Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick

Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts oversees a state whose economy receives $14.2 billion in direct travel expenditures from the economic engine that is travel and tourism. Those expenditures generate over $887 million in tax revenues and supports nearly 126,000 jobs statewide.

Governor Patrick plays an integral role not only as the face of Massachusetts, but he aggressively steps out and promotes his state through a multi-faceted approach that involves advertising, marketing, numerous public appearances and of course money. In the year since he has taken office, Governor Patrick has increased the tourism budget by 16 percent and allotted a significant amount of funding to regional tourism councils statewide to promote tourism.

Betsy Wall, executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism (MOTT) applauds the governor’s efforts to increase that state’s appeal for meetings and conventions as well. “Governor Patrick has directed us to broaden our reach to meetings and conventions of all sizes. We have state of the art convention centers in Boston, Springfield and Worchester as well as excellent meeting facilities and hotels throughout the state,” Wells says.

The governor and MOTT’s emphasis on meetings and conventions business has paid off handsomely in recent years. According to Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, the Boston Convention and Exhibit Center (BCEC) and Hynes Auditorium generated $526 million in economic impact in 2006. That marks a 60 percent increase from the previous year. That rapid growth has the BCEC exploring plans to increase the size of the 516,000-sq. ft. convention center by another 200,000 to 300,000 sq. ft.

Massachusetts has a rich African-American history. MOTT promotes that history through their Multicultural Program. The program has a dedicated staff that actively participates in the African American Travel Conference and the Multicultural Tourism Marketing Forum. MOTT is currently looking into hosting the 2010 African American Travel and Tourism Conference.

Los Angeles Councilman Bernard Parks

Los Angeles County has the seventeenth largest economy in the world. Much of that economy is generated by the city of Los Angeles. It is the only city to have hosted the Olympics twice. And of course it’s the home of the entertainment industry. Based on local employment, the tourism industry is the second largest employer in the greater Los Angeles County area. Over 25 million visitors descended upon Los Angeles County in 2006 with visitor-related spending total over $13 billion. Los Angeles is the fourth largest hotel market in the United States with over 92,000 rooms.

Los Angeles city Councilman Bernard Parks has been involved in city government at some level for four decades, first as a police officer, then as Chief of Police before ascending to the steps of city hall. He has seen just about everything when it comes to the city he calls home and has worked hard to bring tourism to Los Angeles.

Back in 2004, Parks along with AmericanTours International hosted the first-ever “Soul of L.A.” gospel service and south L.A. tour event for 200 of the largest tour operators from countries all over the world. The event was designed in part to promote tourism in South Los Angeles. Parks personally met with all the tour operators from such diverse destinations as Germany, Austria, Australia, Switzerland, France, and Japan to discuss community improvements and other major developments in his district.

Many of the city’s top attractions are located within Parks’ Eighth District including the Los Angeles Coliseum, several museums and the campus of the University of Southern California. An often-overlooked area in Parks’ district is Leimert Park. It’s the heart of African-American culture in Los Angeles with art, jazz and blues venues and places for poetry readings. It’s an area Parks works vigorously to promote.

Councilman Parks, through his chairmanship of the Budget and Finance Committee, votes on numerous issues that affect tourism, meetings and conventions and the infrastructure necessary to support the millions of visitors to Los Angeles each year.

Mississippi Senator John Horhn

Mississippi State Senator John Horhn has served in some legislative capacity since 1993. During that time he has become a staunch supporter of legislation that strengthens Mississippi as a tourist destination. In 2006, Governor Haley Barbour established a commission to establish a National Civil Rights Museum and appointed Horhn as a member.

Horhn introduced the legislation that authorized the development of the state-of-the-art Mississippi Telecommunications Conference and Training Center in Jackson. The local convention and visitors bureau was ecstatic at having another venue to attract tourists and host meetings and conventions.

Horhn chaired forums on “Increasing Minority Business Participation In Gaming Industry Contracting Opportunities.” The discussion was centered on procurement opportunities and how many of the casinos approached minority procurement opportunities.

