Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: July/August 2011
The Perfect Person For The Job
By: Michael Bennett

Philadelphia native Jack Ferguson became president and CEO of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau (PCVB) in January 2011. His hard earned and well-deserved path to the top is as rewarding as any we’ve witnessed in our industry and a true labor of love for this 41-year hospitality industry veteran.

It’s not often one gets to rise to a level of prominence in their hometown with the credentials to support such lofty expectations, but Ferguson is truly the right person to lead the PCVB and build on its already stellar reputation. Prior to his appointment as head of the PCVB, Ferguson served eight years as executive vice president of the PCVB where he supervised a staff of 30 in the convention sales and services division. He also played an instrumental role in partnerships with Select Greater Philadelphia and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce to connect meetings and conventions with local businesses.

He serves on numerous boards both in Philadelphia and nationally including the African American Museum in Philadelphia, Temple University’s School of Tourism & Hospitality Management and the U.S. Travel Association to name a few. Ferguson is known for his energized can-do leadership style and is unquestionably one of the best advocates for a city we’ve ever seen.

Ferguson was kind enough to take a few moments to address some key initiatives he is involved in, issues facing our industry today and how the changing economic climate affects his beloved city of Philadelphia, but first we wanted to know how he was adapting to being in the hot seat of leadership. “The transition has been an exciting natural progression in my career. My goals while serving in this position include providing exceptional service to the various conventions and convention groups, increasing communication standards to clients through technology and marketing, and to lead the PCVB in the development of a three year strategic plan.”

“I would also like my tenure to include an increased focus on education through our work with The Philadelphia Academies Inc. (PAI), and the creation of Philadelphia’s Hospitality University. By collaborating with local leading hospitality organizations, I want to develop a hospitality pipeline that will enhance service levels of front line staff in the industry and to attract and encourage diverse students to realize the many opportunities in Philly’s hospitality industry.” The PAI it is a career-minded education program launched in the public schools with a core mission to expand life and economic options for their students and prepare young people for employment and post secondary education.

Under the leadership Lisa Nutter, wife of Mayor Michael Nutter, PAI serves as an intermediary, bringing the financial and human resources of the business community into Philadelphia public schools providing work and life readiness skills, making connections to internships experiences, and offering scholarships that provide a path toward a productive life. One of the core industries supported by PAI is the Hotel, Restaurant, Travel and Tourism Academy. Ferguson is especially proud of his service on the PAI board.

“The hospitality community is the third largest industry in Philadelphia and it is thriving here, with more than 100,000 people in the region depending on it…it has helped increase economic options available to public school students…Based on Philadelphia’s diverse population, the major benefactors of these programs are our multicultural communities, the largest of which is African-American.”

“By working with organizations like The PAI., and Philadelphia Opportunities Industrialization Center, we can all make a huge difference and create a hospitality and tourism pipeline for developing young people for Philadelphia’s hospitality and tourism industry as a smart city.” It’s no secret we’ve experienced some tough economic times over the past few years. In fact, we tire of reporting the negative at times, but there are lessons to be learned from what will probably go down as the worst economic downturn of our lifetimes. So we asked Ferguson how his city weathered the storm and what he sees ahead.

“Definitely the worst is behind us and the meeting and tourism industry is on an increase in all markets. At the PCVB we believe its no longer business as usual. What was the norm pre-recession will not be the norm going forward and we hear that daily from all planners despite the group size. We have shifted from a manufacturing economy to a service economy.”

“Having said that, we also understand the planner has more choices due to increased inventory and as a result, our meeting package must also show its value. We show value through our hospitality community, a newly expanded convention center with over a million sq. ft. of saleable meeting space and brand new multicultural sites.” What makes Philadelphia visitor friendly and cost effective for travelers during these tough economic times? According to Ferguson, “Philadelphia is one of the most walkable cities in the nation and sits within a day’s drive of 40 percent of the U.S. population. Philadelphia is easily accessible by car, train or plane, which can help drive down travel costs for attendees and meeting planners.”

“The visitor-friendly products that Philadelphia boasts are our cherished musical — legacy, making Philadelphia one of America’s most beloved entertainment destinations; the pride in our heritage embedded in our restaurants, nightlife and spirit; and of course, as the birthplace of the United States and wealth of rich history visible through free attractions like The President’s House, our new permanent outdoor commemoration site to George Washington’s nine enslaved Africans, that sits steps away from the Liberty Bell.” Philadelphia is one of the most racially and ethnically diverse cities in the world. We wanted to know, in terms of the workforce, what are some of Ferguson’s key objectives to harnessing that diversity and having it become that proud beacon for all to see and prosper?

