Wish You Were Here
Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: January/February 2016
A View From The Top: CVB Heads Annual Report On State Of The Industry
By: Gloria M. Herbert
As the travel and meetings market responds to world events and an ever-evolving economy, we feel it prudent to pause from time to time to assess what impact all these occurrences are having on our industry.  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. With so many options from which travelers can choose, why should a planner or travel agent select your destination to book their meeting, incentive or leisure travel business?

2. What specific outreach efforts are you making to target the African-American market in particular and an ethnically diverse and inclusive market in general?

3. Has the unfortunate recent terrorist attacks in Paris and the fear that similar attacks could happen on U.S. soil impacted visitation to your city, and what steps have you taken in response to maintain the safety, health and vibrancy of your visitor industry?

ELLIOTT FERGUSON, PRESIDENT & CEO, DESTINATION DC

2016 will be an exceptional year for the African-American market in Washington, DC. The city is alive with neighborhood redevelopment projects, streamlined transportation options, new restaurants, more nightlife, and a host of world-class retail. There is a hotel boom too. Among the places set to open in the coming year, is The Watergate Hotel, subject to a $120M renovation. It sits on the waterfront in Foggy Bottom, next door to the Kennedy Center and within walking distance of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the final Smithsonian Institution museum to open on the National Mall. This museum will tell the story of African-Americans from the diaspora to present day. Its collection includes slave shackles, Louis Armstrong's trumpet as well as monumental objects like Jim Crow-era railway car and an Angola prison tower. The opening celebrations, date to be released, should be an experience for generations to share. If families are unable to attend the official ceremonies, the museum remains a testament, a place of sharing, learning and endurance adjacent to the Washington Monument.

Our on-going DC Cool campaign highlights the familiar Washington, DC: the monuments and memorials as well as the lesser knows independent businesses and the creatives who keep the capital an exciting place to visit and promote. We're continuing to emphasize diversity in our print and viral campaigns, hosting FAMs and working with the Smithsonian Institution to telegraph their next chapter of national storytelling.

Washington, DC is a city practiced at maintaining its momentum as it hosts high visibility events. We remember the lessons of 9/11 and continue to respond to the concerns of national and local law enforcement and share their messaging with our members and visitors.

KATHLEEN M. RATCLIFFE, PRESIDENT, ST. LOUIS CVC

St. Louis is a place where history and imagination collide, and the result is a destination like no other.  If you haven't been to St. Louis lately, you truly are missing a gem.  In the heart of our revitalized downtown, a vibrant new hospitality district continues to grow.  More than $5 billion has been invested in development across the region, and more exciting projects, like the National Blues Museum (opening April 2016) are on the way.

No matter the time of year, there is something for everyone.  With some of the finest hotels, restaurants, museums and entertainment venues you'll find, St. Louis is a great choice for your next meeting, group event or family get-away!

St. Louis as a multi-cultural destination, which celebrates the numerous races and nationalities that help create the diverse cultural landscape of our community.  Explore St. Louis actively markets to African-American visitors in Midwestern cities during the key travel seasons to make them aware of the attractions, venues and must see events taking place in a nearby city.

Additionally, we are proud to host many conventions of primarily African-American delegates, like Church of God in Christ, the National Baptist Convention and the National Urban League.

The safety of our visitors is our top priority.  We work closely with law enforcement agencies and our hospitality industry partners to ensure the safety of guests to our region.


RONNIE BURT, PRESIDENT/CEO, VISIT KC

Kansas City's key advantages include its central location, overall affordability and vibrant cultural scene. More than 55 million Americans can get to Kansas City in less than a day's drive, and flying is even easier, as Kansas City is just a three-hour flight from either coast. What's more is that $6.5 billion has been poured into our downtown recently, redefining the convention and visitor experience.

We've always been very aggressive in this market, and we've enjoyed great success as a result. As we elevate our multicultural marketing strategies and enhance our messaging platforms in 2016, I believe we'll only grow stronger in this area. Kansas City is a diverse, welcoming city and we're eager to show that to the world.

We haven't seen an impact on visitation to Kansas City as a result of the attacks, but we are still taking precautions and continuing to work closely with our partners at the City and Kansas City Police Department to monitor the situation. Keeping Kansas City a safe and vibrant city is of utmost importance to us.


