Deep Diver
Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: March/Apreil 2022
A View From The Top
By: Solomon J. Herbert

CVB HEADS ANNUAL REPORT ON STATE OF THE INDUSTRY

BY SOLOMON J. 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 the last quarter of 2021 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 five questions, followed by their answers in their own words.

1.     How Has Covid-19 Pandemic impacted travel, tourism & meetings in your city?

2.     What are some of things you've done to weather the storm until travel returns?

3.     What is your strategy for resuming meetings in and travel to your city?

4.     What steps are you taking to ensure the safety of visitors to your city?

5.     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?

JULIE COKER, PRESIDENT/CEO, SAN DIEGO TOURISM AUTHORITY

Like every other destination, COVID-19 had a devastating impact on our tourism industry. At the peak of the pandemic, some 70,000 tourism and hospitality workers lost their jobs. Visitor spending tumbled more than 55 percent from $11.6 billion in 2019 to $5.2 billion 2020. In fact, San Diego lost almost 20 years of economic gains in visitor spending, jobs and tax revenues. T ourism Economics, a research firm, forecasts that it could take San Diego tourism almost five years to recover to its 2019 economic performance levels.

Nimble was the name of the game for the San Diego Tourism Authority (SDTA). We were able to respond quickly and strategically to changing market conditions with a variety of innovative advertising campaigns, including our "Stay Diego" initiative, which asked locals to staycation before they took a vacation, and our "Yay Weekyays!" campaign, which aimed to increase Sunday through Wednesday hotel stays.

The Tourism Authority also was able to begin marketing on July 6, 2020, which was far sooner than many other destinations because it had the financial wherewithal others did not thanks to the support of the San Diego Tourism Marketing District and its reserves. That investment helped drive demand during the fall of 2020 before California clamped down on travel in December 2020 due to rising COVID-19 cases. When the state unexpectedly re-opened on Jan. 25, 2021, the SDTA re-launched its marketing program within a week. The ability to move swiftly boosted San Diego's performance, helping the destination become one of the top performers in the country starting in late May of 2021 and throughout the summer.

Early on, the Tourism Authority in partnership with the San Diego Convention Center really pushed at the state and local level to show that meetings could be restarted responsibly by hosting elected leaders and public health officials to demonstrate how safety protocols could be successfully implemented. We also launched a Safe Destination Pledge to let meeting planners and attendees know how our hotels and hospitality businesses were working to their health and well-being during every phase of their visit. It also helps that San Diego has an extremely high local vaccination rate, which is something that meeting planners are looking for when booking business. Finally, the SDTA is investing in a $400,000 multi-channel marketing initiative designed to drive awareness and demand for San Diego among meeting planners, executives and decisions makers. While the campaign includes a variety of channels and tactics, including custom content articles and dedicated emails, the digital component, which launched in July 2021, has dramatically over-delivered, achieving year-long goals for traffic and impressions in just the first two months of the program.

Throughout the pandemic, the Tourism Authority worked closely with our county public health officials and elected leaders to ensure that our industry was implementing best-in-class safety protocols. As I mentioned, we also created our Safe Destination Pledge to let visitors know all the steps we were taking to ensure their health and well-being.

We know both attendees and meeting planners are clamoring for more outdoor events and networking opportunities, and San Diego is uniquely able to provide those types of experiences. Not only does our destination have near-perfect weather year-round, but it is also home to a variety of eye-catching and unique venues that overlook the beaches, the bays and beyond, including Downtown San Diego's dramatic cityscape. It's also just a great place to visit with something for every type of traveler.

STEVE HILL, PRESIDENT/CEO, LAS VEGAS CVA

Las Vegas is steadily recovering, reclaiming its perch at or near the top of U.S. major markets based on hotel occupancy, well surpassing the national monthly average. In August, Las Vegas welcomed nearly 3 million visitors, down just 16 percent from August 2019.

Over the past two years, construction continued on a variety of high-profile developments, including three new resorts ( Resorts World opened in June, Virgin Hotels Las Vegas opened in March, and downtown's Circa opened in late 2020); the state-of-the-art, 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium ; and new meeting and convention spaces, including the 1.4 million-square-foot West Hall expansion at the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) , CAESARS FORUM , The Expo at World Market , and more. This development has positioned Las Vegas to lead the industry's recovery with more meeting space than any other US destination and more of the only-in-Vegas experiences our visitors have come to expect.

Las Vegas has been successfully welcoming meetings of all sizes since June. From June through September, approximately 25 events were held at the LVCC, welcoming more than 310,000 attendees, and from October through January 2022, another 22 events are currently planned with more than 515,000 attendees expected.

