by Andrea Bosco | Photograph by Cayla Zahoran
“First a visitor,” are three words close to the heart of Craig Davis and his VisitPittsburgh team. Named chief executive officer of the sales and marketing organization last spring, the Canada native uses his own story to tell those of others. “You make your decisions about living in a destination based upon that first visit,” he says. “For me, I came to Pittsburgh at 24 years old for a meeting, and I immediately connected to the city.” A few years down the road, Davis was offered his first hotel director of sales position and didn’t hesitate leaving his post at the Drake Hotel in Chicago.
Now a Pittsburgh resident of 20 years, he seeks to promote the value of Pittsburgh’s tourism economy, the credibility of those responsible for its growth, and to restimulate the minds of locals. “We’re the agency that is telling the story of the power of tourism here,” he says. “Pittsburgh is doing fantastically well. People don’t realize our tourism is one of the main drivers of our local economy.”
Davis and his team of 50 full-time employees are finding social media and VisitPittsburgh’s website as big forces for new and familiar connections. “We have very active Facebook and Twitter pages, and there’s a great interplay — because of interested locals, and those unfamiliar who want to get caught up in the city and experience it.”
Overseeing a $10 million budget, Davis says the company’s goals are financially based. “We want to grow the economy from a $5.3 billion industry to the sky’s the limit.” Currently, VisitPittsburgh has conventions booked until 2019 and has one potentially on deck for 2023.
“It’s all about positioning Pittsburgh as a place you’d want to visit and spend your money,” he says. “Our convention product is an important part of our sell. The David L. Lawrence Convention Center is one of the most unique and vibrant in the nation. It’s best of breed.”
The meetings VisitPittsburgh helped to generate in 2011 resulted in $203 million in direct spending to the region.
Active with the Pennsylvania Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus, Davis is proud to have been a part of “the great transformation.” “We’ve gone from saying something like, ‘Pittsburgh is more than you think it is,’ to saying the opposite — ‘Come see why everyone is talking about Pittsburgh.’ It is that fantastic.”
He says he and his staff are in a unique position because they don’t own any of the region’s assets. “We sell all of the assets of the region. And, we have to get creative to figure out a way to match what we have to what people want. That’s where we use the power of electronic media. We are very adept in combing through information and finding out who our customers are.”
Having carried a career in the hospitality industry for more than two decades, Davis knows people are driven to the city’s neighborhoods for a reason. “Every little pocket of Pittsburgh is its own jewel,” he says. “Whether it be the bars and entertainment on South Side, Bloomfield — a favorite of mine, the North Side, or the Strip District, just to name a few, our neighborhoods are so unique.”
So what else is attracting people to this posh melting pot braced by steel? “Energy is off the chart,” Davis says. “The power of businesses that surround Pittsburgh. The Marcellus Shale development. Then you have the banks that are doing very, very well. Consultants — there are many in town doing high-profile business ventures for major companies. On top of that, this is a great place to visit.”
He also feels the Pittsburgh Film Office’s efforts, bringing Hollywood east, have been “an important part” of VisitPittsburgh’s message. “If you go to movie with Tom Cruise or Batman, and you see the beautiful buildings, there’s a message there,” he says. “If this is good enough for the movie, then it must be a place that’s worth seeing.”
A dignified transplant, Davis is thankful he was transferred, met his wife, Gwen, got married, and stayed. “That experience was life-changing for me,” he says. “I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have taken the job, but I had already experienced the product. I wanted to be here, and it was through that first visit.” Forever fastened on the future, he sets his sights on the fruition of successful statistics and the encouragement of challenges to changes. “If we bring an outside journalist in [for coverage] on any given day, looking out the window,” his corner office overlooking PNC Park, “it’s pretty hard not to love it.”
VisitPittsburgh, 120 Fifth Ave., Downtown. 412.281.7711. visitpittsburgh.com.
This article is featured in the January 2013 issue of WHIRL Magazine.
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