by Tom Isler | February 01, 2007

Welcome to “a new world of CVBs,” in the words of David DuBois, who took over as president and CEO of the Fort Worth (Texas) Convention and Visitors Bureau in January. Indeed, DuBois and a host of other new bureau heads are poised to transform the way CVBs do business in what many agree is a tumultuous time for cities seeking revenue from meetings.

The new world DuBois talks about is a place where competition and financial scrutiny have escalated to new heights, and hitherto sleepy cities have built major facilities and joined the scramble for meetings business. In the new world, the old practices -- like a name badge and a handshake at an industry trade show -- aren’t enough to achieve ambitious new business goals. It’s a fast-paced environment that needs to be nourished with energy and constant reinvention.

It’s also a world that increasingly has been turning to leadership from the outside, with the likes of DuBois, David Peckinpaugh in San Diego, Tim Roby in Chicago and Don Welsh in Seattle all working within the CVB community for the first time.

Several new CVB heads -- presidents and CEOs, and an executive director -- recently spoke with M&C to outline their plans and some of the hurdles they face to make their destination stand out among fiercely rival counterparts.

David DuBoisDavid DuBois
Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau

Within days of the official announcement last December that David DuBois was to be Douglas Harman’s successor in Fort Worth, he had dined downtown with Harman (and offered him an ongoing advisory position at the bureau), started formulating new fund-raising and advertising campaigns, and held a staff meeting during which he quoted passionately from Results Rule! by Randy Pennington (the take-home point: Create a culture in which everybody sells the destination). “And I don’t get my first paycheck till January,” he told M&C.

A resident of Plano, Texas, 50 miles northeast of Fort Worth, DuBois brings to the bureau 13 years of hotel sales and marketing experience with Sheraton and Ritz-Carlton and 16 years on the association side Ñ most recently he served as vice president of sales and key accounts for Meeting Professionals International and executive vice president of the MPI Foundation.

DuBois plans to draw on all of that experience to kick-start an aggressive campaign to sell Fort Worth, which over the next two years will see the additions of a 608-room Omni convention center hotel and a 434-room Sheraton. The city, for the first time, will be able to pursue 1,000-person groups. “We will open up to the meeting planning world a whole new product,” says the new bureau chief.

With new facilities comes added pressure to fill the beds -- pressure coming from all over: No longer is Dallas or San Antonio the major competition, DuBois notes. Rivals now include Las Vegas, Milwaukee, even Copenhagen, Denmark. But DuBois is up to the challenge. “I’m a very competitive guy,” he says.

DuBois’ top priority is to identify qualified meeting planners and bring them to town to experience the revitalized city. Don’t be surprised, he warns, to find him working a trade show floor wearing cowboy boots and a fine European suit, to extend the city’s “Cowboys and Culture” marketing campaign that positions Fort Worth as a place where groups can glimpse the Old West (the livery and stables at Stockyards Station, for example) as well as sophisticated urban culture (Sundance Square has four theaters and the Bass Performance Hall). He also plans to increase the bureau’s financial resources through creative fund-raising and cooperative programs with local businesses.

By Dubois’ estimation, meetings represent a $200 billion industry worldwide. “Fort Worth just wants its fair share,” he says -- with a wink that suggests he is gunning for much more than that.