WANDA COLLIER -WILSON, PRESIDENT/CEO, JACKSON CVB

Jackson, Mississippi is the perfect choice when considering a unique location for travel.  Meeting planners will find the central location in the Southeast is easily accessible by plane, train or excellent interstate driving on I-55 and I-20. With over 5,000 hotel rooms in Jackson, planners will have no problem securing adequate room blocks in affordable hotel properties.  The Jackson Convention Center Complex offers over 300,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and is eager to work with groups. The hundreds of annual festivals and events held in Jackson provide year round entertainment for meeting delegates and traveling individuals to experience the capital city.

Our marketing efforts continue to include outreach to the African-American market in particular because Jackson appreciates the value of the market. We have proven over the years that our product has appeal and offers a genuine experience.

The unfortunate recent terrorist attacks in Paris have everyone on a cautious edge. We understand that any city or country can be targeted.  We will continue to be vigilant in our safety protocols and urge visitors to exercise diligence in their travels. 


JAMES T. WOOD, CEO, MEET AC

Atlantic City will be hosting MPI WEC in 2016 because we understand that Meetings Means Business! Atlantic City is making major investments into the meetings market. Harrah's has added a 125,000 sq. ft.-Waterfront Conference Center, Resorts International and the Borgata have both added additional meeting rooms because there is strong demand for meetings into the Atlantic City market. Also, our hotel and casino properties have become very aggressive in attracting meetings and conventions to their properties. Now is a great time to hold a meeting in Atlantic City!

Atlantic City continues to invest in the diverse market segments. We just recently hosted the National Hispanic Meeting Professionals Annual Conference at the Tropicana Resort & Casino. We are also sponsors of the Diversity Marketplace held by Collinson Media & Events. Atlantic City will also be hosting the African American Travel Conference in 2017. We see the significant impact diverse groups can bring to Atlantic City and find that ethnically diverse groups very much want to bring their meetings, conventions and special events to our city. In addition, Meet AC offers a very attractive incentive package to host ethnically diverse groups in general.  

On the contrary our meetings and convention business has seen significant growth over the past 18 months so the recent attacks have not dissuaded anyone from visiting Atlantic City which is terrific news in itself.  However, public safety is very important to everyone so our leadership wants to insure our guests that our streets are safe by employing a team of City Ambassadors who are in uniform and are visible on the streets throughout the day and evening. We also employ a police presence for all special events to insure that everyone participating in one of hundreds of our special events feels safe and can enjoy themselves free from worrying about safety concerns. 


LARRY ALEXANDER, PRESIDENT/CEO, DETROIT METRO CVB

If you consider the billions of dollars being invested in our downtown core, new restaurants, attractions, hotels, entertainment options and one of the best airports in the country, it's time for people to see the comeback of one of America's great cities.

We recognize that with the population base and historical background we have in Detroit it is vital to continue to promote to minorities and those of ethnic backgrounds. Our efforts include insuring that this critical segment is continually aware of the advances being made in this city.

No, it has not impacted visitation to our city. Geographically Detroit has occupied a key and important border destination crossing and because of this our local law enforcement agencies, as well as border patrol and homeland security, have worked cohesively to protect domestic and international travelers arriving to this destination. These collective efforts are ongoing and continually enforced to provide security for all travelers and residents.


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

With a central location at the crossroads of two interstate highways, just an hour and a half from Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson International Airport and just two and a half hours from Savannah, Macon commands interest from anyone planning a meeting in Georgia. Macon offers meeting space that can accommodate intimate meetings to conventions in a professional conference center, 100,000-sq. ft. convention center, or a 9,000-seat arena. Add to that the unique culture and history found only in Macon, with attractions such as the Tubman Museum, the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, the Ocmulgee National Monument, the Hay House and quite a few more.

We promote and encourage groups of all types to visit Macon rather than focusing on any one particular segment. We have found that groups and leisure visitors from all backgrounds enjoy the Tubman Museum, Macon's music history, and the Ocmulgee Indian Mounds as well as our parks, historic theatres, and art galleries. Everyone likes to eat, and Macon offers remarkable options of cuisine to tempt any palate. What we have found is that our visitors are diverse because Macon offers such a diverse array of attractions, cuisine, history and culture.

