Shannon Overby was thinking about pursuing a master’s degree at Texas A&M University when she happened to notice a job posting in The Eagle. It was as if she had written a description of her own dream job. Shannon applied for, and was offered, the job at the Bryan/College Station Convention and Visitors Bureau—an event that forever changed the trajectory of her career. She worked in a variety of jobs at the Bryan/College Station CVB for 23 years. About a year ago, Shannon brought her passion and experience to Visit Conroe, the convention and visitors bureau of the Conroe area.
Shannon, who will soon celebrate her 23rd anniversary to husband Don Overby, has two grown sons, Zach and Wesley, and a daughter-in-law, Erica. When she is not busy with her job or family, Shannon travels. She almost always has her next trip planned, and she doesn’t bother to put her suitcase away between trips. We recently met with an enthusiastic Shannon, who made us want to grab our bags and explore the Conroe area and beyond.
What made you interested in the tourism industry?
I went to Southwest Texas State University [now Texas State University]my first year. Then I transferred to A&M as an accounting major. I got kicked out of the business school my first year at A&M. I had a little bit too much fun. My adviser sat me down. He was an awesome man. He said, “When God shuts a door, he cracks open a window. Let’s find your window and see if you fit. Try Recreation and Parks [which soon became Recreation, Parks, and Tourism Sciences]for one semester. If you don’t like it, we will find something else.” I fell in love with it. I got my specialization in hotel resort management. That first semester, one of my finals was camping in the Big Thicket. We had to do night hikes. It wasn’t numbers! I couldn’t imagine sitting behind a desk and not interacting with people.
I got a job in the hotel industry. That’s what I thought I wanted to do. It was a Sheraton on the corner of Sixth Street and I-35 in Austin. I did their management training program, so I worked in a variety of positions. I worked there for one year. It was not for me at all. They don’t believe in weekends or holidays. It’s a 24/7 job, and I didn’t really like the confining nature of promoting those four walls. I left there and worked a year for a company called Media Net in Austin. I was dating Don at the time. He was divorced with a baby and couldn’t really leave the Bryan/College Station area because of Zach, so I thought, “I will go back to school and get my master’s.” I was there for Thanksgiving at his parents’ house. I looked in the paper and saw a job posting for a sales position with the Bryan/College Station Convention and Visitors Bureau. If I could have written my dream job, that was it. I got the job and started in February. I was there 23 years in a variety of positions. I started out in sales and ended as the executive director.
What brought you to Conroe?
When I left Bryan/College Station, I thought, “I am never going to do this again.” I was done with the government side of things and local politics. I didn’t want to worry about my budget year to year. I was ready to switch sides and become successful in the corporate world—still in tourism, but on the corporate side. I worked on the corporate side of things for a couple of months out of my home. Then Conroe called me in for an interview, and after I was offered the job, I came down for a visit with my husband. He is a musician, and we love craft beer. We fell in love with the live music and the breweries. It seemed like a fun job. As a college student, I spent a lot of time out on Lake Conroe. My friend’s parents had a house boat at Del Lago. Conroe is just on the verge of exploding, so it’s just kind of neat to be in on all of this stuff.
How do you promote Conroe to potential tourists?
Conroe is extremely diverse. It has a little bit of everything. We focus our marketing in four areas: the great outdoors; arts and culture—not just the theater, but live music and great festivals; our great restaurants, craft breweries, wineries and distillery; and Texas history, because the birthplace of the Texas flag is in the county. It was eye-opening for me. Everyone knows Lake Conroe, but it is actually 22,000 acres. We are now marketing our three—now four—craft breweries, two wineries, and a whiskey and rum distillery. There is a historic downtown. You can find live music somewhere every night of the week. The Lone Star Hiking Trail is one of the longest, continually marked trails in North America. There is a lot going on.
What is a typical day like for you?
There is no such thing, and that’s one thing I like about it, because each day is so different. We might put tablecloths on tables and then host a fun banquet. We could be out at one of the area hotels serving as registrars for a convention, checking people in. The Conroe Cajun Catfish Festival is coming up, and we will be promoting Conroe there. And now, we are now the royal destination partner for the Texas Renaissance Festival. There is something different every day.
How does tourism impact the community?
CVBs throughout Texas—the laws are different in other states—are funded by hotel tax dollars. It’s mandated how it must be spent. It has to be spent to bring more visitors—on things like marketing, events, historical preservation, way-finding signs, and arts and culture. The visitors are paying my salary. We are a department of the city, but we don’t get any general funding. Hotel occupancy tax is 13 percent in Conroe. Of that 13 percent, 6 percent goes to the state; 7 percent goes to the municipality.
I feel like CVBs in general make an impact on the community. While looking from the outside in, it looks like we are all about fun—throwing a party or a festival—but the money spent by visitors lowers property taxes for residents. Visitors don’t only spend money on their hotel room. They also eat in restaurants and buy gas, and all those things generate sales tax, which goes for road improvement, beautification of the city, and paying police officers. Those things are typically paid for by property taxes and sales tax. There is also a trickle-down effect on the community. If visitors eat at a local restaurant, they are paying the restaurant’s staff. Tourism is economic development.
What are your goals for the future?
I want to create new events, whether it’s on the lake or downtown or wherever. There is a new master plan for the next step of development for downtown. I want to see a lot of that happen. There are some exciting things going on there. I want to be a lifelong learner and want to continue to advance myself and my team so that we can do new things for our community. Professional development is something I feel fairly strongly about for myself and for my staff. I feel very strongly about tourism as an industry. I advance the industry and help the next generation coming up as much as I can. I’m still very good friends with the department head, former department head, and a lot of the professors at A&M. I am often invited to speak to classes, and in the past, I have served on department committees.
What is your philosophy for success?
I think if you are not evolving, changing and learning new trends, then you are never going to go very far. If we are not always re-inventing ourselves as an industry and evolving with the times, we are not going to be successful. I know a lot of people in the industry who just do the status quo, and that’s just not my style. I think you educate yourself about everything in tourism and keep going. I also feel strongly that tourism is a true industry. I think a lot of people don’t know tourism is an opportunity for a career path. You don’t have to be a college graduate to get into the tourism industry. It’s an amazing opportunity for a lot of people. You can get in on the ground floor and move up very quickly if you are willing to move around, and it makes a difference in a community. You can start out working a front desk in a hotel. You can move up fairly quickly and make a lifelong career out of tourism. But if you are not happy doing what you are doing, find something else. Find something you like, so it doesn’t feel like work.
What do you do for fun?
I love to travel! I love everywhere I have traveled for different reasons, and maybe that’s why I like my job so much. I want people to come here and fall in love with Conroe for whatever reason. I took my son to Italy for his 16th birthday. I loved seeing it through his eyes. I fell in love with Normandy, France because of the history. It was on my bucket list to go to Israel to walk where Jesus walked. A person in our group said, “You read it in black and white in the Bible, but being here puts it in color.” My next trip is to Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. If I don’t have a trip planned, I feel incomplete. I always have to have something to look forward to. My suitcase never goes in the closet. I just love traveling and experiencing things.