Prior to the return of large meetings, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority launched its Vegas Smart and Meet Smart, Vegas Smart campaigns to encourage visitors to remain smart and responsible while in the destination. Additionally, the LVCC was awarded the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) STAR facility accreditation by ISSA , the wor ld's leading trade association for the cleaning industry.

With 14 million square feet of meeting and convention space and 150,000 hotel rooms, Las Vegas offers an unparalleled value proposition, and our world-class entertainment, dining, shopping, outdoor adventure and more mean thrilling options for visitors both on and off the trade show floor. 

AL HUTCHINSON, PRESIDENT/CEO, VISIT BALTIMORE

Of course, the Pandemic has presented many challenges to the travel and tourism industry and Baltimore was no stranger to the budget cuts, travel restrictions, and staffing shortages caused by the pandemic. While tourism in Baltimore dropped by 22 percent(compared to a steady rise the past five years), travelers emerged with a newfound interest in backyard and nearby destinations, which has made us hopeful for the recovery ahead.

The Visit Baltimore team has been continuing to stay optimistic and working hard to showcase the unique travel experiences Baltimore has to offer so our city can recover quickly from the impact of the pandemic. Part of this work includes our effort to move the travel and tourism industry forward by encouraging necessary dialogue in support of underrepresented communities, amplifying the voices of our majority Black city, creating new career development opportunities for diverse future hospitality leaders, and providing the tools for businesses across the city to foster a welcoming environment for all.  

Our team has worked diligently to highlight all the remarkable things that our city has to offer while also ensuring that all people traveling to Baltimore feel safe, comfortable, and welcome. We are ready to welcome visitors as they begin to plan their travel for 2022 and beyond.

2021 taught us that people are more eager than ever to travel domestically and have authentic experiences in other cities. Our strategy for the road ahead is simple - we want to highlight all the meaningful and diverse travel experiences that people can have when visiting Baltimore. Our team collaborates closely with meeting planners to share tailored recommendations that emphasize our local culture, sustainability, and authenticity, so that guests can experience Baltimore through the eyes of a local.

Our team works closely with local health and safety thought leaders from the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins along with the Baltimore City Health Commissioner to keep up to date on the latest health guidelines for all travelers and meeting attendees. Baltimore was also one of the early adopters of the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) certification, which certifies facilities and hospitality venues in preparedness, response and recovery to health risks and outbreaks. In addition to working with local health experts, we also work with the Baltimore City Police Department and other city agencies to implement programs and services to ensure the safety and comfortability of all travelers.

We continue to collaborate with our local tourism and hospitality partners to ensure that all safety measures are put in place so that visitors can feel good about their decision to travel to Baltimore, knowing that their health and safety is a priority.

Baltimore is a resilient city on the rise, and we are proud of our passionate community of artists, makers, entrepreneurs, and change-makers who not only call this city home but continue to innovate and make Charm City an ever-inspiring place. Its walkability and affordability are two reasons why Baltimore is a great city for travelers and meeting attendees. The Baltimore Convention Center is just steps away from the picturesque Inner Harbor which is home to restaurants, shopping, the National Aquarium, and other cultural institutions. Baltimore is a city known for its neighborhoods, each with a distinct personality - from the cobblestone-lined waterfront of Fell's Point to kitschy Hampden; historic Federal Hill to trendy Harbor East; the cultural hub of Mount Vernon to Canton, Pigtown and the Station North, Bromo Tower and Highlandtown arts and entertainment districts. Steeped in rich history and culture, Baltimore is no stranger to reinventing itself, keeping a keen eye on the future while honoring its legacy. 

MELVIN TENNANT, PRESIDENT/CEO, MEET MINNEAPOLIS

Whether its jobs, tax revenue or meetings and events, Minneapolis has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Tourism and hospitality jobs in the city fell over 58% from 2019 to 2020, lodging taxes collected by the city in 2020 were down nearly 70%, and we hosted only six large citywide events in both 2020 and 2021. With the ongoing effects from the pandemic, we continue to see the Minneapolis tourism and hospitality sector lagging significantly compared to pre-pandemic years.

We are, however, optimistic about our recovery in 2022 and beyond. Our board has recently approved our three-year "Road to Recovery" plan to guide our industry's resurgence.

Our Meet Minneapolis sales and marketing team members have joined with partner businesses on many levels to stimulate travel to Minneapolis. We have utilized several campaigns - We Need Us, Top 8 Reasons Why Minneapolis, Make It a Weekend - to inspire the community and potential visitors and meeting planners to choose our city.

In addition, we launched a new initiative called the Meet Minneapolis Legacy Project (MMLP) which was born of the response from our staff following the death of George Floyd. A signature MMLP initiative is "Talking With Our Community Leaders," a seven-part series of informational webinars. The goal is to better educate visitors, meeting planners, stakeholders, and our local community about the history of Minneapolis' racial inequity, the interconnectedness of challenges, and the multitude of ways our community is addressing these concerns.

