Passing The Torch: CVBs in San Fran & San Diego to welcome new CEOs

Originally published May 22, 2006 in MeetingNews

The convention bureaus in California's two biggest meetings markets will welcome new leaders this summer in place of long-time CEOs — both among the best-known bureau chiefs in the business — who are retiring.

In San Francisco, John Marks will be succeeded by Joe D'Alessandro, president for 10 years of the Portland Oregon Visitors Association. In San Diego, the embattled Reint Reinders will pass the reigns to David Peckinpaugh, formerly chief marketing officer for Conferon Global Services.

In his 19 years in San Francisco, Marks has seen his share of ups and downs. He led the bureau through the city's recovery from the massive Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, oversaw two convention center expansions (and a tripling of the city's space), and what he called "the perfect storm": the combination of the economic downturn, the dot-com bust that was centered in the Bay Area, then 9/11, the Iraq war and SARS. "The only things we missed were locusts and darkness," Marks joked.

The city's occupancy rate plummeted from 81 percent in 2000 to 64 percent in 2002 but is expected to reach 78 percent this year. "We've come back quite nicely," Marks said.

D'Alessandro, who will join the bureau on July 5, saw tourism revenue in Portland grow from $1.2 billion to $3 billion. The San Francisco market is much larger ($6.7 billion), but D'Alessandro said beyond that the two cities have a lot in common. "Both value eclectic neighborhoods and local cuisine, and both are very progressive in terms of their outlook and their politics. They have a very similar feel," he said.

The transition in San Diego marks the end of a controversial couple of years for the city's bureau, during which Reinders, who has been in the top post for 15 years, clashed with local politicians and hotel companies over the role of the bureau. Some questioned Reinders' spending and accused the bureau of neglecting the goal of so-called "heads in beds" in favor of other projects, such as museums, that benefited the city's tourism industry less directly. Audits followed, and ultimately, the CVB's budget was cut by more than 20 percent and it was stripped of its responsibility for marketing the convention center.

"That certainly had something to do with it," said Reinders of the impact the restructuring had on his decision to retire. "I disagree with the [new] setup and I have from the beginning, and I will continue to disagree. Personalities and politics come into play, and unfortunately they are sometimes able to exercise their position. But I think we've done a good job, and it's a great destination and a great bureau."

Peckinpaugh's marketing background and his experience at two San Diego-area hotels should help him after he takes over on June 5.

"There are a lot of opportunities to repair and strengthen some relationships," he said. "From a marketing perspective, there are a lot of different audiences you need to communicate with, and obviously the hotels are a key one. I have an extensive hotel background, and I know what the challenges are and what they're looking for from the bureau."

To replace Peckinpaugh at Conferon, Rick Binford, himself a former CVB executive, was promoted to CMO.