“Philadelphia is a city with great diversity — a true melting pot of cultures. I believe you can embrace and empower the strength of diversity through education. To that end, one of Philadelphia’s new initiatives for the upcoming year is the Hospitality University, which is a service training certification and continuous education program designed to redefine, reenergize and develop customer service skills for those in the hospitality field.”

Ferguson says “because we do have such a diverse population, the development of programs like these will enable African-Americans, and others who are employed in the industry to have a skilled, strong and visible presence on the front lines of greeting and servicing our visitors.” Philadelphia has created a separate Congress to focus on a specific segments of our industry and the one we’ve reported on multiple times in this magazine is their Multicultural Affairs Congress (MAC) under the leadership of Executive Director Tanya Hall.

Now in its 24th year, MAC’s primary mission is to increase Philadelphia’s share of the multicultural meetings and tourism markets across all racial, ethnic and gender groups. The PCVB was one of the first organizations to embrace diversity on this level and their track record of success is unmatched in our industry. As one might expect, MAC puts on numerous events throughout the year to promote multiculturalism and celebrate diversity. One such event now entering its fifth year is the Global Fusion Festival (GFF) held in mid July. We asked Ferguson how the PCVB incorporates GFF in its overall campaign to market the city.

“GFF is a valuable economic asset and one that we are incredibly proud of. At a time when domestic tourism is so important, GFF has been recognized as a magnet for potential tourism dollars. GFF has huge potential tourism impact for the city as families, reunions, couples, girlfriend getaways, and motorcoach travel groups are encouraged to stay overnight, directly supporting our local hotels and restaurants.”

“As a direct result of marketing efforts it attracted more than 25,000 attendees last year, highlighting the demand for multicultural entertainment and underscoring the opportunities that exist for Philadelphia to continue leading the charge as a premier destination for multicultural visitors.”  The American Bus Association has selected GFF as one of the Top 100 Events in North America for 2010. The Top 100 Events list is a compilation of the most preeminent U.S and Canadian events.  The GFF theme for 2011, CARNIVAL perfectly describes the Caribbean, Hispanic, African, African-American, and Asian cultural performers that visitors and residents will experience on stage and at the many fine eateries around town.

We’ve addressed education at the K-12 level, but Philadelphia has some of the finest universities in the world, including the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania where Ferguson has furthered his own executive education. And of course virtually everyone in our industry knows of Temple University’s School of Tourism and Hospitality Management (STHM).  How is the PCVB working with college students to pursue careers in our tourism and hospitality?

“Our internship program at PCVB has been very successful in engaging college students and exposing them to different aspects of the hospitality industry by providing practical work experience for students interested in the field, which we believe very strongly in.”  For more than 20 years, MAC and the PCVB have worked to heighten the value of multiculturalism in the hospitality and tourism industry. “Temple University’s STHM has proven to be an indispensable partner in our success to serve our stakeholders,” says Ferguson.

MAC was the proud sponsor of Temple University’s School of Tourism & Hospitality Management's 4th Annual “Forum for the Future of Tourism.” This forum provided professionals within tourism and hospitality-related fields, the opportunity to interact and discuss how the increase in multiculturalism will affect the future of tourism. Through the forum, Temple plans to continue the discussion to implement a multicultural tourism course within their hospitality programs, making them a leader among other academic institutions.

Additionally, the PCVB and MAC spend a sizeable amount of time paving the way for the future hospitality and tourism workforce. It has made a tremendous impact in the area of workforce development. MAC’s annual “Hospitality Education Day,” educates hundreds of high school and collegiate students about the countless career opportunities that exist in the hospitality, travel and food services industries.  Also the MAC recently established partnerships unique to any Convention and Visitors Bureau. The tourism agency has teamed up with Temple University’s STHM and the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality to increase outreach efforts from industry professionals to aspiring multicultural students. And finally, the MAC sponsors an annual “Be There or Be Square Luncheon,” which provides funds for local college students to attend the annual National Society of Minorities in Hospitality convention.

With so many exciting opportunities ahead, who better to lead the PCVB than someone who has intimate knowledge, drive, determination and affection for the city he calls home — Jack Ferguson is the best person for the job.