Key Takeaways From Destinations International’s Hybrid CEO Summit

As the pandemic ebbs, CVBs are regaining business, redefining their roles and headed for “the great reset." 

During a fireside chat at Destination International's CEO Summit, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor discussed how government and tourism officials are working together. Photo Credit: Destinations International

Kicking off Destination International’s hybrid CEO Summit, president and CEO Don Welsh was decidedly upbeat. “We are leading the comeback story of a lifetime,” he told the in-person and virtual audience from the stage at the JW Marriott Tampa Water Street in Florida.

In a series of keynotes, panels and group discussions, the event revealed an industry on the road to recovery and, based on lessons learned during the pandemic, poised to reset best practices. Following are the key takeaways from the gathering.

  • Tampa is a success story. Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, revealed that the city's hotel occupancy is currently 77 percent and the CVB received 66 RFPs for events in April alone. He attributed much of that success to the support of county and city leaders who included the CVB in its pandemic and long-term recovery plans.

    Tampa Mayor Jane Castor
    reiterated her support of tourism and the CVB during a fireside chat with CEO Summit moderator Mark Jeffries. “We have added 2,000 hotel rooms this year alone," she said. "Our convention center is almost back to prepandemic numbers; hotel occupancy is almost back to prepandemic, and our future is brighter and brighter.”
  • Convention and visitor bureaus should consider new marketing and business strategies. Using research that showed the aggregated organic online traffic for 300 DMOs over the past few months, Adam Sacks, president of Tourism Economics, said CVB leaders have been getting a healthy 2,000 visits monthly through searches so far this year, and he urged the DMOs to keep their websites updated with the latest news from their destinations.

    And while most CVB communications now are digital, Erica Dhawan, founder and CEO of Cotential, urged the value of more personal connections with clients and staff. “A phone call is worth a thousand emails,” she told the audience.
  • CVBs should reset by planning for the long term. Travel expert Peter Greenberg urged CVB leaders to use this time create long-term, sustainable plans, rather than falling back on their old short-term fixes. He gave an example of the short-sighted planning of the airlines, which added 17 new flights this summer to Bozeman, Mont., a gateway to Yellowstone Park. “The destination doesn’t have enough [hotel rooms] to handle all the tourists,” he said, adding that demand will drop after the summer season. 
  • The past year has changed bureaus for the better. During tabletop discussion sessions, the CEOs revealed that they had to trust their teams who were working remotely. They also shared how they were able to rebuild their bureaus smarter and better by cross-training staff and focusing on equity, diversity and inclusion. And a number of CEOs reported their organizations had embraced the opportunity to build up their community engagement and work closer with their government leaders.
  • Destinations International is expanding its global footprint. Welsh announced that a full-time staff member based in Europe will soon join his team. Also announced this week was the launch of Destinations International Canadian Alliance, an organization of Canadian DI members. Currently, 23 Canadian CVBs are members of DI, the most of any country besides the United States. The new organization will create educational content that is relevant to Canadian members, and make recommendations on topics, themes and issues that are important to that audience..
  • DI’s Destination Showcase is back. During the event, DI announced that Destination Showcase, an event coproduced with the Professional Convention Management Association, will be held Oct. 6 at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Md. The focus, according to the organizers, is “to reengage the industry in new and authentic ways.”