Over 75,000 Mississippi residents were employed in some portion of the tourism industry in 2006, making it the sixth largest employer in the state according to the “Fiscal Year 2006 Economic Impact For Tourism In Mississippi” report. Tourism was a $3.2 billion industry in Mississippi in 2006 and over 20 million visitors had at least one overnight stay.

As many of you know Hurricane Katrina damaged much of Mississippi’s tourism infrastructure, especially along the Gulf Coast. Horhn played and instrumental role in helping the state and the casino’s along the coast get up and running once again.

New Orleans Council Member Cynthia Willard-Lewis

Next door in Louisiana, New Orleans is in the midst of a major redevelopment effort as the city continues its recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Who can forget the horrible destructive force of wind and water that would have destroyed the spirit of a lesser community? Well New Orleans is coming back strong according to New Orleans City Council Member Cynthia Willard-Lewis.

“I believe a lot has been done to rebuild the confidence of tourists and convention goers over the last two years…we hosted the Bayou Classic, the New Orleans Bowl, the Sugar Bowl and the BCS Bowl,” says Willard-Lewis. “Nationally and Internationally people are beginning to see that New Orleans is back and open for business.” At press time Mardi Gras was well underway soon to be followed by the NBA All-Star Game.

Tourism is New Orleans second ranked industry behind oil/gas/petrochemicals. Prior to Katrina, tourist spending in New Orleans was over $4 billion. In 2007, New Orleans welcomed six million visitors up from the three million in 2006. Prior to Katrina the city attracted almost eight million so the city is almost back to normal. And meetings and conventions made up over 13 percent of the total visitors to the city.

But Katrina has had a strange, surreal sort of impact on tourism in New Orleans’ recovery. “I represent District E, which includes the Lower Ninth Ward, Desire and most of New Orleans East. In post Katrina New Orleans, the entire city has become a spectacle for visitors to see where the levees broke. Although much has been repaired in the last three years, tourist still just want to come and experience our recovery first hand, that kind of impact is important,” says Willard-Lewis.

Willard-Lewis believes everyone has to have a seat at the table to assist in the recovery of New Orleans. She says, “we all have to work together to make tourism work for all of us.”

Illinois State Representative Kenneth Dunkin

Illinois State Representative Kenneth Dunkin has been involved in our industry for years — long before his arrival in state government and is arguably one of the more powerful voices in the Illinois state legislature. Dunkin, who now serves as chairperson of the Illinois House Committee on Tourism and Conventions, has presided over a committee at a time when the state has experienced an unprecedented surge in the tourism and conventions business. Some of this growth can be attributed to good timing, but much of the state’s success is good policy led by Dunkin and his committee.

According to a report released by the Illinois governor’s office last year, 2006 broke all kinds of records. Ninety-one million visitors made there way to Illinois, generating over $27 billion in economic impact for the state. Over the past six years tourism has pumped $6 billion more into the state’s economy.

Dunkin is well aware of the impact tourism has on the city he represents, Chicago’s 5th District and the state he serves. In a statement released by the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, Dunkin said, “over the last several years, tourism in Chicago and across the state has been growing at such an incredible pace, which means more money and jobs for our economy.”

Dunkin’s approach is hands-on. A few years ago he sponsored a wine summit to bring local vineyards and restaurants together. Part of his mission was to spur tourism to those local wineries.

Dunkin and his committee are also responsible for the Film Production Tax Credit that assists filmmakers in movie production throughout the state. While this may not seem like something that would spur tourism, as a film and television producer myself, the positive publicity a movie has on a destination can have repercussions that last years, not only for local jobs, but tourism as well.

Dunkin has worked overtime to bring much-needed dollars into Chicago to promote cultural events and support the general tourism infrastructure for the city. He is working tirelessly on several initiatives — one idea is a plan that might lead to having a hotel built in his district.

While I tried numerous times to speak to the elected-officials mentioned above and several others I wanted to include in this story, several are involved in hotly contested battles to keep their jobs. As a result I did not have direct contact with some and spent hours researching their records and talking to legislative assistants and press aides. While I believe most of these officials will be in office when 2009 rolls around, there is a chance that one or two might not. There are many good choices for public office who support our industry. Make their support of our industry part of your overall analysis when you head to the polls.