100 Years of Advancing Destinations

Effective Leadership During Times of Crisis

Author: Jim McCaul
Posted: February 04, 2016
Blog Topics Covered:
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Tom Noonan, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, epitomizes the evolving role of the next generation CEO in today's destination marketing industry. Last year, he stewarded the city's public relations response to the Baltimore protests.

The protests garnered national press through May 2015, and the wake of those had an immediate impact on the city's visitor economy. Scheduled events in May such as Door & Hardware Institute's CoNEXTions convention and an American Heart Association conference were canceled. Suddenly, the city's reputation was significantly damaged and Visit Baltimore needed to act fast and firmly.

The DMO immediately began work to produce a Q&A video that launched on May 4 with Noonan directly addressing the protests and their impact on the city. He also explained his organization's role to share information with the public and his efforts to boost confidence for both local suppliers and national buyers.

"For Visit Baltimore right now, this organization is working as a kind of convention services organization, a tourism services organization, a member services organization, and we're trying to be a clearinghouse for information for anybody who needs it about the city and what we're doing right now," Noonan explained in the video. "Eventually we're going to morph into being that long-term convention sales and marketing organization, that tourism marketing organization, which we were set up to do. We just want to make sure that we do that right at a thoughtful time."

In the week following the first video, Visit Baltimore produced two more videos with the Noonan explaining how the city was safe and open for business. Those videos were supplemented with others from area travel suppliers and a meeting planner with the American College of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, who organized a large conference held in Baltimore during the first week of May.

How Visit Baltimore conceptualized and filmed half a dozen videos, and delivered them online in a timely manner on baltimore.org, is a good case study for how DMOs effectively handle crisis management in 2015.

Measuring the impact of social issues on a destination’s visitor economy is no simple task. But that’s exactly what Visit Indy set out to do when it conducted research to quantify the effect of controversy surrounding the state’s religious objections law.

The organization found that Indiana may have lost as much as $60 million in hotel profits, tax revenue and other economic benefits when a dozen groups decided against hosting conventions in Indianapolis. Twelve out-of-state groups were surveyed and all said that the state’s controversial law played a role in their decision to hold their events elsewhere "And it wasn't always the law itself.  It was the controversy around the law, as well as the law," said Leonard Hoops, Visit Indy's President and CEO. 

The adversity happened right after the RFRA debate - the second quarter of 2015 following the contentious legislative session.  Hoops said year-over-year convention bookings drop by 43% in the quarter.  Business picked up in July, after Visit Indy and others throughout the city engineered the Indy Welcomes All campaign, emphasizing the city's decade-long human rights ordinance that protects gays, lesbians and the transgender community from discrimination. 

“It took a few months for our team to methodically reach out to meeting decision-makers and communicate that Indianapolis already had its own long-standing human rights ordinance with full LGBT protections, and that Indiana’s religious freedom law had been amended and could not be used for discrimination,” said Hoops. “We’re optimistic that groups that did not choose us during the second quarter of last year will reconsider us in the future especially when they compare Indy’s comprehensive HRO to other major cities.” 

Despite the controversy, 2015 was another record year for tourism in Indy. “Though we faced some adversity in 2015, our entire tourism community galvanized, helping produce a record-setting year for Indianapolis, Central Indiana and Visit Indy,” said Hoops.