New Guard Rising: Q&A with Four Fresh CVB Chiefs

It's been a busy year of transition at the convention and visitors bureaus of some of the nation's top meetings destinations. Among the dramatic personnel changes in the CVB landscape are brand new leaders in San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago and Salt Lake City.

MeetingNews recently spoke with the new bureau chiefs in the four major markets about their backgrounds, their strategy plans, and the challenges they face.

For two of them — Joe D'Alessandro, president of the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau, and Tim Roby, president of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau — they return to their hometown cities after years of promoting other destinations.

D'Alessandro starts in San Francisco this month after spending a decade as president of the Portland Oregon Visitors Association, while Roby began his post in April after serving as a sales and marketing executive with Kertzner International Resorts in the Bahamas followed by the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas.

Also serving in his native region is Scott Beck, who became president of the Salt Lake City CVB last fall after a five-year stint as general manager of the Salt Lake City Marriott City Center.

David Peckinpaugh, installed as president of the San Diego CVB in June, held sales and marketing positions with several of the city's hotels prior to completing his most recent tenure as chief marketing officer for Conferon Global Services in Twinsburg, Ohio.

MN: What type of experience do you bring to your new job that will be most helpful?

Peckinpaugh: San Diego is a little different from most bureaus in that it doesn't get involved with citywide conventions. Its focus is on hotel meetings, which are a huge market on both the corporate and association sides. That was my focus at Conferon — corporate and association meetings that are hotel-based.

At Conferon I also worked under budget constraints. That's an important factor in my new job, as CVBs face tremendous funding challenges these days. You have to know how to best make use of the resources you have.

D'Alessandro: While San Francisco is fortunate that it is a big draw for meetings, the bureau doesn't have the biggest marketing budget. So we will have to be very creative in our marketing efforts. That's something I learned in Portland, which also had a tight marketing budget. We did a lot with partnerships, working with the corporate community as well as the hospitality industry.

Roby: Destination marketing and branding are a strong part of my background. I believe partnerships are what will bring Chicago to the next level. We're working with the [Illinois] tourism office and city officials to increase international attendance at meetings and trade shows through joint sales missions and marketing campaigns overseas. We need to make sure we're all working on the same page in putting the city's attributes in front of the customer. We're partnering with cultural organizations. For example, we worked with cellist Yo-Yo Ma in putting together a promotion with street dance events and classical concerts.

Beck: At Marriott I really learned the benefit of direct sales. You go out and identify your potential clients and take a direct approach through email, letters and so on. In the last six months we've taken a strong direct-sales approach, and it has really helped. We focus on groups that have good potential for us. It's not just about their size; we look at whether they have a tie-in with the area. Salt Lake City's close proximity to mountain resorts is a big draw for some groups.

MN: What are the biggest challenges for CVBs ahead?

Beck: The biggest challenge facing CVBs is the proliferation of convention space around the country. So many cities have caught on to the value of conventions and, for better or worse, built convention centers. So there is a lot more space available to fill than there was 10 years ago; a lot of space is being given away. It's even more important now to have something that makes your city unique.

D'Alessandro: Not only is there more competition on the domestic side, but things have changed dramatically on the international side as well. Now a lot of places, including Australia and Asia, are heavily pursuing meetings. There is a lot more competition from all over the world.

Peckinpaugh: The biggest challenge facing CVBs is communication. We're in a political environment. San Diego is fortunate in that its mayor has a great appreciation of the importance of tourism and has taken an aggressive stance in pursuing meetings and convention business. But you also have to work with the city council, your members and many others. The CVB has to help educate the community about the importance of tourism because they don't always understand the economic impact that meetings have on the city.

Roby: I don't think a CVB can just rest on its tag line. We're about building value for our customers. It's not just about bringing in new customers, but better serving the ones we already have. We're serving all our customers — and that includes our museums, restaurants, waiters, hotel maids. They are our customers too. We have to start with making them more successful. If you do that, great things will happen.