Wish You Were Here
Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: Novenber/December 2013
CVB Heads Annual Report
By: Gloria M. Herbert
Two thousand and thirteen has been an eventful year to say the least, with Washington partisan politics playing havoc on the national economy.  The travel/meetings industry was in no way immune from the fallout caused by the government shutdown, but in varying degrees, destinations across the nation held up well through the crisis.  As we do each year, we put several questions to some of the top CVB heads in the industry in an effort to share their knowledge with those seeking solutions to the daunting challenges faced by many destination reps and planners.  Below are the three questions, followed by their answers in their own words.
  1. Black Meetings & Tourism is celebrating their 20th Anniversary throughout 2014.  We have seen many changes take place in our industry during the last 20 years.  Looking back, from your perspective, what are the most significant changes in the travel/tourism/meetings industry that you have witnessed during this period?
  2. Looking forward, in your estimation how will the travel/tourism/meetings industry change and what will it look like in three or five years down the road?
  3. Did the government shutdown impact visitation to your city, and what steps have you taken in response to maintain the health and vibrancy of your visitor industry?

ELLIOTT FERGUSON, PRESIDENT & CEO, DESTINATION DC

By far it's been the dawning of the internet era. The internet has allowed visitors to research a destination, read reviews, see photos and really customize what kind of experience they would like to have. On our official website, Washington.org, we highlight a wide variety of interests and attractions so that the visitor doing research can put together a perfect itinerary and get a taste for everything DC has to offer.

The world continues to become more and more connected. In three to five years hopefully we will be welcoming more visitors, both from around the U.S. and the world. Visitors are wanting to get more engaged and to dive a bit deeper into what a destination offers. The need and desire to meet face-to-face will never go away but the meetings industry will likely continue to take advantage of technological advances to streamline the experience of the attendee.

The government shutdown definitely impacted visitation to Washington, DC. Unfortunately, many visitors felt that because the federal government was shut down, that meant everything in DC was closed, when in fact, there were still over 55 museums and attractions, 2000 restaurants, multiple shopping districts and bus, bike and walking tours still open and welcoming visitors. We had to battle false perceptions but we did so by putting together a playful video featuring many of our still-open attractions and proclaiming "DC is Open for Business". This was accompanied by a targeted media blitz and helpful information sheets distributed to visitors and hotels.

WANDA COLLIER WILSON, PRESIDENT/CEO, JACKSON CVB

The most significant change in the travel/tourism/meetings industry over the last 20 years is the vast number of African-American's employed in the industry. I remember attending functions, looking around the room, and seeing 3 or 4 people of color. It is quite refreshing to see that the industry has embraced African-Americans and that the large number in leadership roles is rapidly increasing. It is my opinion that the industry must enhance educational, training and mentorship programs for those interested in pursuing leadership roles. We can't allow the age old reason of not being qualified to halt the progress of hiring African-Americans as managers, directors and presidents when it is evident that we are performing the job before ever being offered the title.

In the next 3-5 years the 2nd and 3rd tier cities will compete stronger and secure more conventions/meetings due to delegates seeking new and more cost efficient fees. Planners are more discerning and know when their business is appreciated. The tourists will continue to be intrigued with sites off the beaten path that can deliver that one-of-a-kind unique experience. Consumers prefer dealing with people that they can relate to, which will prompt more corporations to hire and promote more African-Americans to capitalize on the billions of travel dollars spent by this market segment.

The government shutdown did not directly impact visitation to our city.

WILLIAM D. TALBERT, III, CDME, PRESIDENT/CEO, GREATER MIAMI CVB

Greater Miami and the Beaches has always benefited from geography, and its future in the global marketplace will be no different. Connectivity will be key. After a $6 billion expansion and modernization, Miami International Airport (MIA) is well positioned as the #2 port of entry into the US, with more than 50 passenger airlines providing 2,920 non-stop flights weekly from around the globe.

As a world-class destination, Miami continues to enjoy millions of dollars in investments for hotels, restaurants, clubs and tourism attractions, generating jobs for the community. This will fuel to soaring new heights what's already recognized as a top-tier luxury market. 

In Miami, perfect year-round weather is the backdrop to a cosmopolitan metropolis that celebrates its diverse population, and the GMCVB was an early pioneer in the cultural tourism movement. In the future, Heritage Tourism will fully evolve with more and more Heritage neighborhoods growing to become leading visitor attractions. With that added attention will come increased marketing dollars and sustainable growth and development.

At the same time, emerging markets throughout the world are competing for our visitor dollars. For us that means we maximize our resources and place a greater emphasis on partnership marketing - organizations such as the Black Hospitality Initiative of Greater Miami, Brand USA, US Travel Association and Visit Florida, that allow us to leverage opportunities and further our reach.

Perhaps the biggest change in the past 20 years - and those to come - is the advent of technology and how we do business. How a company seamlessly adapts to new technologies while embracing customer service will be key. For us in Miami, it's business as usual - high- tech AND high-touch.

