We announced in the Tourism Talk blog on June 21 that there are several significant staff changes underway in the Destination Services Department here at the Bureau. As of July 31, 2021, Julie Brakenbury, CGSP®, director of services since 2007, is taking her much-deserved retirement, while Tammy Jeffries, CGSP®,  steps into the director role.

If you know Julie, you will understand why she's a respected and valued member of the GRCVB team and why her retirement is bittersweet for us. We couldn't let her get away without asking her to reflect on her career and the years she has spent at GRCVB.

Tell us about your professional background.
I started on the hotel side of the hospitality industry. My first job was as a hotel sales coordinator for a Radisson hotel. I had a really generous director of sales (DOS) there who pretty much trained me as a sales manager. After about six months I was promoted to group sales manager and about six months after that went to a larger hotel.

It was at that hotel that I learned about CVBs (now DMOs, destination marketing organizations). My intro into the CVB world was through opportunities to represent that hotel in sales missions with the Augusta (Ga.) Metro CVB. I was so impressed with how the CVB supported our hotel and the role it played in getting business to come to the area. I kept thinking that I’d love to do that.

It took me three tries (never give up!) before I was hired, then I was hired into the DOS role for the Augusta CVB. That’s where I fell in love with the CVB world. I thought I’d never leave that role, but I was then recruited to the Triangle region for the DOS role at the Durham CVB. After four years there I took a brief break going back to the hotel world but was then hired to be the director of services for GRCVB. I’ve been here since Dec. 2007.

Julie Brakenbury and the FonzHow would you describe your personal brand? 
Passionate, hardworking, serious yet fun. I’d like to think it’s a good blend of passion for hospitality, events and the role that event servicing has in a destination’s success. I have a great passion for customer service excellence, arts advocacy, partnerships and accessibility. I can be pretty serious about my work, but at the same time, it’s the hard work that makes me the happiest.

What has been your favorite part of your job?
The people. I love people (most of them anyway!). Our staff is amazing and what they accomplish rivals the work of larger CVBs with bigger budgets. They’ve been the best and most supportive colleagues for me.

We have great partners in Wake County who make all the event and visitor “magic” happen. They make the events a reality.

I’ve had wonderful clients while in this role who have taught me so much about event planning as we worked together. And I have colleagues all over the country who do what I do in their destinations and have been as close as a phone call, Zoom or email away when I needed advice. I have been blessed to have such wonderful people in my life, and it’s going to be hard to not have those people in my life every day.

What has been the most challenging part of your job?
Two things come to mind...

One was learning that I cannot control what happens when an event is in Raleigh; “stuff” happens. But I can be the event glue in the planning process and use the Bureau's power of influence and resources to help position the events to be successful. As a destination event services person, you have to learn how to work all that, and it takes a while to learn how to best accomplish it.

The other challenge was/is COVID. Watching our partners—hotels, restaurants and attractions—deal with the impacts of COVID was incredibly painful to me. While in the hospitality industry I’ve seen the impacts of SARS, economy crashes, MERS, 9/11 and now COVID. COVID took us all off-guard and tested our resilience in ways I never dreamed could happen.

What advice do you have for young professionals who would like to get into the tourism industry?
Get the most training and education you can get, then jump in somewhere. It may not be the perfect job, but getting an entry-level job is a huge step because you need experience to progress. Our industry is one of the very few that you can be in and start at an entry-level position, gain experience and then someday find yourself in a management role. It takes hard work and it doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen. I am a testament to that.

Tell us about your commitment to accessibility.
I believe that we’re not doing our job in tourism if we don’t work to make our destination accessible to all. I know DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) is a huge issue right now, and I’m glad that we’re (finally) seeing that DEI is also about physical accessibility.

My commitment to accessibility came about in two ways. One is that I have direct family experience—a brother-in-law who is blind and my mom who eventually lost her mobility (and life) due to Alzheimer's disease. All it takes is a time or two of taking a family member with a physical disability to an event or traveling with them to realize that it’s not easy for them to participate and have the same experience that those of us without disabilities have. They can miss out on so much, and those of us without disabilities really don’t have a clue how hard it is for them. We will never have a world without disability, but we can have a world that makes life, work and experiences better for all, including those with disabilities. The only way to do that is by creating awareness for what it’s like for our visitors and attendees who have disabilities and working to help our partners become more accessible.   Julie Brakenbury and Al RokerWhat will you miss the most?
The people! And also the sense of excitement when preparing for an event and the satisfaction that comes when an event goes really, really well.

What will be your favorite memory of your time at GRCVB?
Wow, there truly have been so many wonderful memories. Some of the best ones would be World of Bluegrass week in Raleigh (every year, best event ever), traveling to so many great places as part of my work and this year representing the event services profession (and GRCVB) as president of ESPA (Event Service Professionals Association).

What are your plans for retirement?
Everyone asks me that question, and for the most part, I’ve been so busy that I’ve not yet developed a concrete plan. 

I do know I will sleep in some and allow my mind to decompress! After that I want to pursue the things I’ve not had as much time to do before now—travel with my husband, pick up my grandkids from school and attend their school events and programs, and I’d love to take some classes and do some volunteering.  

My husband has been retired for a while now, and he says retirement should be about the things that you’ve wanted to do and not yet done. I like the “yet” part of his theory. I’ve been so fortunate to have had the career I’ve had. I will miss it. But I’m allowing my brain to start to focus on the “not yet done” thoughts and ideas for my future. 

If you would like to send Julie notes of congratulations or thanks, she can be reached at jbrakenbury@visitRaleigh.com.


Photo captions:
First group: Julie, her husband, Ken Brakenbury, and yes, that's Henry Winkler at SuperCon in Raleigh; with ESPA colleagues in Vancouver; speaking at an ESPA event; and with Esther Walker from Visit KC.

Second group:
Julie with GRCVB and other Raleigh teammates and NBC's Al Roker; at the GRCVB Annual Meeting; at the visitor services kiosk at Raleigh Convention Center; and with her husband, Ken.