Congrats to Seth Eli Barlow, Content Manager at Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau.
He’s one of nine winners in the second annual Emerging Tourism Stars program in partnership with MMGY Global.
What’s an Emerging Tourism Star? Savvy individuals (of any age!) in destination marketing and attractions that are new to the eTourism Community of digital travel and tourism professionals or have risen to the challenges of a role.
Q: With a master’s degree in tourism management, did you always envision yourself in the DMO world? Or, perhaps some other aspect of travel and hospitality?
My path to the DMO side of things was more akin to an M.C. Escher painting than a logical career path. I got my degree with the hopes of one day working on major international sporting events. I was able to get an internship that had me working on the London 2012 Olympic Games and briefly living in Brazil to work on events surrounding the 2014 FIFA World Cup. However, things took a left turn during my second year of graduate school when I was diagnosed with late-stage cancer. I returned home to Arkansas for treatment and – six rounds of chemotherapy later – was able to finish my degree and enter remission. From there, I did stints as a magazine columnist and even a Certified Sommelier before finding my way back into tourism full-time.
Q: That’s an incredible story. Has battling an illness like cancer changed your outlook on life?
Absolutely. June 2022 marks 10 years of being cancer-free, and there’s not a single aspect of my life that hasn’t been influenced by it in some way. I’m most grateful that the experience gave me a clear understanding of what I do and do not have control over in my life and the recognition that my time is too precious to be spent worrying about things I can’t influence. When you look at decisions through the lens of “is this how I want to spend what time I have left,” it’s a lot easier to be decisive.
Q: Tell us about your column in the local newspaper and your qualification as a certified Sommelier?
I, like most patients on chemotherapy, lost my sense of taste. It took years for it to return, but when it did, I tasted a bottle of the 2013 Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve, a chardonnay from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. It was rich and lithe, this impossible combination of every flavor I was afraid I might never taste again. I was instantly hooked.
From there, I began studying wine nonstop and sat for the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Certified Sommelier Exam in 2018. The exam was brutal, involving everything from multi-choice questions to a blinding tasting of wines and even an oral exam while I poured wine for a table of guests. I passed and began writing a monthly wine column in Arkansas Life magazine, where I was already a food and culture writer.
In 2020, my monthly column transitioned to weekly when it began running in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Arkansas’s largest newspaper. On the surface, talking about fine wine to rural Arkansans may seem a little Sisyphean, but I love taking abstract concepts like the terroir of France and looking at it through the lens of Arkansas tomatoes and watermelons. Wine has been a part of human life for thousands of years and offers a fascinating lens through which we can see ourselves. My only goal is for more people to drink more wine. Wouldn’t that make the world a better place?
Q: Indeed! What are three things you’d like a first-time visitor to know about the world that is your destination?
First, Little Rock truly is a city surrounded by nature. If you’re staying downtown, you’re an easy bike ride from world-class mountain biking, kayaking, rock climbing, and hiking. We have more than 1,200 miles of cycling trails (something I didn’t even know until I had to map them all!), and almost all of our attractions can be reached by bike.
People are also surprised about Little Rock’s deep connection to the civil rights movement. Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site is a key part of that. It tells the story of nine incredibly brave children who faced down mobs, bullies, and even the Arkansas State Guard to get an equal education. It’s still a functioning high school, but the National Park Service administers it, and park rangers can take you on guided tours of the school, allowing you to stand in the literal footsteps of these heroes. In my book, a visit is a quintessential Little Rock experience. The Clinton Presidential Library also does a great job of showing that the battle for civil rights isn’t over. People are still fighting for equality right here in America and across the world.
Finally – and I know this is cheating just a little – I would say that Little Rock is the gateway to everything that’s great about Arkansas. From here, it’s easy to explore the parts of Arkansas that are a little further off the beaten path. Take some time to float the Buffalo River, America’s first federally protected river, or relax in the baths of Hot Springs National Park. You can take a cheese dip tour of the delta or explore the scenic Ozark Mountains in our northwest corner. Arkansas offers such an incredible breadth of experiences, and Little Rock is the perfect primer for a first visit to the state.
Q: As Content Manager, how do you describe the nature of the tone of voice you curate for Little Rock CVB?
Tone is so important, and I don’t think most DMO marketing teams think about it enough. When I joined the LRCVB, I became the defacto copywriter for the organization, a role I absolutely love. Crafting our tone has been a work in progress since we launched our Big on Little Rock brand in 2020. We wanted our tone to reflect who we were as people; niceness is in our nature, and we want our tone to be unmistakably us.
Some of the steps we took were more concrete, like implementing style guidelines that embrace contractions. Does it make us sound less formal? Sure, but we’d rather sound real than formal.
Anytime I’m writing something new, I have five tone “objectives” that I aspire to: Credible, confident, inspiring, optimistic, and real.
Q: A strong objective. Tell us, what are your career goals as an Emerging Tourism Leader, especially as one who had to get his feet wet during the pandemic?
Ours really is an industry that’s built upon travel and in-person connections, and it feels amazing to finally be able to actually travel and see people again. My long-term career goals seem to change by the day based on whatever article I’ve read or webinar I’ve seen most recently. I do know that I have a passion for stakeholder and shareholder engagement, and I feel myself naturally being drawn to the advocacy-related side of our industry.
At the end of the day, I love using language to solve problems, and I feel my best when I’m able to use my writing skills to help someone new understand what it is that our industry does and why it’s so vital. As long as that doesn’t change, I think I’m on the right path.