Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: July/August 2011
Elected Officials Who Champion Tourism/Meetings Industry
By: Michael Bennett
The travel, tourism and hospitality industry is one of the most dynamic industries in today’s global economy. It’s typically one of the top three sources of revenues for almost every country on the planet.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) the industry represents over nine percent of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employs 258 million people worldwide representing eight percent of the global workforce. According to the WTTC’s broadest measure, the impact of travel and tourism activity exceeds $5.7 trillion annually.

Here in the United States, according to the U.S. Travel Association, the industry generated $1.8 trillion in economic output in 2010 and directly generated $118 billion in tax revenues – not to mention the 14 million people the industry employs.

Yet many of our elected officials don’t understand the economics of what we do until a fiscal crisis hits forcing them to make some rather Draconian budgets cuts. So, we feel it’s important to highlight those leaders who understand tourism/meetings and its importance to the global economy.  We looked for leaders who support us with more than just eloquent words – although that does help at times, but we were more interested in deeds and action. What legislative agenda items do they support to advance our cause? Do they help with infrastructure issues such as building larger convention centers, airport expansion or tourist attractions that showcase African-American themes as part of their overall package? Do they help with workforce or vendor/supplier diversity?

Mayor Michael A. Nutter, Philadelphia, PA
Mayor Nutter runs one of America’s most dynamic tourism and meetings/conventions destinations. Without his support many of the initiatives that helped Philadelphia set an all-time record for booked hotel rooms in 2010 – over four million room nights, might not have been possible.

Like many of the elected leaders profiled below, Mayor Nutter served in key leadership positions within the tourism, hospitality and convention industry before assuming his current office.  From 2003 – 2007, Nutter served as chairman of the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority Board. In that position, the soon-to-be mayor crafted a groundbreaking labor-management agreement and helped to bring about the $786 million expansion of the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The Center was completed in March and had convention business booked into the newly expanded facility even before the doors opened.

Mayor Nutter is one of those leaders who “gets it,” – the importance of our industry to his city. “As Mayor of the fifth largest city in the country, the birthplace of our Nation, I am well aware of how important tourism is for this city’s economic vitality. Philadelphia has some of the best hospitality and tourism professionals in the industry, more than 56,000 working hard to attract leisure and business travelers, and in doing so, assist in the region’s economic recovery. I value their commitment to our city, and I will continue to work hard to support their efforts. This industry truly makes the City of Philadelphia a world-class travel destination.”

Mayor Nutter attends many of the events participating in panel discussion put on by various organizations or extending a welcoming hand to convention attendees. As reported in this magazine earlier this year, the mayor was on hand to welcome the National Association of Black Journalist (NABJ) back to the city where the organization was founded at a Philadelphia Multicultural Affairs Congress (MAC). The NABJ event is slated for August 3 -7, 2011.

Deval Patrick, Governor, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Governor Patrick along with Lt. Governor Tim Murray, through the Massachusetts Office of Tourism (MOTT) has made promoting Massachusetts as a premiere multicultural destination one of the state’s top priorities. MOTT has created a multicultural page to highlight multicultural events, fairs and festivals. It’s a site that encompasses all the Commonwealth has to offer across all race, ethnic, gender and sexual orientation lines with a heavy dose of African-American themed year-round offerings to enjoy.

Massachusetts is a state that gets in when it comes to promoting diversity. While actively advocating diversity has obvious societal benefits there are other rewards that make the Commonwealth a strong player in the tourism, hospitality and convention industry. “With $14.4 billion in economic impact, the travel and tourism industry creates jobs and brings long-term benefits to the Commonwealth,” says Governor Patrick. “Our administration is finding innovative ways to promote Massachusetts to visitors everywhere as a premiere destination rich in history, beautiful landscapes and wonderful cultural attractions.”

On the meetings and conventions front MOTT works with the State Office of Minority and Women Owned Business Assistance to secure vendors for the Governor’s Conference and other campaigns.  MOTT is an active participant in multicultural conferences that includes Blacks in Government (BIG) and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). Boston is the host city for the National Urban League 2011 Conference and the Black Doll Convention and the Boule’ Conference in 2014.

They embarked on targeted ad campaigns with multicultural publications such as Black Meetings and Tourism, The Bay State Banner – an African-American run Boston publication and Exhale – a health and lifestyle magazine for women.

Dr., the Honorable Rupert T. Griffith, Minister of Tourism, Trinidad and Tobago
Dr. Griffith was first elected to Parliament in 1991 and has served in many leadership capacities within government ever since, including Speaker of the House.Today, Dr. Griffith is Minister of Tourism for the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Among his many responsibilities as Minister is hotel development, tourism and providing the vision for the Republic’s continued growth in tourism and hospitality in recent years.

