to those. We also want to make sure that we’re bringing exciting events to the facilities we manage: Robinson Center, the Statehouse Convention Center and the First Security Amphitheater. Popular plays, concerts and trade shows can be major tourism drivers. It’s critical that we keep those facilities we manage in peak performance shape. That entails everything from making sure the buildings look their best to ensuring their technology is state-of-the-art. Making sure that Little Rock offers our guests a best-in-class experience is vital to retaining repeat meetings and conventions business, and attracting new clients. 

What is the LRCVB doing to capitalize on the 2024 solar eclipse as a natural attraction?

The eclipse will be one of the largest tourism events in the history of Little Rock, and people are already starting to make their travel plans. Right now, we’re partnering with Arkansas State Tourism to make sure that the people coming here extend their visit beyond just the day of the eclipse and that they have a great experience while they’re here. Our new director of community engagement is leading our efforts to welcome the eclipse visitors and make sure Little Rock is prepared for the tourism influx.  

What did the pandemic teach you personally or in  your profession?

The pandemic really showed everyone that we can’t take tourism for granted. Tourism spending totaled $1.8 billion in Pulaski County in the year before the pandemic, and it will take time for us to recover to that level in the pandemic’s wake. For a resident, it can sometimes be easy to forget the impact that tourism has in a community, but having the entire travel economy suddenly disappear reinforced how much of an effect it has on our everyday lives and on the economic prosperity of Little Rock. It’s also given us a chance to refine our target niche markets. We’ve made great strides in marketing to additional audiences — cyclists, LGBTQ travelers and Black consumers — market segments that were specifically identified because of research conducted during the pandemic.