Just like legendary singer Barry White’s greatest hit, “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love Baby,” Barry E. White couldn’t get enough of Tennessee—Chattanooga, specifically. Barry E. White was born in Kingsport, Tennessee, so it’s befitting that he returned to his home state last year to become president and CEO of the Chattanooga CVB after serving and leading the Augusta (Georgia) CVB for 23 years. With 26 years of tourism and hospitality experience, White plans to forge new relationships and partnerships to ensure Chattanooga remains one of the top tourist destinations in the nation. Connect spoke with him to learn about his plans for the Scenic City.
What intrigued you about Chattanooga and the CVB?
I’ve always been a proud Tennessean with a strong desire to return to my home state one day. I visited Chattanooga many times over the years and each time I was here, I discovered new things that made me love it even more. When I saw the opening at the CVB, I knew it was something I needed to pursue. it was the perfect job that would allow me to be a part of such an incredible destination. In addition to the destination itself, I was drawn by the people of this city. The locals that I met were extremely proud of the city, and the collaboration and can-do attitude were apparent throughout. There is no state in the country I’d rather be living. Moving to Chattanooga has been a dream come true.
What are you hoping to accomplish for Chattanooga?
My goal is to build on the work that has already been accomplished in Chattanooga and collaborate with organizations in the city and county to help determine the next growth opportunities for the tourism industry. We want tourism to support our businesses in a way that’s smart, sustainable, and preserves our built and natural assets for future generations. Everyone in this city has been extremely welcoming and eager to help move this industry and community forward.
Are there certain things that visitors are requesting for the city that you’ve noticed?
I think we have tremendous natural assets here—outdoor adventure and things like that will continue to be growth areas for us. From an internal standpoint, we’re also looking at increased opportunities for visitors to engage with the Tennessee River.
What are you learning about the city that you didn’t know before?
I had heard about the “Chattanooga Way” but had not experienced it firsthand. Chattanoogans love partnering together because it works and it always accomplishes a common goal that affects the community. I didn’t realize the extent of this until I was here. Chattanoogans are extremely passionate. They have a deep pride and are not afraid to be bold. They are innovators, and they share in the successes and failures together. It’s truly a privilege to be living here and be a part of such an exceptional community.
Chattanooga consistently ranks on the top of travel lists as a “must-visit destination.” Why do you think that is?
Chattanooga has a rich heritage as a visitor destination, and the renaissance that has taken place over the past 25 years has brought the city into its current day success. There are very few cities that can claim the number of diverse experiences—stunning scenic views, culture, livability, walkability, vibrancy, accessibility, technology—for every age group and interest within such close proximity. People are intrigued by Chattanooga’s comeback story and how impressive the city is today—as a world-class destination.
Can you describe the city’s renaissance?
This community really picked itself up by the bootstrap back in the mid-’80s and been working on this for 25 years. The city had declining growth and was described “as one of the dirtiest cities in the country.” But the community came together and said, ‘We’re going to change this.” They set out on a very progressive development plan—going back to the roots of the river and how to engage with it. The physical products that came out of it include the Tennessee Aquarium and other developments along the river. The growth has just continued. It initially set as a reinvention for a Chattanooga lifestyle, but what’s good for the lifestyle is also good for visitors.
What’s some of the best advice you’ve learned or motto you go by?
Something that keeps repeating itself is partnerships and alliances. Everything that we do in the tourism business requires the assistance of partnerships and alliances with other people and organizations. The more collaborative we can be the more successful the community is going to be. And the more collaborative we can be, the better the visitors’ experience is going to be.