Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: February/March 2008
Elected Officials Who Champion Tourism
By: Michael Bennett

The competition to host conventions and attract tourist dollars is fierce, especially among the top destinations such as Las Vegas, Orlando, Washington DC, and Atlanta. And now these giants among us are being challenged by second-tier destinations in recent years as elected leaders have approved numerous measures to build infrastructure and local attractions that enables these markets to compete with the “big boys.”

But our elected leaders lend more to their destinations than approving bills and other measures to build infrastructure. There is very little that can replace the power and influence of a well-placed, well-respected politician. It’s more than a vote to increase the budget of the local convention and visitor’s bureau, or assist in the development of the new convention center or approve the latest tourist attraction. It’s speaking out publicly, using the bully pulpit when necessary, attending those news conferences, doing those sit-down interviews, attending trade shows — it’s the power of their words that can make all the difference. And in an election year, it’s important to know who has been out there supporting our industry.

As a resident of Las Vegas, I see first hand the time, effort and dedication Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman has taken out of his busy schedule to promote his beloved city. As a former Travel Channel employee I have been responsible for producing commercials and public service announcements featuring the mayor. Mayor Goodman attends functions and trade shows all over the world promoting Las Vegas. He is a marketing machine all onto himself. He has a great product to promote and does his best to make sure the rest of the world knows it too.

Mayor Goodman is the chairman of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA). Largely through the efforts of the mayor and the LVCVA, over 38 million visitors made their way to Las Vegas in 2006. Tourism’s economic impact that year was over $39 billion. Nearly 24,000 conventions were held in Las Vegas bringing in 6.4 million delegates. While Mayor Goodman has a great product to work with, he and the city understand the power of marketing and advertising and what it means to keep their city first and foremost in the minds of travelers both foreign and domestic. How about that great slogan “What Goes On In Vegas Stays In Vegas.” I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have heard Mayor Goodman utter those very words.

We all know of a political leader or two who has served our industry well. But as African-Americans, our elected officials — fairly or unfairly, are often called upon by us to do a little more. To assist us in leveling the playing field, to convince organizations to use African-American owned suppliers, vendors and contractors, to patronize Black-owned businesses when meetings and conventions or tourists come for a visit.

Here are some dynamic statistics I found through the Travel Industry Association of America that should focus all of us on what’s at stake and why having the support of a good elected official can make all the difference.

Did You Know: that Travel and Tourism is a $1.3 trillion industry in the United States? If one dollar bill equaled a second of time, then $1.3 trillion would equal over 41,000 years.

Did You Know: that Travel and Tourism generates $100 billion in tax revenues for local, state and federal governments? If you place 100 billion dollars end-to-end, they would circle the world 397 times.

Did You Know: that each U.S. household would pay $923 more in taxes without the tax revenue generated by the Travel and Tourism Industry?
Did You Know: that approximately 2.6 million hotel rooms are sold everyday in the United States? That’s enough rooms to lodge the entire population of San Francisco, Atlanta, Washington D.C., Miami and Denver combined.

Did You Know: that spending by resident and international travelers in the U.S. averaged $1.6 billion a day, $68 million an hour, $1.1 million a minute and $19,000 a second?

Good elected officials can assist our industry in continuing to grow these numbers to the benefit of us all. These leaders must be driven, passionate and understand the nuances that make our industry the dynamic business it is today with a vision towards the future. We’ve chosen some elected officials below who embody the values and virtues mentioned above. This list is by no means total and complete. Only space constraints prohibit us from showcasing others.

Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon

There is a true love affair going on in Baltimore between Mayor Sheila Dixon’s office and the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Authority (BACVA). Nancy Hinds, vice president of Public Affairs for the BACVA says the mayor is a “huge booster and very responsive” to the needs of the BACVA. Mayor Dixon’s enthusiasm was evident as she was the first public official to respond to our request for an interview.

Hinds’ applauds the mayor for her direct involvement in promoting all that is good about Baltimore — she calls on clients, attends press conferences to announce the booking of a convention in Baltimore such as her participation at the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives press gathering, and she speaks to groups once they arrive in Baltimore to continue the promote the city.

To her credit Mayor Dixon sees her role as “cheerleader for the city and shedding some light on what we have to offer.” One event Hinds’ points to highlighting the mayor’s enthusiasm and support occurred during Mayor Dixon’s reelection campaign last year.

The mayor boarded a 45-ft. customized bus used by the BACVA for a day trip to Washington D.C. “In the heat of the campaign she spent the entire day at a sales call in Washington D.C., Hinds says.” When I asked the mayor about the trip she said, “it was a good learning experience for her to see how the BACVA tries to sell to convention groups.” From our brief conversation I could tell the mayor truly enjoyed the experience.

When it comes to the participation of African-American vendors, suppliers and others involved in the tourism and meetings industry Mayor Dixon says, “Baltimore leads by example.” She cited the city’s outreach to minority and women run businesses and their partnership with the private sector. That private-sector partnership includes a grading system based on minority and women-owned businesses to insure all segments of the Baltimore business community reap the benefits of tourism and conventions.

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin

In 2001, the dawning of a new age occurred in southern politics when Shirley Franklin was elected mayor of Atlanta. She became the first female mayor in Atlanta history and the first African-American female mayor of a major southern city. During her tenure, Mayor Franklin has played an integral role in promoting and marketing the city she runs.

The mayor travels with the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau (ACVB) to bid and secure events, speaks at citywide conventions and writes welcoming letters to convention clients. Prior to becoming mayor, Franklin served on the ACVB board. Today, Mayor Franklin’s chief of staff serves on the ACVB board and keeps the mayor abreast of any developments that might need her attention.

Atlanta is undergoing a renaissance of sorts through the mayor’s New Century Economic Development Plan. The plan outlines Atlanta’s economic vision through 2009. A cornerstone of that plan involves the growth of an already successful hospitality, arts and culture, tourism and entertainment business.

In 2006, 38 million visitors descended upon Atlanta generating $11.4 billion in spending. The mayor’s aggressive plan looks to increase those numbers by identifying and implementing funding for “Brand Atlanta’s” marketing and promotion of the city’s destination appeal, and continually advertise Atlanta to increase visitor and convention groups share.

The mayor was directly involved in helping to secure the Martin Luther King, Jr., Paper of the City of Atlanta Exhibit that will be located in the new Center for Civil and Human Rights Museum. Mayor Franklin’s direct involvement in our industry is one of the main reasons why Atlanta continues to be a top destination for African-American travelers and meetings and conventions.