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Improving Advocacy with Statewide CVB Associations

By Interview with Ron Garbinski

The effervescent Linda Hoath’s dream job was to become the executive director of the Sault Ste. Marie Convention and Visitors Bureau, a role the tourism pro has enjoyed now for the past 16 years. We caught up with this year’s Michigan Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus president prior to the group’s annual educational meeting in Kalamazoo in September to talk about what’s going on with the statewide organization of 45 CVB members. 

Why are you active in the MACVB and what led you to pursue the position as president?

One of the first goals my board of directors gave me was to get involved with MACVB. At my first meeting, I realized that it was an important meeting to attend. This is where I learned what a CVB executive director does. I heard about different ideas and how to implement them. Some members had been around for many years and they helped me better understand what the public CVB act does for our communities. 

I really feel that it is one of the most important organizations the Sault Ste. Marie CVB belongs to and I decided to get more involved with the board and its different committees. The committees are important to my members (from the franchise to the locally owned properties) and to be a part of the decisions that are made for our industry. This is my second time as president. I think it’s important that we all do our part to continue to make this organization the best it could be and to continue to raise the bar each year. The industry leaders and members are what make MACVB what it is today.

What is the role of the MACVB and how does it help members and their communities? 

Each and every member could give a different list. One size does not fit all. We are so diverse. I believe that for my region advocacy is very important to our industry and our local members, and as a smaller CVB we cannot afford a lobbyist to do what MACVB does for us. Other roles MACVB plays are education, mentorship, networking and so much more. With advertising changing continuously, we share best practices and what’s new at every meeting. We are very active on a national level with Destinations International (DI). Our executive director, Larisa Draves, serves on its advocacy committee and several of our members serve on other committees. We were well represented at a recent DI conference with 12 plus attendees from Michigan, including a MACVB board member. We feel more connected with national-level issues than we have in a long time.

What new goals has the group established?

We continue to work on goals and objectives and assigning time lines to committees. These goals will address two distinct groups from within our membership: first, the CEO member and their needs and, second, the needs of their staff. The primary reason the MACVB board feels we need to include staff and help educate and train them is because they are often our future leaders. We have seen many staff members become the CEO of their own bureau or a leader elsewhere in the tourism industry. So we were mindful of this throughout our strategic planning process.

How are these goals different from previous years?

We are a different organization than we were even three years ago, so we needed to address this during the strategic-planning process. By being active at the national level and also by including and welcoming local CVB staff, I think those two areas will differentiate the goals, objectives and strategies from previous planning sessions.

How do those goals transfer to the activities of local destination marketing areas? 

Many of these are brought to the committee level within the MACVB structure and then the committees report out at each of our quarterly membership meetings. The membership meetings are open to all CEO members and their staff. We also have a quarterly e-newsletter that provides brief highlights of this work.

In what ways does the MACVB work with those in the meetings and events business to assist in their planning process?

The individual members know we are here to assist them with their individual needs. Those needs vary and through the years we have written letters of support to get out-of-state business, as an example. We have also worked on the legislative front in terms of continually striving to have a “meeting and event friendly” business environment in Michigan.

How effective is the MACVB in generating new meetings and events business in Michigan? 

We are getting stronger in this area of work via our partnerships with others and educating meeting planners about what Michigan’s CVBs are and what we do. We partner with Meetings Michigan, which works under a contract with Travel Michigan. In addition, we started our own “MACVB Meeting & Events Guide” in an effort to expand the awareness of CVBs and what we do in the site selection and meeting-planning process. Our executive director is a Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) and is active with several groups. So we are reaching out and expanding our network to generate new contacts for meetings and events to Michigan and to retain the business we already have in Michigan.

How does MACVB work to spread economic development across all sections of Michigan?

Our role as a state association is broad in scope and may vary a bit from economic development at the local level. On a state level, we have a number of partnerships that are part of the economic development process. For example, we partner with the Michigan Trails & Greenways Alliance (MTGA) and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on trails. Through our partnership with MTGA, seven of our members are helping to organize a brand-new bike tour that will be coming through their communities in 2019. These riders will be given the option to spend the night in a hotel or campground and will spend money in the communities along the trail in restaurants, shops, etc. Our partnerships are broad in scope, but ultimately the work trickles down to the community level and does have an impact locally and often statewide.

What’s new in the Soo? What should meeting planners know about your community?

We have new events, bike and water trails, new businesses that enhance the trails, restoration of historical buildings and economic development that is tourism-related happening in the Soo. We are here to help in any way we can. A perfect example is when a meeting planner called and I was able to get her with the right person in a lodging property to set up rooms. We are able to help in setting up outside venues to make any meeting a place to enjoy their time here. We have set up international experiences with our sister city, Sault Ste. Marie Ontario. I really feel that we can do almost anything they ask.

What events are coming to town in 2019? 

We just signed for two big fishing tournaments here next May and July with other proposals I’m sure we will get. We are working on new events all the time, such as the Back to the Bricks car show coming to Sault Ste. Marie on June 9, 2019.

What’s next for you? 

I am always ready to start something new and if an opportunity presents itself that fits into my passion or with my dream job, I am ready to get started.