In the wake of COVID-19, the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau (PHLCVB) set out to provide planners with up-to-date intel and sound advice, appointing Dr. David Nash, founding dean emeritus of the Jefferson College of Population Health, in the process as its chief health advisor. Dr. Nash and Kavin Schieferdecker, senior vice president of the CVB’s convention division, share how the partnership came to be and its potential lasting impact.

NEM+E: How did you approach the creation of this role? 

Kavin Schieferdecker: The PHLCVB has had a life sciences division for nearly 30 years, so this wasn’t new territory for us, but with COVID-19, there hasn’t exactly been a lack of information available—just a challenge in deciphering the meaning of it all. Having a resource like Dr. Nash helps relay those reports in a way that’s easy to follow for our customers and for us as a destination.

Dr. David Nash: I’m not an epidemiologist, but with my background I can be a translator in conveying what scientists and doctors are finding in a way that most people can understand.

NEM+E: What has the PHLCVB tackled in this partnership so far? 

KS: One of the things we’ve done is to start a webinar series where current and potential meeting planner customers can join for the latest insights and send in questions. We had over 80 attendees for our first, and there’s already so much interest for more.

DN: People are nervous and don’t know what to trust as far as emerging data, so getting these questions answered and being transparent is huge. These are open mic and unscripted, and I might not have all of the answers, but I’m able to tap the many amazing scientists and researchers in the area—what we like to call “meds and eds”—for answers we can bring back to everyone.

KS: And it’s sessions like these that translate those “meds and eds” into “beds.” We’re in an education corridor between Boston and D.C., where the life sciences sector accounted for 27 percent of our citywide business activity in 2019. The people coming to these sessions are a mix of customers with business booked as soon as 2021 or 2022 as well as potential clients with events coming up in 2028 or 2029 and could result in key partnerships down the line.

NEM+E: What impact could this partnership have for the local event industry? 

KS: Everyone’s getting their buildings GBAC STAR-certified and ensuring their partners are taking the correct measures, but having the support of the life sciences sector here and of our city and state leadership to create partnerships like this that are committed to the safety of our attendees and residents is unique. When the time is right to meet, there will be no more prepared city in the region than Philadelphia.

DN: I’m also hoping this partnership helps raise all boats. The PHLCVB has had a running start, but we hope folks see this as an achievable model. The pandemic’s likely to leave people wary for the foreseeable future and for CVBs to have a direct connection like this to medical and health experts, that could be the future of hospitality in keeping people safe and the industry moving forward.

Tony Michaels is no stranger to navigating choppy waters. The CEO and executive director of The Parade Company, which puts on traditions like America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Ford Fireworks, took the helm of the Detroit nonprofit during tough times, at the height of the financial crisis. “2008, 2009, are you kidding me?” says Michaels.


Originally from Ontario, Heather Odendaal got her start in event planning early, serving as her high school’s head of social events. She ended up on the West Coast, courtesy of her studies at the University of British Columbia, and launched her career in Whistler, working for the resort in marketing and events. Today, she’s CEO of Bluebird Strategy, a boutique event planning firm, and CEO and founder of WNORTH, a global community of women who have their sights set on the C-suite.


You may not have seen her name among Chicago’s James Beard award nominees or caught in the buzz of another trendy eatery opening, but the ripples of Rita Dever’s culinary creations have made an impact far and wide. After cooking around the world, the Pacific Northwest native put down roots as Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises’ (LEYE) associate partner and corporate chef where she collaborates in the company’s test kitchen to innovate new dishes for all LEYE restaurants.