Going to Bat for Louisville

Skift Take

Destination management organizations have fought for years to have a seat at the table, and now they are looking to help instill change in a variety of ways.

Cleo Battle is president and CEO of Louisville Tourism, but a career in hospitality wasn’t Battle’s original dream path. He was a track and field athlete in college, and due to an injury, his hopes to go to the Olympics were dashed, which led to a college counselor recommending the hospitality industry. 

Battle began his 35-year hospitality career in the hotel industry, working for brands such as Embassy Suites, Holiday Inn and Sheraton Hotels. He spent 12 years as vice president of sales & services of the Richmond Convention & Visitors Bureau in Richmond, VA, where he was also director of sales and sales manager. He then made a move to Louisville Tourism, initially as executive vice president and chief operating officer.

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Tourism Helps Improve Communities

Tourism helps contribute to making a destination a better place to live, and a good place to live is a good place to visit.  Destination management organizations (DMOs) and convention and visitor bureaus (CVBs) can help make a community better, but it must stay in the tourism lane. Focusing on transportation and labor issues that impact both the community and tourism is one example. 

Leave a Legacy

Louisville Tourism’s Leave a Legacy program helps meetings and event organizers connect with local non-profit organizations. Planners often want their social impact work to be turnkey. However, staffing challenges make this turnkey approach more difficult in a post-pandemic world. This means that clients need to step up and step in to help make these initiatives happen. 

Louisville Tourism has identified 11 non-profit organizations that align with its mission, which they share with the conventions they work with. They invite the conventions coming to Louisville to make a donation to the one that aligns most with their own mission. This way, conventions can have a positive financial impact on the community. It also helps the community understand the importance of meetings, conventions, and events. 

Diversity Matters 

Battle leads Louisville’s Black Tourism Advisory Council (BTAC), an organization created in the summer of 2020 to draw more diverse visitors to the city. The goal is to grow African American leisure visitation from its current 11 percent to the 2019 figure of 14 percent. 

Product development looks like telling the story that 14 of the first 28 Kentucky Derby races were won by African-Americans. 

The business-to-business element ensures that all relatable businesses can feel the economic impact of tourism via meetings, conventions, events, and leisure. This means that organizers need to look beyond their usual supplier roster and instead reach out to culturally diverse businesses and suppliers, which in turn gives them the opportunity to benefit economically from this tourism, with BTAC helping to identify these businesses. 

Managing Political Decisions

The impact of political decisions on destinations has been an important topic of late. Battle believes his role is to market Louisville and talk about what the city does in relation to human rights and being a welcoming destination. He highlights to legislators why certain decisions can have a negative impact on tourism to the city and state. However, regardless of the decision, his organization needs to tell Louisville’s story and allow the city to stand on its own merit, letting people decide to visit.

Telling an Authentic Story

Having the foundation of what makes a destination authentic and telling that story is important to set a destination apart from the others, as is telling that history in a way that a visitor can interact with. For Louisville, that means the Kentucky Derby’s 150th anniversary in 2024, its bourbon industry, notable Louisvillian Muhammad Ali and his humanitarian efforts, and the Louisville Slugger baseball bats.

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