Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: May/June 2014
Who Will Be The Next Black CVB President/CEO
By: Gloria M. Herbert
This year we are taking another close look at convention & visitors bureaus across the nation in our continuing effort to document the rate of progress that African-Americans are making in the hospitality/travel industry.  The good news is that two industry veterans have been recently selected to head CVBs - Ronnie Burt will take over responsibilities as president/CEO of the Kansas City Convention & Visitor's Association in June, and Al Hutchinson assumes the top position at the Mobile Bay CVB in July.  Not only that, we discovered Patricia Washington, president & CEO of the Visit Alexandria, who had managed to slip under our radar when she filled that position a few years back.

When you consider that there are nearly 500 CVBs throughout the U.S., and we can only identify 11 African-Americans holding down the president/CEO post, obviously we still have a long way to go.  But progress is progress, and we are pleased to report that we clearly heading in the right direction.

As we have reiterated in the past, this recurring feature is our effort to head off the use of that tired old phrase "We'd love to consider an African-American for this position, but we can't find a qualified Black person to hire."  This cadre of eminently qualified, highly skilled and experienced hospitality industry professionals is ready, willing and able to take on the responsibilities of a convention and visitors bureau president/CEO should the opportunity present itself.

The list that follows is only the tip of the iceberg.  It does not even include former bureau heads like Leslie Doggett (Baltimore Area CVA), Ron Davis (Oakland CVB), or Brenda Scott, the industry's first African-American female to head a convention and visitors bureau in the nation (Mobile), all of whom have a proven track record and whose wealth of expertise would be an asset to any organization. Suffice it to say that there are many, many African-Americans and other people of color, who based on their qualifications, deserve to be considered for heading a CVB when an opening occurs.

New this year to our list are Michael Carter with Visit Tulsa, and Greg DeShields with Philadelphia MAC.  Several familiar faces are gone from the list, including Dvorah Evans, Nicole Johnson-Reece, Gary Simon, Ahmeenah Young and Yolanda Bullock Cooper.

LARRY ATCHISON serves as associate director of Sales, Services & Sports at the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau (ACVB). In his position, Atchison has the primary responsibility of working with organizations based in the Northeast and working with convention and sports sales initiatives within the bureau.

Atchison, a 30-year veteran of the hospitality and meeting industry, has been with ACVB for 20 years. After serving as ACVB's National Sales Manager for four years in Washington, D.C., he returned to Albuquerque in 2006. He also served as Interim Vice President of Convention Sales & Services for the Bureau in 2009 and Vice President in 2010.

CLEO BATTLE was appointed executive vice president of the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau in January 2013.  Battle's responsibilities include developing relationships with clients in Washington and Chicago, representing the Louisville Bureau at industry tradeshows and conferences and providing strategic leadership and oversight of the Bureau in all aspects of its fiscal and daily operation.

Battle has worked in the hospitality industry for 28 years.  Prior to coming to the Louisville Bureau, Battle spent the last 12 years as vice president of Sales & Services for the Richmond Convention & Visitors Bureau in Richmond, VA.  He also held the positions of director of Sales and sales manager at the Richmond CVB.  Battle began his hospitality career in the hotel industry working for Embassy Suites, Holiday Inn and Sheraton Hotels.

RONNIE BURT has recently been selected as the new president and chief executive officer of the Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association (KCCVA)  A seasoned sales and marketing executive with more than 23 years of hospitality and tourism industry experience, Burt currently serves as vice president of sales and services for Destination DC (DDC). 

As president and CEO, Burt will manage a staff of 40 and a budget of $10 million in efforts to attract visitors to the Kansas City region.

In his role at DDC, Burt oversees a team of 25 people that include leading strategic sales and service efforts, housing and business development for the nation's capital and its growing convention facilities, to include the new Washington Marriott Marquis. Burt's responsibilities included maximizing the use of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and the hotel inventory to create maximum economic impact to the District of Columbia and the surrounding region. 

Burt will begin his new role on June 11.

MICHAEL CARTER is the newly appointed vice president of Visit Tulsa.  He was born and raised in Tampa, Florida and after high school he graduated from Tuskegee University.  Michael has had a successful corporate career in sales with Coca-Cola and Gatorade.  He also was the Regional Director of Sales and Marketing for OmniCare Health before making his leap into the hospitality industry where he has had a prominent sales career with various hotel companies such as, The Ritz-Carlton and Starwood.  Michael has also worked for Visit Savannah, Loudoun Convention & Visitors Bureau and most recently the Puerto Rico Convention Bureau.  He is a Certified Tourism Ambassador. During his career he has been active in ASAE, PCMA, MPI and GSAE.  He is a member of the 100 Black Men of America and Volunteers with the USO. Michael is a foodie, he enjoys trying new restaurants, and a passion for cooking and grilling, traveling and sporting events.