Internally, we have been very attuned to the needs of our team members through significantly enhanced communications, establishing staff-led task forces and offering additional resources to address and health and wellness concerns that have arisen.

Meet Minneapolis is urgently working to rejuvenate group and individual travel. We are focusing on stimulating the resumption of meetings and conventions and have had great success in confirming events for 2022 and beyond.  To propel that positive momentum, we are developing initiatives that will distinguish us from other destinations and strengthen the relationships we have with our customers. These include our video assets, enhanced pre-promotional activities and our pursuit of meetings industry events.

We have significantly enhanced our presence at industry events in order re-introduce ourselves to our customers on an in-person basis. We also have a themed road show in key markets to bring our message to those who may not have visited Minneapolis for a while.

Finally, we were recently chosen to host Connect Marketplace 2023, and are continuing to bid on other major meeting planner events for future years.

Honesty and transparency are paramount to ensure that visitors feel comfortable visiting our city. Our clients, partners and visitors have had many questions about the status of Minneapolis, and we have made it a priority to provide answers to such questions with honesty and transparency. Our team has been devoted to providing timely, consistent and accurate communication, and has created dedicated web pages devoted to topics our clients are asking about ( COVID-19 , public safety ).

We also work closely with community and business leaders throughout the city work together to help ensure a safe environment for visitors and residents. This includes Downtown Improvement District Ambassadors who help visitors with directions and information, providing roughly 89,000 pedestrian assists each year.

Minneapolis is built for meetings, events and leisure travel. We are a destination known for our walkable downtown, our light rail system that seamlessly connects the airport (a Delta Air Lines hub) to downtown, our love of all things Prince, and one of the nation's top-ranked park systems. Our story also now includes being the epicenter of a renewed social justice movement. Minneapolis has long welcomed people from around the world. Now, we're also on a path to become a place that creates, fosters and embraces equity and justice for all.

The Meet Minneapolis team has been especially resilient and stands fully staffed, which means we have the team in place to help meeting and event planners immediately.

ELLIOTT L. FERGUSON, II, PRESIDENT/CEO, DESTINATION DC

We normally would realize billions of dollars in revenue tied to this industry. In 2020, we were down about 55%. The travel and hospitality sector of the economy is one of the fastest-growing and created jobs at all levels, and that came to a standstill. Local jobs supported by visitor spending were down nearly 50 percent. Now the question and concern is getting folks back and focusing on safety - for those working on the front lines, as well as those actually visiting.

The key thing for us is to focus on health and vaccination, probably not something we would've made a priority in 2019 as we promoted the city. We focused on the fact that DC is open for business, which allowed us to have a strong summer for visitation. The good news for us is that we've got about 50 million people that live within four hours of Washington. So we target the drive-in market now more than ever versus the international market, which is going to take longer to rebound.

Again focusing on health measures is key. Conventions are coming back to a certain extent and we've been waiting for this for a while. In 2022, we've got over 20 citywide conventions on the books. We've also launched a recovery advertising campaign in partnership with Events DC, called Experience DC.

It's so important that visitors understand all the rules and regulations in the city, what businesses require proof of vaccination to attend, and so on. All of that information is on our website, washington.org.

DC has thriving industries that meeting planners benefit from, in terms of being able to utilize the intellectual capital only found here, find expert speakers, attract exhibitors and attendees. The investment in our city continues with new development and hotel openings. Travelers find incredible world-class free museums, parks and green space and diverse and welcoming city in the nation's capital. 

ADAM BURKE, PRESIDENT/CEO, LOS ANGELES TOURISM

There's no question that the pandemic had a truly devastating impact on our industry - with job losses approaching one in three, a $15 billion decline in tourism revenues, and nearly $2 billion in lost visitor tax revenues.

Prior to the pandemic, 2019 capped an unprecedented 10 years of travel-related economic growth. That year saw over 544,000 Angelenos employed in leisure and hospitality careers, with local businesses enjoying more than $38 billion in tourism-related sales. In fact, every L.A. County household saved almost $900 in annual taxes as a result of the $3 billion in state and local tax revenues generated by visitors to Los Angeles!

It's also impossible to overstate just how important professional meetings and events are to L.A.'s economy. In fact, in 2019 alone, 7.4 million attendees drove $23.6 billion in sales to our local business community, supporting 144,000 jobs and generating $900 million in state and local taxes.

