What do three caves, firefighters and travel bloggers have in common?

single-meta-cal November 10, 2016

An audible gasp came from some in the audience as a Huntsville firefighter went full-bore Cirque du Soleil, flipping upside down and releasing his hands from the rope from which he dangled 50 feet above the ground.

The firefighter hung above the gaping entrance of Three Caves, on the side of Monte Sano, as he trained alongside 10 of his colleagues for rope-rescue missions.

The audience was nine travel industry writers visiting Huntsville in advance of the TBEX (Travel Blog Exchange) North America 2017 conference next May 4-6 at the Von Braun Center.

The conference is expected to draw upwards of 1,000 attendees, with an international audience of 300 million followers. The exposure for Huntsville from the nine members of this delegation alone is staggering. They have a combined audience of 400,000 monthly visitors to their websites, more than 550,000 social media followers and 400,000 YouTube views.

Their two-day stay took them to many of the usual spots for visitors, and this early November afternoon found them going from antebellum homes to, well, anti-gravity exercises.

“This kind of thing, watching the physical skills is just cool,” said Chris Christensen, a blogger and podcaster from San Jose, Calif., who is known as The Amateur Traveler. “It’s different. And different is not bad.”

What they saw was partnership, two firemen holding the rope for another, and three pieces of the city’s puzzle working together to create a memory.

On the surface, it was an incongruous synergy among three Huntsville entities: the Land Trust of North Alabama, which owns the Three Caves site, the Huntsville-Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), which hosted the TBEX delegates, and the Huntsville Fire Department, which along with the Huntsville Cave Rescue Unit utilizes Three Caves for training sessions.

“It’s all about partnership,” said Cathie Mayne, marketing director for the Land Trust.

“Partnership,” the CVB’s Leslie Walker told the group, “is a word you’ll hear a lot in Huntsville.”

The Fire Department training exercises, already planned for the afternoon, were an extra bonus.

There are some 85 members – “motivated folks,” said HFD Chief Steve Britton – of the special operations team that would be involved in search-and-rescue missions. It is essential they remain sharp in terms of training and physical condition.

“It’s high-risk and low-frequency, so we have to keep their skills where they need to be. The Land Trust helps us do that by letting us use this property,” Britton said.

When TBEX 2017, the largest gathering for travel media professionals in the nation, takes place, a firefighters’ training exercise will not be part of the itinerary. The nine writers from across the country who were at Three Caves might not have witnessed something to share and recommend to their audience.

“It’s not like you can say if you come to Huntsville, you can see this,” Christensen said. “On the other hand, for social media updates, you have a video – and almost everybody was shooting video – that people will be interested in seeing.”

What they saw was partnership, two firemen holding the rope for another, and three pieces of the city’s puzzle working together to create a memory.

Mark McCarter is a contributor for City Blog