Smoke & Cinders (4th Quarter 2017) – Being in Select Company – TVRM Joins the SHA
Being in Select Company – TVRM Joins the SHA
Biltmore Estate…Shenandoah Caverns…The Blowing Rock…Rock City…Ruby Falls. These iconic heritage attractions bring to mind the very best of historic and scenic destinations, but they have something else in common. Each of these locations is a member of the prestigious Southern Highlands Attractions, or SHA
– a group of exceptional, largely independently-operated, travel attractions along the southern end of the Appalachian Mountains. SHA membership comes by invitation only, meaning the current member attractions must formally vote to extend a membership opportunity to new organizations. In addition, any organization considered for membership must meet certain criteria, including a minimum number of years in operation and annual paid attendance of at least 50,000. At the beginning of 2016, SHA had 18 members located in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia. With all of this in mind, the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum was honored, and humbled, to receive a call of interest from SHA in early 2016. TVRM welcomed an initial visit of the SHA Membership Committee in March and then played host to all member organizations during the SHA’s Fall Meeting held in September. Prior to the conclusion of that Fall Meeting, the member organizations unanimously voted to extend a membership offer to the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum. Of course, TVRM gladly accepted, becoming the 19th member attraction. How does this membership benefit TVRM? For starters, simply being associated with some of the country’s finest tourist destinations lends an additional level of credibility to what the museum is doing. TVRM continues to enhance its reputation and profile, and the outside world is taking notice. Member organizations are also required to help promote and recommend other SHA attractions through web links and brochure exchanges. For instance, references to the SHA and its members can currently be found on the TVRM website and at Grand Junction Depot. SHA membership also allows TVRM management to attend meetings that focus on best practices in areas of specific interest to tourist attractions. For example, PGAV Destinations, a world-renowned attraction and exhibit design firm based in St. Louis, invited all SHA organizations to visit its headquarters in May in order to gain a first-hand look at the importance of master planning. Likewise, Biltmore Estates opened its doors to SHA members in September, allowing an up-close and personal look at its premier customer service and employee engagement programs. On the flip side, the SHA monitors member performance through periodic “secret shopper” calls and on-site visits. This means that the museum will be continuously challenged to offer the highest level of customer service, up-to-date facilities, and an outstanding overall experience for our guests. Results of these secret shopper visits are distributed to all members, which obviously yields accountability among the membership. Although it can be uncomfortable at times, TVRM will utilize these reports to reveal and quickly address any problem areas. TVRM has already seen substantial benefits from its first year of SHA membership, and the officers and staff look forward to many more years as a member. Growth comes with challenges, but TVRM is up to the challenge. We know that, as a result, we will be a better organization ready to give our passengers an experience they will never forget, and thus ensuring that we will be better able to preserve our region’s railroad history.