by Lisa Grimaldi | February 01, 2006

CVB representitives

Several convention and visitor bureaus have made changes at the top in the past year, and the results of new leadership promise to be worth watching. Of the four CVB leaders profiled here, two are entering the high-profile chief executive slot for the first time, one is taking the reins of both a bureau and a convention center, and one is stepping eyes-wide-open into an office mired in controversy. M&C talked to these CVB chiefs about the challenges they face in their new posts and how their efforts will influence meetings.

Scott Beck

Scott Beck, President/CEO
Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau
Few CVB executives likely can claim they owe their career path to a Hollywood heartthrob. But Scott Beck, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau since last August, credits Robert Redford.
    A newcomer to the bureau world, Beck, 42, was born and raised in the hospitality industry: His father managed the Sundance Resort in Utah after Redford purchased it in the late 1960s. Beck and his siblings helped out with day-to-day operations, and he hasn’t looked back since.
    Beck eventually served as Sundance Resort’s director of sales and marketing, then became general manager of Cedar Breaks Lodge in Brian Head, Utah, before becoming GM of Salt Lake’s Marriott City Center in 2000. It was in that position that he became acquainted with the world of bureaus, first as a member and then as a board member of the Salt Lake CVB. When the position of president and CEO opened up following the death of former head Dianne Binger last March, Beck was ready to take the challenge of marketing an entire city.
    “As a hotelier, I did not jump out of bed in the morning to inspect five rooms my interest was in sales and marketing,” he says. “So, this was the ultimate opportunity to use the skill set I developed in the hotel industry and the ability to promote and market a destination I love.”
    Key challenges: Beck knows the challenges Salt Lake City faces are in the association market. “The city is not perceived as a strong destination for tourism and attractions,” he concedes. “We need to work on that to have more long-term success.” Further, with this summer’s completion of the expansion at The Salt Palace, Beck’s team will be under even more pressure to increase business.
    Future plans: Already, Beck is overseeing a restructure of the bureau’s compensation and incentive plans, and he orchestrated a merger of the formerly separate meeting and tourism marketing teams. But sales strategies are foremost on his radar. Plans include offering more focused and strategic site inspections for planners. “We will be going after pieces of business that seem to be good fits for us especially education, medicine and science,” he says. “Instead of going out and asking planners to join 25 of their peers on certain dates, we are doing personal invites, asking them to visit us at their convenience.”
    Adds Beck, “I think the sense of urgency I developed in the hotel world helps. Even though association planners may be talking about booking business here in 2012 and 2013, we have to take care of those customers today, returning their calls, sending thank-you notes... I hope it sets me apart, and I hope it’s a competitive advantage.”

Jeff Beckelman

Jeff Beckelman, President/CEO
Palm Springs Desert Resorts Convention & Visitors Authority
It’s not surprising Jeff Beckelman is being called a “Mr. Fixit,” given his appointment last October to the top spot at the Palm Springs (Calif.) Desert Resorts Convention & Visitors Authority, a bureau that suffered a turbulent 2005. Beginning with the forced retirement of president and CEO Michael E. Fife in March, the CVB endured the controversial departure of other key personnel and the threatened secession last autumn by Palm Desert, one of eight communities represented by the bureau (which also covers Cathedral City, Desert Hot Springs, Indian Wells, Indio, La Quinta, Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage).
    All the tumult created an atmosphere similar to what Beckelman, 59, faced in his previous position at the Reno-Sparks (Nev.) Convention & Visitors Authority, where he was hired in 2000 following the firing of the previous president and CEO. In his five years there, Beckelman oversaw the completion of the renovation and expansion of the Reno-Sparks Convention Center (owned and operated by the bureau) and put together a new sales team. 
    Beckelman’s résumé is heavy with  experience in the hospitality and travel industry. Early on, he worked for the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau. And before beginning his Reno job, he served for 12 years with the Las Vegas Sands Corp., parent company of The Venetian and the Sands Expo and Convention Center.
    Of his new role, Beckelman says, “Our job is to bring new business here [the Palm Springs Convention Center completed its expansion last month], and meeting planners are going to hear from us. We need a lot of research to understand our customers I did that when I got to Reno, and it helped us target who to go after.” 
    Another area he plans to target is incentives, a market he worked closely with during his tenure at The Venetian. 
    Key challenge: Two months into the job, Beckelman’s top priority is quelling Palm Desert’s threat to pull out of the bureau. “Our organization is 15 years old,” he says. “For many years, this model worked, but the other communities have grown and changed in that time. My biggest challenge: to bring all the members to the table.
    “We are working hard to represent Palm Desert,” he continues. “They were not being represented correctly and were right to threaten to pull out.” At press time he said, “We will convince them in the next several months to stay.” 
    Future plans: Beckelman says one area is especially ripe for new marketing efforts. “Everyone knows Palm Springs,” he notes, “and what we need to do is build upon that.” 
    In addition, the Palm Springs Desert Resorts CVA might be up for a name change. The organization was one of the first bureaus to adopt a branding strategy and a brand promise, but Beckelman is not convinced these have been entirely successful. Soon after taking up his post, he offered up a new name, the California Desert Resort and Business Authority, to help quell the concerns of the other communities that Palm Springs dominates the bureau’s marketing efforts. At press time, the board tabled the move to deal with more pressing issues.