We've really concentrated on three key areas. First, throughout the pandemic, our team has been focused on serving as a trusted resource for our group customers, event planners, and the L.A. travel & tourism community to ensure that all of our stakeholders have the most accurate, up-to-date information. Second, we've made the health of our guests, employees, and residents the highest priority, partnering directly with our public health officials to ensure that we can provide a guest experience that is not only incredibly safe - but that still allows visitors to enjoy all that our City of Angels has to offer. Finally, in collaboration with the L.A. Convention Center, the City's Tourism Department and our local hotel and venue partners, we've worked hard to provide our customers with the flexibility they needed to rebook events for future dates without incurring additional costs. We're incredibly grateful that - as a result - we've been able to retain most of the groups that had to postpone their events.

As your readers are probably aware, June 15th marked a welcome milestone for our city, as all sectors of L.A.'s tourism economy reopened with the appropriate health and safety measures. Since then, we've been thrilled to see just how much pent-up demand there was for the L.A. experience. In July, for example, Los Angeles County hotels ran over 70% occupancy for the month - the first time that's happened since the onset of the pandemic. In addition, we're excited to host multiple citywide conventions before year-end, and with the upcoming November lifting of international travel restrictions for fully vaccinated visitors, we can't wait to welcome our valued guests from around the world.

All of this is possible because of our ongoing commitment to health and safety, which research continues to show is critical to our leisure guests, group customers and event planners. The Los Angeles Convention Center (LACC) became one of the first facilities to receive the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) STAR facility accreditation on cleaning, disinfection, and infectious disease prevention . In addition, many people don't know that LACC is regularly used for television and film production, so our Center has been continuously in use for some time now. As you can imagine, the safety protocols for the entertainment industry are quite comprehensive, so we're already well-versed in how to seamlessly deliver a first-class experience for meeting and event participants.

Throughout the past year, we've continued to look for best-in-class partners with innovative solutions to give our guests peace of mind that we're being incredibly vigilant about their safety. In fact, Los Angeles Tourism became the first destination marketing and sales organization to utilize CLEAR Health Pass for professional meetings and events. CLEAR is already widely recognized as an industry leader in providing passengers with expedited, seamless security access at airports across the country through the use of biometrics. As a result, their Health Pass solution is incredibly secure, prioritizes confidentiality, and offers a cost-effective, turnkey solution that is flexible enough to meet the unique needs of every event.

Similarly, Los Angeles was the first destination in the nation to partner with digital health company Sharecare and Forbes Travel Guide to independently verify the health security of participating hotels in Los Angeles.

And our partners at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) have continued to develop and implement innovative solutions to improve the passenger experience, including a walk-up COVID-19 clinic that offers free vaccinations to all adults over age 18. The clinic is open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday (closed Sundays), and there are three vaccination locations:

·      Outside LAX's Terminal 6 next to parking structure 6 and adjacent to the existing COVID-19 rapid test laboratory on the Lower/Arrivals level.

·      Post-security inside the Tom Bradley International Terminal, departures level, in the Great Hall near the clock tower. This location is for ticketed passengers only.

·      Pre-security inside the Tom Bradley International Terminal, arrivals Level 1, near the information booth.

When it comes to holding meetings and events safely, in addition to the specific steps we've taken in L.A., we believe that California is the clear choice. As you're aware, our state was the last to reopen for group business, and while that was certainly challenging, it was absolutely the right decision to ensure that we could provide the safest possible guest experience. In fact, California now has the lowest COVID-19 positivity rate of any state in the U.S.

Beyond that, L.A. remains one of the most diverse, welcoming, and inclusive destinations in the world - with Angelenos from 140 countries speaking over 220 different languages. That diversity is our greatest strength, and it infuses our community with a vibrancy and creativity that informs every aspect of the L.A. experience - from our world-class culinary scene, to an incredibly rich and eclectic collection of arts & cultural institutions, to unparalleled sports & entertainment offerings, and so much more!

Plus, there are so many exciting developments as the L.A. experience continues to evolve - even during the pandemic. In addition to a wealth of outdoor experiences and venues, and more than 300 days of sunshine, we were thrilled to celebrate the opening of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on September 30th. This incredible new institution gives guests a behind-the-scenes look at the magic, science, and artists of moviemaking in a spectacular setting. And SoFi Stadium was finally able to welcome Rams and Chargers fans in-person at the world's most state-of-the-art sports & entertainment complex, while Banc of California Stadium will become the home of the new Angel City Football Club - the much-anticipated National Women's Soccer League expansion team founded by Natalie Portman and a "who's who" from the U.S. national team.

We're also fortunate to have an extensive pipeline of new hotels opening in 2021 and beyond, which will allow us to add nearly 3,000 new rooms to our convention center package by the end of 2023 alone. And with their $14 billion modernization project on-schedule, LAX is poised to become one of the world's truly premier international airports.

Especially after the past year, we can't wait for our leisure and group customers to start their own comeback story right here in Los Angeles!

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