published Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

Hotel guru brings experience to Chattanooga tourism industry

Ed Dolliver, vice president of sales for the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, stands in the agency’s office on the 18th floor of the SunTrust building.
Ed Dolliver, vice president of sales for the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, stands in the agency’s office on the 18th floor of the SunTrust building.
Photo by Dan Henry.
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Ed Dolliver spent most of his life in hotels.

He served as vice president of sales and marketing for Hilton Hotels Corp., held the same title at InterContinental Hotels Group and ran his own hospitality consulting firm. As of July, he started focusing all of his 32 years of experience on bringing people to the Scenic City as the Convention and Visitors Bureau's vice president of sales.

"This is an office and operation that's doing very well," he said. "I have a challenge of taking the last year and making it better. Typically we can always be quicker and more productive."

Tourism is a more than an $800 million-a-year industry employing about 8,000 people in Chattanooga, and that industry is growing. Between 2007 and 2010, the area's tourism take shot up $100 million and now hovers a mere $2 million annually behind the state's fourth-highest tourism county, Knox.

Dolliver's job is to keep that industry growing. As Chattanooga tourism's sales chief, his one focus is persuading groups to visit the Scenic City.

Dolliver is confident he's the man for the job. He became passionate about the industry after only a few weeks at his first job out of college. His hometown recently had opened the Niagara Falls convention center, and he couldn't find work related to his Cornell University biology degree. When he heard the convention center was hiring box office and event salespeople, he figured that type of job was better than nothing.

After working in hospitality, he changed his tune. Nothing was better than that type of job. He knew he wanted to start a career in the industry. Atlanta was going through a hotel boom, so he found a job and moved south.

"It was kind of like the gold rush," he said. "I just really liked hotels. It was a glamorous life."

That life became a long career, eventually catching the eye of Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau President Bob Doak.

Doak began searching for a vice president of sales in December 2011 when the former VP left for another city. For months, a search committee scoured the region and eventually the country, ultimately coming up with Dolliver.

"We purposely took our time with this search," Doak said. "Not till we met Ed was it a perfect match."

Doak cited Dolliver's experience and ability to build and maintain partnerships as the main reasons for the hire. Plus, Dolliver just seemed like a good fit in the organization.

"I believed he was somebody I could work with on a daily basis," Doak said.

For his first few weeks on the job, Dolliver threw himself into Chattanooga culture, learning the city and the best way to sell it.

But attracting tourists has been more difficult since 2008 when the recession forced many business, hobby, social and other groups to scale back on travel. That has forced Chattanooga to compete with bigger cities such as Atlanta, which once left medium-sized business to its smaller neighbors.

But Dolliver is convinced Chattanooga can compete.

"You've got to work harder. You've got to understand your city," he said. "There's wonderful people here, helpful people, and that makes a difference."

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