Successful Meetings

Venus rising. (Spotlight on CVBs).(convention bureaus)

Nearly half of CVBs are headed up by women. Surprised? You shouldn't be. Here's why--and why it's good for planners

IN 1989, MARIAN HOLT MCLATN HAD BEEN WORKING IN THE NUMBER-two spot at the Seattle Convention and Visitors Bureau for 14 years. She'd progressed rapidly at the bureau, having started as a receptionist in 1970 and climbed to her current post in just five years. Still, she wasn't satisfied with playing second fiddle. "I wanted to be number one," she says. "I thought I had the skills, and I love the industry."

Yet she couldn't seem to land the job, despite her obvious talent and longtime dedication to the destination, her hometown. The top position opened up a few times during her tenure, but she didn't get it. Finally, a bureau board member, who was also a friend, took her aside and told her privately that Seattle just wasn't "ready" for a female bureau chief. "That's when I decided to leave Seattle, to look for a city that would appreciate a woman CEO."

My, what a difference 14 years make. Though McLain eventually landed her dream job as bureau CEO, she had to move to California--San Jose--to get it. Nowadays, it'd be much harder to imagine an ambitious female staffer at nearly any CVB being told her destination wasn't "ready" for a woman leader. In fact, the International Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus (IACVB) recently polled over 500 of its member bureaus, predominantly located in the U.S. and Canada, and found that nearly half--48.5 percent-had women in the top job. Women currently head up the bureaus in Jacksonville, FL; Salt Lake City, UT; Madison, WI; Cincinnati, St. Louis, and, most prominently, New York City--not to mention the scores of women across the country who have long been numero uno at smaller destinations like Boise, ID; Bloomington, MN; and Pasadena, CA.

Ascending the Throne

What accounts for women's rapid rise in the CVB world? As cities and towns recognize the value of luring group business, especially conventions and meetings, a growing number have professionalized their tourism offerings, forming bureaus where none existed previously or not as stand-alone entities. In these smaller, more flexible settings, it's often easier for a woman to be recognized for her leadership qualities. This phenomenon, observers say, is good news for travel and hospitality as a whole. After all, it's no secret that there's still a glass ceiling in this industry (see SM's cover story, May 2002), and watching it crack a bit at the nation's CVBs makes many female planners more optimistic about their own ability to ascend. …

Log in to your account to read this article – and millions more.