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leaders ofthe other organizations. The number ofDMOs par- ticipating with U.S. Travel was relatively low until a few years ago. Now that has grown tremendously, and we’ve got not only the professional platforms [through industry associa- tions] but the political platforms through U.S. Travel.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’re facing in your role at DMAI? What is most worrisome toDMOexecutives all over the country is the stability of their funding. During this economic downturn, virtually every state and local governing authority in the country has had reduced budgets or significant deficits, and that has put into peril tourism-marketing funding at every level throughout the United States. That is so short- sighted, because it’s one of only one or two areas in govern- ment budgets that actually create more revenue and more taxes. You would think [DMOs] would be immune from reductions, but they are not. And that’s why the issues of rele- vancy and advocacy are really so important. It’s also important to the convention and meeting industry

because there is such a partnership between the planner and the CVB team, both on the sales and service side. Whether it deals with venue selection, off-site attractions, convention- center issues—the service people are critical to making sure that planners can execute flawless meetings.

Has that resulted in any new initiatives at DMAI? What it has resulted in is making one of our strongest plat- forms over these next several years being one of advocacy. The advocacy has to be built around factual information and research. And it has to be taking that information from the chambers in Capitol Hill and the rooms in theWestWing in the White House down to the smallest city council in the smallest town.We have to make sure they understand that not only are we one of the largest industries in America and one of the few that affects every single county in America, but it is one that is tied up with the most fundamental of all American freedoms—and that is the freedom to travel.

Hurricane Katrina must have given you a unique perspective on the crisis in Japan. Can you speak to that? What happened in Japan is overwhelming on an emotional and human basis. The business consequences—I don’t even think they can be estimated yet. It’s going to be a long road to recovery. Back on Feb. 22, one ofthe world’s largest earthquakes hit

Christchurch, New Zealand. I [recently] did a webinar for 70 ofthe top New Zealand travel leaders who were convening because they’re hosting the RugbyWorld Cup 2011 [in Sep- tember]. One oftheir stadiums and one oftheir most impor- tant museums were damaged, and they’re trying to get a handle on what to expect, the steps to go through. [In New Orleans,] we literally had to write the book.

There’d been nothing of the magnitude of a Katrina before for a major American city.We’re going to be sending them a lot ofmaterials from the messaging point ofview ofhow to approach this.

56 pcma convene May 2011

I really enjoyed doing that for New Zealand CVB CEOs

and heads oftravel [organizations]. When the time is right, we’re going to reach out and do the same thing in Japan, because it’s an important travel market for us. From the human side, there are things that we may have learned that could be helpful for them. As the nuclear situation there stabi- lizes, we’ll all be able to jump in together and help one ofthe world’s most important countries get a significant section of its country back on its feet again.

Would you have any advice for industry professionals on how they can best reach out to help Japan? You have to rely on existing mechanisms and relationships. I think it’s important for us to reach out to our counterparts there. If you’re talking about a major American professional association, it’s very likely that they’ve got hundreds of Japan- ese attendees out oftheir thousands ofinternational visitors. One ofthe things that we learned here is that it’s important

to raise money for the employees in our industry who have lost everything.We had a number ofCVBs around the coun- try, led by NYC&Company, who raised money for our employees after Katrina, because at least a quarter of them had lost their homes. It’s very hard—the way that we push our employees to do the things they need to do in the middle ofa crisis—when they can barely make their living condi- tions work. We’ve got a strong out-of-the-box emergency plan here in

New Orleans, and members ofDMAI and CVBs all over the country have requested it. I think it’s important when you go through that [kind ofa crisis] to share what you’ve learned.

What keeps you excited about this industry? I was trained as an historian and anthropologist, and I was an archaeologist for a number ofyears. I’ve been to a lot ofplaces and done a lot ofunusual things. I went to college in Russia during the height ofthe ColdWar. One ofthe things that I have learned firsthand is that travel is the greatest force of change on the planet. It is the ultimate pollinator ofideas, visions, new standards, and new ways ofdoing things that excite people— and in the end, travel becomes the single-most natural enemy of bigotry, intolerance, and hatred. We in this industry are working for one of the great forces

ofpositive change in human history. Tourism has now blos- somed into the nation’s cultural economy. What we do and the visitors that we bring in create the markets that allow city after city to have performing-arts theaters, venues, museums, and attractions that change the very character ofthose com- munities. You are changing the world every time you advance travel

and the mixing of different cultures. That’s what makes me wake up in the morning thinking I’ve got the coolest job in the world. 

 Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.

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