In a speech last June, Dr. Griffith highlighted part of that vision, “I stand here today...proud to be part of a new Government, which is committed to effecting change; and indeed to making tourism an important platform, through which we will create sustainable employment opportunities for all our people, create international relationships, and allow the world a taste of the finer things of Trinidad and Tobago.”

According to the speech the tourism industry contributes $TT14.2 billion (approximately $2.1 billion US) to Trinidad and Tobago’s total Gross Domestic Product and directly and indirectly provides 88,000 jobs. That’s a sizeable percentage of a country with a total population of just over 1.2 million. “I think we can all acknowledge that tourism in Trinidad and Tobago has not yet reached its true potential,” says Dr. Griffith. To reach that potential he advocates a public/private partnership that works together to promote this vital industry.

The Minister is studying new opportunities in the development of recreation, sport, health, leisure, business, festivals, cultural and eco-tourism niches for starters. Trinidad and Tobago is a nation on the move to having one of the most comprehensive tourism offerings in the Caribbean.

Dwight Evans, State Representative, Pennsylvania
State Representative Dwight Evans has played an integral role in Pennsylvania’s tourism, convention and hospitality industry for years. Evans was one of the driving forces behind the effort to fund the Pennsylvania Convention Center back in 1986. In 2004, Evans sponsored legislation reenacting the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority (PCCA) located in center city Philadelphia. This legislation passed both chambers of the General Assembly and reconstituted the board that included representation from someone in the hospitality industry.

Over the years, Evans has led efforts to provide job training for the hospitality industry in both the Philadelphia School District and the Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC).  Evans also led the charge to establish the (MAC) as an arm of the Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau. MAC is responsible for developing and implementing plans to attract African-American, Latino, Asian-American and Native American tourists and conventioneers to Philadelphia.

Evans currently serves as co-chair emeritus of MAC targeting financial support for Freedom Theater, Philadanco, the Kimmel Center, the Philadelphia Ballet Company, the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation and the African-American museum among others.

Dennis C. Moss, Miami-Dade County Board of Commissioners
Dennis C. Moss is one of the most powerful legislators in Miami-Dade government and a staunch advocate of the meetings, tourism and hospitality industry.  As previous chairman of the Miami-Dade County Board of Commissioners and his continued service to his district on the board, Moss has played an instrumental role in almost all legislation during his nearly two decades in office that affects the tourism and hospitality industry.

Moss, has built a reputation as one of the most admired and respected leaders and is known for making promises and keeping his word. In the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew it was Moss who led the comprehensive efforts to rebuild the region with legislation that became known as The Moss Plan.
Moss also served as commissioner of Miami-Dade County Tourism Development Council. This nine-member board that also includes Greater Miami CVB chief William Talbert, III, is the catalyst organization to promote tourism throughout the Miami-Dade County region.

Moss has chaired or served on numerous boards to include the Zoo Oversight Board and the Community Image Advisory Board, whose mission is to improve the maintenance and aesthetics of the major roadways and transportation facilities – a mission vital to the success of any top tourist market.

Moss has advocated on behalf of, or had direct involvement in many of the cultural sites and activities in the Miami-Dade region from the restoration of Virginia Key Beach – the “Colored Only” beach during the days of segregation, to gaining approval earlier this year to fund the infrastructure improvements necessary to host the Miami International Aerospace Show.

Harvey Johnson, Jr., Mayor, Jackson, MS

In 1997, Harvey Johnson, Jr., made history by becoming Jackson, MS first African-American mayor. He has been elected three times to serve as leader of Mississippi’s capital city, most recently in 2009 where he received 85 percent of the vote. Mayor Johnson was the key voice behind the construction of the Jackson Convention Complex, a $65 million state-of-the-art center completed in 2009. The complex has hosted an event nearly everyday since it opened. Among Mayor Johnson’s current initiatives to bolster the city as a convention destination is the development of a convention center hotel.

There are $2 billion worth of development projects either completed, underway or in the pipeline in downtown Jackson. The mayor believes Jackson, “is becoming a destination city due to the restoration of the downtown area.” Approximately 3.14 million travelers visited Jackson last year contributing $315 million to the local economy that employed over 20,000 people. Johnson serves on the U.S. Conference of Mayors Advisory Council and is a member of the National Conference of Democratic Mayors, the Mississippi Conference of Black Mayors and the Mississippi Municipal League.

Many of the leaders above took on the challenges of our industry long before they assumed their current positions. The ability to anticipate and see what’s needed before its actually necessary is a character trait they all posses and will serve us well as we move further into the 21st Century.