JULIE COKER is senior vice president, Convention Division, for the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau (PCVB). Coker oversees a staff of 25 convention sales and services professionals who are responsible for selling the expanding Pennsylvania Convention Center and Philadelphia's hotel package to customers across the country.

Coker joined the PCVB after serving as general manager at Hyatt Regency Philadelphia at Penn's Landing. In her role, Coker oversaw all operational aspects of the 350-room hotel, which is the only hotel in the city located on Philadelphia's revitalized waterfront area.  Among her responsibilities were: directing all hotel and employee operations such as managing the assets and providing monthly profit and loss statements, maintaining legal compliance, assessing financial or product issues, and outlining sales and marketing strategies, while providing guidance, mentorship, and leadership to the employees and managers of the hotel.

A 20-year Hyatt veteran, Coker began her career there in 1989 as a corporate management trainee at Hyatt Regency Columbus and held various positions at the hotel until 1992.  She also held full-time positions, including assistant front office manager, front office manager, hotel assistant manager and assistant executive housekeeper at Hyatt Regency O'Hare.  In 1994, she was promoted to her first room executive position at Hyatt Deerfield (Chicago) and held the same position at Hyatt Regency Cincinnati before being appointed to join the opening team and lead the rooms division at Hyatt Regency McCormick Place in March 1998.  In 1998, she was promoted to General Manager at Hyatt on Printer's Row in downtown Chicago.  From there, she was promoted to general manager at The Lodge, a Hyatt property in Oak Brook, a suburb of Chicago.

GREG DESHIELDS serves as executive director of the Philadelphia Multicultural Affairs Congress - the first multicultural division of a Convention & Visitors Bureau in the nation. In his role as executive director, DeShields works to drive convention business to the City by promoting the multicultural fabric that helps make Philadelphia a global leader. DeShields is key in communicating this message, and further increasing the City's imprint in the multicultural meeting and convention marketplace.

MICHAEL D. GUNN, CMP, with more than 30 years of industry experience, is responsible for the operation of the convention sales staff in booking state, regional, national and international convention business for the Birmingham area.  He supervises a staff of 15 sales and administrative professionals.

In addition to his supervisory responsibilities, Gunn oversees a multimillion dollar budget for the convention sales department and compiles monthly, quarterly and annual sales and marketing business plans.  He also directs placement and media buys for the CVB's million dollar advertising budget.

Gunn is a member of the board of directors of the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners (NCBMP) and serves on the board of Certified Meeting Professionals.  He is a past member of the Destination Marketing Association's International Foundation Board.

The NCBMP named Gunn the "Supplier of the Year" in 2001.  He received his Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) designation in 2003, and in 2004 he was honored with the Venus de Milo Award from the Meeting Industry Ladies Organization, Ltd.  In 2007, Gunn received the Apex Award from Black Meetings & Tourism magazine.  The Alabama Tourism Department named him "Tourism Executive of the Year" in 2009, the most prestigious award in the state's tourism industry.

SARA B. HAMLIN has been in the tourism industry for more than 25 years.  She is currently vice president of Tourism for the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau.  Hamlin is responsible for promoting and booking motor coach business, reunions, international group business and implementation of the tourism department's marketing plan and budget for the greater Birmingham area.  She also supervises the operations of three Birmingham area visitor centers.

Hamlin serves on the Board of the American Bus Association.  She's also on the Board of Governors for the American Bus Association Foundation.    Hamlin serves on the Board of the National Association of Motorcoach Operators.  Additionally, she is on the Board of the Music Hall of Fame and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.  She is involved in the following organizations: Destination Marketing International, Student Youth Travel Association, Alabama Hospitality Association Board of Directors, and Ontario Motorcoach Association

AL HUTCHINSON has been appointed president/CEO of the Mobile Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau and will assume his post on July 1, 2014. 

With nearly 25 years of experience in the hospitality and destination marketing arena, Hutchinson most recently served as the vice president of Convention Sales & Services at the Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB).  For over 11 years, he led an experienced team of convention sales and service professionals and worked closely with community leaders, industry decision makers, elected officials and hotel, attraction and restaurant partners.  Prior to his time in Virginia Beach, Hutchinson also served in various leadership positions with the Greater Pittsburgh CVB, the Charlotte Convention Center, The Park Hotel in Charlotte, NC and the Richmond Metropolitan CVB.