ERNEST WOODEN, PRESIDENT/CEO,

LOS ANGELES TOURISM & CONVENTION BOARD

Travel, especially international travel, has become vastly more accessible to people across a broader part of the economic spectrum. That is true here in the United States, and among other industrialized nations. More recently, the same trend is occurring at an incredibly fast pace among "economic tigers" such as China, India and Brazil, which have rapidly growing middle classes with disposable income and a strong desire to travel internationally. In turn, their increased travel is boosting our tourism and hospitality industry here as well. Another significant and positive change has been the growth of the tourism and hospitality industry into such a huge part of our economy and job creation sector.

Regarding the meetings industry, the permeation of technology, internet and social media into every aspect of planning, execution, advertising and marketing is already under way and will only grow. The ability of convention centers, hotels, meeting planners, travel and tour companies, and destination marketing organizations such as ours to embrace and get ahead of this trend is crucial. This is how people are living their lives in the 21st century, and they rightfully expect their business or leisure travel to be a seamless extension of that.

According to Google Travel research, currently 48% of leisure travelers and 65% of business travelers have booked a flight, hotel, or cruise from their mobile device. 47% of travelers start trip planning on a smartphone and 15% start planning travel on a tablet. A large and incredibly fast-growing proportion of travel is researched, planned and even booked on a smartphone or mobile tablet. Travel marketing and advertising and all other players in the travel, tourism and hospitality industry must keep up with travelers' mobile web-connected habits. The most innovative players are already there. This is already being done by forward thinking hotels, which allow guests to order food and beverage or reserve transportation or other services on their phones or tablets.

The Los Angeles region's major tourist attractions, parks, museums, beaches and cultural sites were not affected by the federal government shutdown, which unfortunately hurt tourism in certain destinations. We knew that travelers coming to Los Angeles might be concerned about sites that they planned to visit being closed, so we put out advisories through our international offices and international websites notifying travelers that Los Angeles was open for business.

GEORGE AGUEL, PRESIDENT/CEO, VISIT ORLANDO

One of the most significant changes that has occurred during the course of my career is seeing how strongly the accountability for the value of investing in meetings has developed - it's so huge now, it's dramatic.  I think that so far we're on the right trajectory, as long as we keep promoting the value of face-to-face meetings. Over the years, we've also seen the way that technology has affected everything we're doing.

The challenge for the meetings industry is going to be the next generation, those who are just as content texting and face timing each other, even though they're in the next room. I'm encouraged by some signs that this generation is seeing value in gathering for a single purpose. I think the manner in which programs are formed going forward will require enough incremental content to keep the next generation of attendee motivated to participate. The good news is technology is embedded in the travel industry. In the future, the access to information to choose your destination will only be greater and we'll need to ensure that we leverage this to keep promoting the value and benefits of a taking time to get away, create those lasting memories and achieve all of their objectives associated with travel.

The compromise to fund the government through January 15 will bring relief for many, but we continue to urge a long-term solution from political leaders that keeps the government open and travel working for America.  Since the economic recovery began in 2010, travel has added jobs faster than the rest of the economy. Through our involvement with the U.S. Travel Association, we are advocating for long-term economic stability as the path to sustaining our industry's growth.

MONICA SMITH, PRESIDENT/CEO, MACON-BIBB COUNTY CVB

The use of technology and social media in the meetings and tourism industry and their impact on creating and sustaining business relationships and the marketing of destinations to tourists.

I believe that technological advancements will continue to shape how we market and sell our destinations. I'm also optimistic that smaller destinations will see growth in international travelers due to the efforts of Brand USA. I believe that the meeting industry tradeshow format may change again, to something new which we have not yet envisioned.

Our top destination attraction, Ocmulgee National Monument (known to Maconites as the Indian Mounds) is part of the National Park Service and therefore was closed.  We were able to use social media and our website, Visitmacon.org, to communicate with visitors that it was closed due to the shutdown while also recommending other attractions for them to visit.

JAMES H. SMITHER, PRESIDENT/CEO, GREATER BIRMINGHAM CVB

First let me say congratulations on 20 years of publishing Black Meetings & Tourism!

It could almost go without saying that technology advancements have been the catalyst for the most significant changes in the travel industry.  It was not so very long ago that we went to the airport to pick up our paper flight tickets, then called a toll free number for a paper travel brochure, and studied those huge foldout paper maps for directions when we arrived.  Online bookings, travel aps, GPS directions and other technology literally at our fingertips have put a whole new face on the way we plan meetings and take trips.

Those of us who have been in this industry for some time don't always like to project change and the look of it, but to improve is to change.  Travel and tourism already are looking more about "doing" than simply about "seeing."  Tourists increasingly want to be involved in hands-on learning and creating, whatever their areas of interest.  It is no longer enough to watch the potter at his wheel; they want their hands in the clay.  Meetings likely will continue to become more specialized within many associations, meaning fewer delegates but more conventions.  Technology in the meetings arena, of course, will come even more heavily into play.  Beyond five years is anyone's guess….

Birmingham's travel industry has not been affected by the government shutdown, largely because our parks and attractions are privately owned or funded by the state or city.

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