Leadership, Diversity, and Reshaping Perceptions, with Wes Rhea

Episode 332

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Wes Rhea is the CEO of Visit Stockton and has led destination marketing in Stockton, California, since 2005. A strong advocate of small destination marketing organizations, Wes is a past President of the Destination Marketing Association of the West. He has also served on the board of the California Travel Association, the Destination Marketing Association of the West Education and Research Foundation, and the Central Valley Tourism Association. Wes currently serves on US Travels Destinations Council, the Advocacy and Professional Development Committees at Destination International, and is the Rural Committee Chair at Visit California. Wes is best known for being an early adopter of new tourism tech and a big fan of data.

A Stockton native, Wes is committed to giving back to his community and currently serves on the board of the Stockton Maritime Museum, the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce, and the Airport Advisory Commission. Wes is married to Kristi, has two sons, and served ten years in the US Army.

On this episode of Destination on the Left, Wes Rhea shares his leadership philosophy and how it has empowered his team to adapt and thrive in any situation. We delve into the advantages of embracing technology and how incorporating video and graphic design services in-house has revolutionized their operations. Wes also provides insights on managing a destination with a negative perception, both internally and externally. He discusses the creative strategies his team employs to shift this perception, including leveraging Stockton’s status as the most diverse city in the nation.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • How the ten years that Wes served in the US Army has served him in leading his team
  • How embracing new technology and bringing video and graphic design services in-house transformed operations at Visit Stockton
  • Why the Visit Stockton funding model contributes to how they attract visitors to the city, and why they focus on more than just heads in beds
  • How Wes and his team work to overcome the challenge of a negative perception and becomes a cheerleader for the city
  • Stockton Flavorfest is an excellent example of effective collaboration between cities and tourism entities, allowing them to showcase the vibrancy of a community.

How Being a Veteran Has Helped Wes as a Leader

Wes believes that his experience in the Army has dramatically influenced his leadership style and ability to lead his team effectively. He highlights two key aspects that he attributes to his military background: team development and the ability to work under pressure and adapt. This mindset has translated into his approach as a CEO, where he values and appreciates every individual’s contribution to the team.

Stockton Flavorfest

Inspired by Stockton’s distinction as the most diverse city in the nation, Stockton Flavorfest was designed to celebrate the community’s diversity through food, arts, and cultural activities. The festival prioritized curated vendors, sustainable practices, and a cohesive visual identity. With the seed funding,

Visit Stockton was able to realize their vision, providing engaging entertainment such as Ballet Folklorico and Tahitian dancers, cooking demos, and free arts and crafts for children. The inaugural two-day event in 2022 surpassed expectations, attracting 12,000 attendees and earning Visit Stockton the prestigious Best New Festival award from the International Festival and Events Association.

Overcoming Negative Image

Visit Stockton faces the ongoing challenge of combating the negative perception surrounding the city. Despite being the 11th largest city in California, Stockton is plagued by higher violent crime rates, leading to discouraging comments from residents. However, the team at Visit Stockton remains determined to change the narrative.

They organize fun projects and initiatives, such as a campaign highlighting Stockton as the birthplace of the Fantastic Four. Although these efforts may not directly change people’s opinions or attract tourists, they create a sense of pride among residents and offer a feel-good factor for the team. Despite the daily battle against negativity, Visit Stockton embraces a proactive approach, thinking outside the box and working as cheerleaders for the city, showcasing its hidden gems and fostering positive experiences for visitors and locals alike.


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