Hutchinson's first responsibilities will be to assess the current organizational vision and strategies of the Mobile Bay CVB.  He will also meet with key hospitality and community leaders and become familiar with recent sales and marketing programs, current projects underway and future plans of action.

CHARLES JEFFERS, senior vice president of operations and executive director for East Point, sales and marketing of the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau (ACVB), is leading the partnership between ACVB and the City of East Point. Jeffers oversees the destination sales and marketing for East Point to boost hotel demand and visitation for the city.  An 18-year ACVB veteran, Jeffers previously served as vice president of membership and technology prior to his appointment as senior vice president.

Jeffers' previous positions with the Bureau included vice president of technology, director of technology, technical support administrator, manager, information systems, and manager, technology.  Prior to ACVB, Jeffers worked in research at Georgia State University and as a law researcher for the Supreme Court of Bermuda.

JAMES JESSIE is the senior vice president of Sales at the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau, where his responsibilities include overseeing the daily operations of the CVB's 20-person sales team and guiding the agency's sales efforts for the Phoenix Convention Center. A 19-year veteran of the hospitality industry, Jessie has also held positions with the Lane County Oregon CVA and the Portland Oregon Visitors Association. He began his tenure at the Greater Phoenix CVB as a sales manager in 1999. Jessie serves on the board of directors for the Phoenix Regional Sports Commission and the Greater Phoenix Black Chamber of Commerce. 

CONNIE W. KINNARD is the senior vice president of Multicultural Sales & Development for the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation.  Connie's career has evolved with the NCVC for 18 years where she heads the organizations increased efforts in marketing and securing large multicultural conventions.  Her responsibilities also include creating multicultural marketing programs involving special events, community development, product development, membership and general diversity marketing for the city.  She is a current board of trustee with the National Museum of African American Music and involved with many other professional, civic and service organizations.  She is a recipient of many awards and accolades to include the APEX Distinguished Service Award by Black Meetings and Tourism Magazine, the NELA (Nashville Emerging Leader Award) and the Jefferson Street United Merchants Partnership Community Service Award.


NOELLE C. LEVEAUX serves as the senior vice president and chief marketing officer (CMO) for the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau (Dallas CVB).   LeVeaux is responsible for planning and executing a complete Public Relations and Marketing program as well as developing and managing a new brand strategy for the bureau. She will report to Dallas CVB President /CEO Phillip Jones and serve as the liaison to the marketing committee, chaired by Bob Moore, former chief sales officer at Freeman Companies.

Prior to joining the Bureau staff, LeVeaux served as interim vice president and senior director of Public Affairs for Children's Medical Center in Dallas where she was responsible for advertising, media relations, brand and clinical marketing, marketing events, web marketing and emerging strategies.

STEPHANIE MAYS-BOYD is a member of the senior management team with SMG/Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority (PCCA), serving as vice president of Sales, Marketing and Convention Services. Boyd is the second vice chair of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau Board (PHLCVB) with over 20 years of experience within the hospitality industry.

Starting her career in 1`989 in her hometown of Macon, Georgia, she has also enjoyed a progressive career at the Pennsylvania Convention Center where she arrived in 1996 as an events coordinator.  Mays-Boyd successfully leads the sales and marketing efforts to promote the 2011 expansion of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, which resulted in 1 million sq. ft. of saleable space.  Through her influential voice and vision, Mays-Boyd is helping to steer the Center towards the best customer focused experience.

Mays-Boyd serves as a trustee for both the Destination and Travel Foundation and Peirce College.  She's also a Board member for the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners from which she received the esteemed Supplier of the Year Award in 2007.  She also serves on the Board of the Multicultural Affairs Congress, Philadanco (Philadelphia Dance Company) and is an Advisory Board Member of the United Negro College Fund (Philadelphia).

ROBIN A. MCCLAIN serves as vice president of Marketing and Communications for Destination DC.  A seasoned travel marketing professional, McClain led the marketing team for six months as the interim vice president of Marketing and Communications. In May 2011, McClain joined Destination DC as the director of Communications, after moving from Los Angeles where she worked for LA INC. The Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau (now LA Tourism) for several years as the senior director of Media Relations. 

