Insights from the Destinations international 2021 Annual Convention (Part Two), with Nicole Mahoney

Episode 243

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For this second episode in a special three part series of Destination on the Left episodes, I visited the Destinations International 2021 Annual Convention and spoke with several attendees who are experts in the travel and tourism industry. These guests shared remarkable insights in their mini-interviews, and our conversations were focused on the bright spots and silver linings they were able to discover during this unprecedented and challenging period of global pandemic. The brilliance each of these leaders shared is certain to be invaluable as we continue to navigate the pandemic.

In this episode, you’ll hear from these extraordinary leaders:

  • Tammy Blount-Canavan – Executive Vice President, President and Principal at Fired-Up! Culture
  • Gordon Taylor – Vice President of Convention Sales & Services at Destination Cleveland
  • Greg LaDuca – Vice President of Industry Relations & Visitor Experience at Visit Rochester
  • Jack Johnson – Chief Advocacy Officer at Destinations International
  • Jill Delaney – President & CEO of Discover Albany
  • Julie Gilbert – Vice President of Sales & Marketing at Destination Niagara USA
  • Liz Fitzsimmons – Managing Director of the Maryland Department of Commerce Office of Tourism and Film
  • Shannon Lowery – Content & Social Media Manager for Visit Savannah

Visionary Travel and Tourism Leaders at the Destinations International 2021 Annual Convention

The Destinations International Annual Convention is an incredible yearly event that brings together experts from both within and outside of the travel and tourism industry, to exchange ideas and collaborative solutions for the many challenges our industry faces today. This year’s convention was uniquely focused on the challenges and opportunities we have experienced over the past two years, and it was my honor to speak to some of the extraordinary guests to get their insights into where we started as the pandemic began, where we’ve been, and where we’re going in the future of our industry in a post-pandemic world.

Tammy Blount-Canavan from Fired-Up! Culture

Tammy shares why patience is such a crucial virtue when dealing with the unexpected and the uncertain. She explains how increased collaboration in her organization has helped them navigate this complexity. She also highlights how organizations are emerging leaner and more nimble than ever before, reexamining their goals and adapting to today’s challenges and opportunities. She explains how smaller teams filled with “cross-functional ninjas” are advancing travel and tourism organizations in this new era.

Gordon Taylor from Destination Cleveland

Gordon explains why focusing on and celebrating personal and professional wins has helped his team navigate the emotional challenges of the pandemic. He explains why it is crucial to create a culture where people know they’re loved and cared about. He talks about how this same degree of empathy is important to extend to clients, and he shares how this past year has helped Destination Cleveland better understand the needs and challenges of their clients.

Greg LaDuca from Visit Rochester

Greg talks about how Visit Rochester recognized a need for increased diversity within their membership, and he discusses how Destination International helped him navigate the complexities of the pandemic. He talks about how Visit Rochester has worked to reach out in partnership with local businesses owned by BIPOC business leaders to foster greater diversity within the organization and a stronger reflection of the community at large. He shares how flexibility and empathy have been crucial for helping members navigate the pandemic.

Jack Johnson from Destinations International

Jack shares how travel and tourism organizations have found new purpose by shifting their focus from attracting outside visitors to working to serve their local communities, and he explains why collaboration within local communities is the key to bringing value to those communities. He explains why it’s important for destination organizations to maintain that local focus even as we begin to emerge from the pandemic.

Jill Delaney from Discover Albany

Jill explains how Discover Albany has used the pandemic as an opportunity to break out of their old way of doing things and innovate new, more flexible solutions. Jill shares how the pandemic sped up the time table for these changes and created an opportunity even for people who typically aren’t comfortable with change to reflect and shake things up.

Julie Gilbert from Destination Niagara USA

Julie talks about the growing importance of personalization in messaging to audiences. She shares how Destination Niagara USA is focused on testing to help adapt to swiftly changing consumer expectations. She celebrates the travel trade returning in such a strong, healthy way, and she shares how her organization is preparing for the coming months with a “bucket list” campaign (and sub-campaigns) that her organization has utilized throughout the year.

Liz Fitzsimmons from Maryland Department of Commerce Office of Tourism and Film

Liz shares how trusting other organizations within the industry and being open to collaboration has been key, and she shares how working with a planning partner helped provide a roadmap to navigate the pandemic. She discusses how the blueprint her office was able to create with their planning partner’s help has served as a guiding star and a focus point throughout the pandemic.

Shannon Lowery from Visit Savannah

Shannon shares how increased accountability on social media platforms has given her a greater sense of empowerment in her role. She shares how this increased accountability and ability to push back against harmful narratives has created a positive impression that has resonated with many of Visit Savannah’s followers.

Flexibility, Empathy, and Collaboration

The pandemic has brought unprecedented levels of upheaval to virtually every aspect of our modern lives, but the destination travel and tourism industry has seen some of the biggest shifts. Adapting to these challenges has required innovative thinking, new approaches, and strengthened relationships. As you heard from many of the guests I interviewed in this episode, there have been some powerful silver linings and positive experiences that have come out of the pandemic, things that we can take forward into the future.

Leaning into our local communities, listening and being empathetic, being flexible and ready to adapt, strengthening existing partnerships and creating new ones will continue to serve the destination travel and tourism industry long into the future, even after we emerge from the pandemic. If we embrace the lessons this chaotic period has taught us, our entire industry will be stronger for it.

I’m so grateful for these remarkable experts and professionals who took the time to speak with me and share their insights. I hope you enjoyed their unique perspectives in this second episode in our three part series.

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