Episode 191: Building the Botanical Brand in Ottawa, IL, with Curt Bedei


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Curt Bedei is the Executive Director for the Ottawa Visitors Center in Ottawa, Illinois. He was hired in 2011 as the Graphics Design Manager to handle the botanical brand management. Since then, Curt has worked his way up, earning a certificate in Not For Profit management. In 2015, he had the opportunity to take on his current role. Curt sits on many boards and committees related to tourism, such as the Heritage Corridor CVB, LaSalle County Tourism Coalition, the Looking For Lincoln/ Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area, and the Ottawa History and Scouting Heritage Museum. Curt has always lived in the Ottawa Area, and he loves history and traveling so this seemed like a natural fit.

Destination on the Left is joined by Curt Bedei, the Executive Director for the Ottawa Visitors Center in Ottawa, IL. On our podcast, Curt shares his journey into travel and tourism and talks about the creativity and collaborative efforts OVC has made to help their destination thrive. Learn about Ottawa’s community-driven approach branding, and find out how they are responding to the difficult challenges brought forth by 2020.

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Curt’s journey into travel and tourism in Ottawa, IL
  • Curt’s advice to anyone who is graduating or just getting into travel and tourism during these difficult times
  • How the OVC has been able to make Ottawa, IL stand out from the crowd
  • How Curt and his team have used creativity and collaboration to help tourism thrive in Ottawa
  • What Curt and his team did to develop the botanical brand for Ottawa, IL
  • How Curt and his team engaged the city and community in their rebranding process
  • How the OVC has responded to the new challenges posed by 2020
  • What Curt’s team is doing to drive traffic to the outdoor attractions when a lot of other stuff is closed
  • New projects in the works at OVC for 2020 and 2021
Ottawa Visitors Center

Curt Bedei is the Executive Director for the Ottawa Visitors Center in Ottawa, Illinois. During his conversation with host Nicole Mahoney, Curt explains how Ottawa lives out its botanical brand. He talks about the discovery process for identifying what truly makes Ottawa stand out from the pack. And as a community, they have focused on developing an experience to live out the brand promise. Curt joins Destination on the Left to talk about how the Ottawa community has responded to the difficult challenges of 2020. He also dives into the regional collaboration that brought a national television program to their destination, which is still paying dividends today.

Stay the Path

Like many of the guests on Destination on the Left, Curt sort of stumbled into tourism. However, he quickly discovered that it was his calling, and since 2015, he hasn’t looked back. Curt has had an inspirational career as the Executive Director. But before he ever started climbing the ranks, Curt had no idea where he would end up. He was a graduate of the Great Recession; a position similar to what many budding travel and tourism professionals are facing today. But because of that, Curt is no stranger to difficult times in this industry. He stresses the importance of staying your path and pushing forward no matter what because you can’t plan for the opportunities that this industry will bring. You just have to be ready to capitalize on them when they arise and let nothing else get in your way.

Rebranding Ottawa

Curt’s relentless determination is one of the main reasons the Ottawa Visitors Center has experienced such great success since he took the helm. When he joined the team at the Ottawa Visitors Center, they were looking to rebrand in order to stand out from the crowd and lift the community up. Curt and his team used creativity and collaboration to make that happen. They came up with the botanical brand in 2012, which focused heavily on developing gardens, art, and culture in the community. They revitalized the downtown area and did everything in their power to create a greater sense of pride in the community. This was all accomplished in collaboration with the city and the community itself—and the high level of support that was generated through this focus on engagement produced astonishing results.

LIVE EVENT: The Ottawa Visitors Center is hosting a virtual experience with Abraham Lincoln on August 12th at 7 pm. The live, online performance will combine period music with conversation and narrative by President Lincoln, using Lincoln’s own words, while illuminating Lincoln’s use of communication as a personal and political tool. This engaging show features Lincoln impersonator George Buss, and Illinois folk musician and folklorist Chris Vallillo. The performance will be followed by a Q & A with Buss and Vallillo. More information can be found on their website.

203 episodes