In her role as director of Communications at Destination DC, McClain has been instrumental in gaining publicity about the changing landscape of Washington, DC as a leisure and convention destination, highlighting the $8.5 billion worth of development currently underway in the city and the $4.8 billion economic impact of tourism on the District. 

In her post McClain oversees the marketing and communications team, a staff of twelve.

MICHAEL D. MUNN was appointed chief of staff and director of Business Development for the Boston Convention Marketing Center (BCMC) in the spring of 2004 by the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority. Munnl is responsible for financial business management and developing programs in support of the BCMC and implementing diversity initiatives that focus on Boston's multicultural and multinational qualities.

During his 25-plus years in the Meetings and Conventions industry, he has held positions with the National Managed Health Care Congress; vice president of Sponsorship Programs, International Data Group (IDG); show director for ComNET DC and ComNET San Francisco and international sales director at MecklerMedia - producer of the Internet World Events.

In 2010, he was selected as a recipient of the Black Meetings & Tourism magazine's Tenth Annual APEX DISTINGUISHED SERVICE AWARD , presented to individuals who have made outstanding contributions in their particular field of endeavor that have positively impacted travel and tourism, and was recognized as a Tourism Executive of Distinction for 2013 from the African Diaspora World Tourism Awards.

LAURIE NELSON-CHOICE joined Visit Baltimore in May 2010 as director of Diversity and National Sales.  Her focus is on developing the multicultural convention market for the city of Baltimore, as well as working with select association and government organizations in the Washington, DC area.  Prior to Visit Baltimore, Nelson-Choice worked with VISIT Milwaukee for over 10 years as director of Eastern Regional Sales in Washington, DC.  Nelson-Choice has a BS in Communications from Ohio University and is a founding member of two industry organizations: Just Because - a networking group for meeting planners of color in the Washington, DC hospitality industry and the Network of Latino Meeting Professionals, a non-profit industry organization for Hispanic meeting planners.

WANDA PAUL, CPA is senior vice president of Finance and Administration for the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau.  Promoted to that position from Controller in 1988, Mrs. Paul's responsibilities include administration of the Bureau's $16 million budget; oversight of all financial operations and technological improvements. She also oversees administration for 64 full time employees and the coordination of all office purchasing, administrative and legal matters.

A graduate of Temple University with a B.A. in Business Administration/Accounting, Paul began her career as an auditor with Deloitte Haskins and Sells in 1979.  She served under the Goode Administration from 1983 to 1985 and joined her present employer in August of that year.

Paul also serves on various professional and civic boards in the Philadelphia area over the last 30 years and is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Philadelphia Business Journal's 2012 CFO Community Service Award.

MICHELE PONDEXTER joined the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau-Choose Chicago in September of 2012 as director of Diversity Sales.  A proud native of Chicago, Pondexter knows the city well and appreciates its rich culture and diversity.  Her mission is to ensure that groups have a great experience during their stay and that they leave Chicago truly understanding why she is so proud of Chicago and that they too will love the city so much that they return again and again.   

Pondexter's career path in the hospitality and tourism industry began a few years after college.  She has spent many years on the sales teams of several great hospitality organizations, all of them in Chicago.  Those companies included: The Ambassador West, Choice Hotels, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts and Intercontinental Hotels Group holding positions as sales manager, senior sales manager and director of sales.

AVA POPE serves as director of sales for the Greensboro Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. A long term veteran of the hospitality industry, Pope has held her current position at the bureau for over 20 years. Pope's duties/responsibilities include (but are not limited to): managing, assisting and training six sales managers and three sales assistants; implementing a strategic sales/marketing plan each fiscal year; creating and maintaining a complex budget annually; servicing key accounts; and participating in and attending various conferences, meetings and tradeshows.

CHERYL RICHARDS serves as senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer (CDIO) at the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau (DCVB). In this position, Richards' duties include creating and implementing a strategic plan to elevate the DCVB as a leader in diversity and inclusion at the local, national and international levels. She serves as the liaison to the newly formed Diversity & Inclusion Board committee, chaired by Deputy Mayor Pro-Tem Monica R. Alonzo, City of Dallas.

Richards, who has been with the bureau for 25 years most recently served as vice president of strategic alliances responsible for establishing the membership sales and service standard for the bureau, overseeing corporate partnerships, member-based publications and daily operations of the member services department.

PEGGY B. RILEY is director of Multicultural Sales for the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau in Louisville, Kentucky.  She joined the Louisville CVB in 1995 and during that time earned the designation of Kentucky Certified Tourism Professional (KCTP) and Certified Destination Management Executive (CDME).