I don't think we have seen significant local impact from the terrorist attacks, but I think everyone is now more cautious and aware in their travel planning and when traveling.


J. JOHN OROS, JR., PRESIDENT/CEO, GREATER BIRMINGHAM CVB

The "Birmingham vibe" is mentioned time and again by visitors coming here for business and pleasure.  One of the primary reasons is the extraordinary food scene in Birmingham.  This year, the food giant Zagat named Birmingham the #1 Next Hot Food City - and with good reason.  The city is loaded with chef-owned dining rooms serving beautiful, fresh, Southern-influenced cuisine with their own personal touches.  More appeal is found in some of the best public golf on earth, along with shopping in hundreds of boutique stores and dozens of trendy malls around the area. 

Along with its current appeal, the city's historic importance cannot be overstated.  Birmingham is the city that changed the world.  Our role in America's Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s is documented in places such as the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, historic Kelly Ingram Park, and at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, site of the fatal 1963 bombing that placed the international spotlight on Birmingham and was a turning point in race relations.  All these sites are of tremendous interest to our visitors.

Our cultivation of all markets is essentially the same because people of all ethnicities appreciate a good meeting host.  Racially and ethnically diverse meetings seem to gravitate to Birmingham naturally.  Perhaps it's because of our rich history, or maybe it's our affordable rates in lodging and meeting facilities.  We do cater to specific markets through informational pieces such as our newly published African-American Treasures brochure.  But it is consistently good servicing from a racially diverse staff that seems to have the most positive impact on meeting planners of all cultural traditions.

While our thoughts and prayers go out the victims of these unthinkable attacks, we don't dwell on hypothetical scenarios.   We have faith in local and national homeland security agencies and believe our most beneficial focus is on continuing to serve, entertain and assist visitors from around the world.  The attacks appear to have had little or no impact on visitation to Birmingham.


AL HUTCHINSON, PRESIDENT/CEO, VISIT MOBILE

I believe planners and the delegates they represent are looking for new destinations with a variety of unique and interesting options for meetings and conventions and Mobile definitely fits that bill. Our convention hotels are located in our historic downtown just steps from restaurants, shops, museums and other entertainment.  Mobilians are born to celebrate and we welcome groups to town with our soulful spirited hospitality - you'll definitely feel the energy and magic that has come to define our diverse historic town located right on Mobile Bay just an hour north of the Gulf of Mexico.

Besides advertising through channels like this one, we have a national senior sales manager who is dedicated to the multi-cultural market. She attends trade shows, hosts site inspections and makes sales calls around the country targeting the African-American market and often calls upon African-American elected officials and hospitality partners to join her.

We have had no direct impact from the recent terrorism attacks.  We work closely with our convention center security team and city officials to remain vigilant.  The safety of our residents and visitors is of utmost concern.


ERNEST WOODEN, PRESIDENT/CEO, LOS ANGELES

TOURISM & CONVENTION BOARD

There couldn't be a better time to discover Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is one of the world's most dynamic cities, one that is constantly evolving and offering new, exciting experiences to our visitors.

We are a safe, welcoming city offering a thriving culture scene, multicultural experiences and world-class amenities with a broad transportation network.

At L.A. Tourism, we value the African-American market enormously and are working diligently to grow this segment, along with all other ethnically diverse and inclusive markets.  We want to ensure Los Angeles is the first destination of choice on any traveler's U.S. itinerary.

With its rich cultural heritage and attractions, Los Angeles draws 2.8 million African-American domestic visitors every year. Among major U.S. urban visitor destinations, L.A. is currently ranked #6 for African-Americans.

Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with our Parisian brothers and sisters as well as everyone else affected by this terrible tragedy.

We do not expect an impact on tourism in the Los Angeles area as a result of this unfortunate event. The safety of our community and all visitors is a primary concern and we know that our hospitality partners, who regularly host countless tourists from around the globe, echo that sentiment. Los Angeles remains one of the safest large U.S. cities and welcomes more than 44 million visitors per year. We work diligently with our local and federal partners to keep Los Angeles safe for all of our guests.

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