by Bruce Myint | February 01, 2004

Last year was a time for fresh faces at convention and visitor bureaus around the country. From Providence, R.I., to Honolulu, a fleet of new executives has taken over the helm at local CVBs sometimes following hotly publicized shake-ups, always amid fervid competition.
   The class of 2003 arrives at a difficult period for bureaus. Although industry forecasts are cautiously optimistic for 2004, convention business continues to show the lingering effects of 9/11 in the form of skittish air travel and cost-cutting among corporate and association groups. Add to that a boom in nationwide convention space, and CVBs find themselves in a pickle of increased supply and decreased demand.
   To cope, many have ratcheted up their sales efforts, sometimes raising ire among local politicians and media who have sparked allegations of misspending or mismanagement. Indeed, 2003 saw many CVBs across the country singled out, dressed down and shaken up.
   Enter the new crop of bureau presidents. “We’re passing the torch to a new generation of CVBs,” says Leslie Doggett, the recently appointed president and CEO of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. “It’s about consensus building, policy making, customer service and selling.”
   How’s the view from the top of a CVB today? To find out, M&C conducted a series of interviews, asking the new leaders what it is like to helm a bureau in a time of promise and peril. 

M&C: Given the tremendous competition among cities to lure conventions, what plans are in the works to make your city more attractive to planners?

Doggett: It’s always an issue of selling your assets. Baltimore is a visitor-friendly waterfront destination with easy accessibility, whether flying or driving. Its location on the East Coast allows for higher attendance and affordability.

Tennant: People are amazed how easy it is to get around San Antonio. We have a very authentic destination. Our tourism industry is based on our strong heritage dating back even before 1718, when the Alamo was established.

Wood: We’re adding 166,000 square feet of exhibit space to the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center. Downtown, we have a 621-room Marriott scheduled to open in spring 2005.

Jones: The Dallas CVB is in the middle of a rebranding process to showcase the diversity of the city. We’ve improved the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. And you can get on the light rail downtown, and 10 minutes later you’ll be at the North Park shopping mall.

Whiting: With so many hotel improvements and openings in the Greater Providence/Warwick area, planners will be hard-pressed to find a meeting facility or hotel that is not accommodating. The many options include the new 80-room Hotel Providence, the newly renovated Westin Providence and Providence Marriott hotels, and the expanded Crowne Plaza Hotel at the Crossings.

Monahan: Hawaii is a great place to meet and do business. We have world-class meeting and convention facilities statewide, plus the award-winning Hawaii Convention Center in Waikiki. Waikiki Beach has been invigorated with an impressive beautification, while resort areas on all islands have undergone extensive renovations and upgrades.