Her responsibilities include generating leads and assisting with the solicitation of minority conventions, meetings, family reunions and group tourism. Some of the many major conventions and meetings that Riley has helped book in Louisville include, Church of God In Christ Women's International Conference/Crusade; The National Urban League Board of Trustee Retreat; The National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners; The African American Travel Conference; Travel Professionals of Color; NAACP Region III Civil Rights Training Institute; AME Zion Midwest Episcopal District Annual Conference; and Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship International.

JOHN ROLFE was born and raised in Wichita, Kansas.  Since March 2012, John has served as the Chief Operating Officer of the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau (GHCVB).  Before joining GHCVB, John was the CEO and President of Go Wichita Convention & Visitors Bureau.  He also has served as the Vice President of Economic Development for the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce and as Deputy Secretary of the Kansas Department of Commerce. During his eighteen years in the hospitality industry, he has served as Director of Finance and Administration at both the Wichita and San Jose (CA) Convention and Visitors Bureaus.

Rolfe is a graduate of Wichita State University, Wichita, KS, holding a bachelor's degree in business administration and has been involved with various boards and civic organizations. He currently serves as a Board of Director for the Texas Travel Industry Association and a former Board Member of Destination Marketing Association International.

ZITA STEGLICH-ROSS, CMP, director of Diversity Markets for Visit Orlando, has been with the organization since 1998 and has held key positions on the convention sales team including senior citywide account executive and director of convention sales.  Her commitment and passion to sales and marketing are seen in her numerous accolades throughout her 30 year career.  Steglich-Ross is a member of  industry organizations such as the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners, MPI and PCMA.

CALVIN TAYLOR is vice president of Government Relations for the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, where he works closely with state government, city officials and the local hospitality industry in Memphis in enhancing the development and growth of Memphis tourism.  In addition he serves as the bureau's director of the Memphis tourism education foundation, which administers the city's official hospitality tourism training program.

Taylor is co-founder of the Beale street development corporation, the organization that reintroduced the historic district as a tourist destination. He also worked as publicity director at Southland Racing Corporation, the southeast's largest pari-mutuel waging center. Additionally he is a member of the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners and is a past chairman of the Tennessee Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus.

Besides being a major player in the state's tourism industry for many years, he has also served the Tennessee Tourism Roundtable (TTR) faithfully as a board member, TTR Government Relations Committee member and chair, and chair of the annual TTR salute to the legislature.  Last year he served as chair of TTR after serving as vice-chair during 2010.

Taylor was named as the recipient of the 2010 Tennessee Tourism Roundtable Knight of the Roundtable Award, an award given in recognition of an individual for their outstanding contributions of leadership, service, and professionalism to the Tennessee tourism industry and for their involvement with and service to the Tennessee tourism.

ALBERT TUCKER serves as vice president of Multicultural Business Development for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau (GFLCVB), where he is focused on ensuring that organizations and families of diverse backgrounds select Greater Fort Lauderdale as the destination of choice for conferences and family reunions. It is Tucker's vision to expose ethnically diverse individuals and groups to Greater Fort Lauderdale so that GFL becomes the destination of choice for individuals of color.

Over the past 5 years Greater Fort Lauderdale has been a magnet for Family Reunions, where that segment of the market has increased by more than 45%.  Group business has expanded in a major way and the destination has welcomed or will welcome prestigious organizations such as the American Tennis Association (ATA) 2013, Progressive National Baptist Convention (PNBC) 2014, National Association of Black Accountants (NABA) 2014, 100 Black Men of America in 2014, and the National Urban League (NUL) in 2015.

FLOYD WILLIAMS, JR., CMP, serves as director of National Accounts and Tradeshows for the Jackson (MS) Convention & Visitors Bureau. 

Williams' professional work includes organizations such as Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, NAACP, National Conference of Black Mayors, African Methodist Episcopal Church, Society of Black Academic Surgeons, The National Black Caucus of State Legislators and The USSSA Black American World Series.   

He serves on the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated Time & Place committee to project future locations for the biennial national convention and the fraternity's involvement with the Congressional Black Caucus activities.  He serves in a similar capacity on the district and regional levels.

Williams is active in the National Pan-Hellenic Council, Leadership Jackson Alumni Association and Jackson State National Alumni Association; he currently serves as a board chair for Our Community Salutes of Mississippi and the Alpha Foundation.
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