July 14, 2013

On Being A Great Tourism CEO and Industry Leader

2009-12-31 23.00.00-226

By: Dr. Peter Tarlow

July 2013

Nancy Millar of the McAllen CVB and Nydia Tapia-Gonzales director of RGV Tourism with 2 tourism students from Sweden during TUR in Gothenburg 2013.

Many people outside of the tourism industry tend to think of tourism and travel as an ongoing never-ending party. Yet anyone who has ever worked in the world’s largest peacetime industry knows that travel and tourism professionals spend long hours at work and that travel and tourism works to










a great extent like any other large corporation. Just as in other businesses tourism and travel professionals need to deal with budgets, have to justify lost opportunities and must overcome the issue of spoilage. The loss of revenue from an unsold airline seat or hotel room can never be recaptured. Travel and tourism executives have other problems that CEOs or leaders in other industries do not have.

Because Travel and Tourism are composite industries, the head of a Convention and Visitor Bureau (as they are known in the USA) or Office of Tourism as they are know in many other countries, cannot simply set policy. S/he is dependent on other executive’s goodwill and willingness to cooperate. Poor customer service in one part of the tourism system reflects not only on that component but also on the entire travel and tourism system. At other times, travel and tourism executives must deal with challenges over which they have little or no control.

Finally, travel and tourism executives are not necessarily beholden to their shareholders or even to people who understand the industry. In many cases politicians and others outside of the tourism industry become involved in tourism decisions. Thus tourism industry executives may be fired for reasons beyond that person’s control or tend to be stay in place long after their corporate usefulness has expired. To help you to be the best travel and tourism executive possible, Tourism Tidbits offers the following suggestions.

Ask yourself some hard and basic questions. Often mistakes are made when we ask the wrong questions. The old computer science adage: garbage-in/garbage out could not be more accurate. Questions to ask include: What am I the CEO or tourism executive over? How much control do I really have? Exactly what is our business? Who participates in this business? Who are my allies? Where do my challenges lie? Finally, ask yourself if I never showed up at work who really would miss me?

Remember that a CEO or tourism leader (executive) wears many hats. There is no one successful leadership style for tourism industry leaders, because each tourism industry or component industry has unique and special circumstances. Nevertheless all tourism executives should consider a mixture of the following; show leadership.

If the CEO has no sense of direction those under him/her will soon break apart. It is clearly the tourism executives’ role to know where s/he is taking the industry and demonstrate that s/he is in command,

Shake things up. A good tourism executive is aware that travel and tourism are dynamic industries. Re-invent yourself and your industry on a regular basis. Never be satisfied with where you are, especially with your market share.

Coach others and prepare others to take over the reigns of command. The old adage that the best way to learn (or see an error) is by teaching others still holds true. Develop a cadre of disciples who at some point will be able to take your industry to a new level.

Remember that an executive in travel and tourism must be both a care giver and a boss. It Is not easy to combine the two, but employees tend to provide better customer service when they know that those at the top care about them and not just the bottom line. Tourism executives need to know how to maintain their sense of mission and dignity and at the same time demonstrate that they care about those who work in their industry.

Time is both your ally and your enemy, be prepared! How we use time often determines our rate of success. Time management may be the most difficult and important part of tourism executive leadership. Because tourism and travel are component and service industries there will always be periods when time usage is out of the executive’s control. It is for this reason that tourism executives use the parts of their day that they control both wisely and efficiently. When planning one’s day prioritize, what can wait for later and what must be done now!? Then ask what feelings you need to engender during the day. Ask yourself what subconscious messages you are giving others by the way that you spend your time. It is a mistake to assume that those working under your command do not tend to mimic the way that you spend your time.

Know who you are and how you got to where you are. No CEO or tourism executive can be successful if s/he does not first have a sense of self. Are you a compulsive person or hang-loose? Do you need to control others? What are the quirks in other people that upset you? Then teach yourself to listen to your intuition. Often we commit errors by allowing others to talk us into doing what we know is wrong. On the other hand make sure that you look at all of your options before making a decision. Note that there is a difference between listening to your intuition after having studied the options and simply jumping to conclusions. Finally what will the consequences of your decision be? Who will be hurt and who will benefit? When you look back at what you did, will you be happy?

When working with others in your office, make sure that you can answer key questions. Why are your appointing the person to the job? Have you given X person his/her position because you trust that person, because that person is capable, because your want to send a message about your vision to others or merely because the person is a friend? Are you trying to replicate yourself or do you seek people who can compensate for your weaknesses? No one on your team is perfect, but knowing why you chose X person for Y job allows you to evaluate both success and failures. Remember all CEOs and tourism executives are also human beings, all have flaws and all will someday depart the stage.

Know when to get off the stage while others still want more. The hardest thing in life is timing. A successful CEO or tourism executive knows when to come on the stage and when to depart. Remember that you are working not only for the present but also for your legacy for years to come.

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About the Author

Dr. Peter Tarlow
Dr. Peter E. Tarlow is a world-renowned speaker and expert specializing in such areas as: the impact of crime and terrorism on the tourism industry, event and tourism risk management, and economic development. Tarlow earned his Ph.D. in sociology from Texas A&M University. He also holds degrees in history, in Spanish and Hebrew literatures, and in psychotherapy. Since 1990, Tarlow has been teaching courses on tourism, crime & terrorism to police forces and security and tourism professionals throughout the world. ithin the US government Tarlow has lectured for the Department of the Interior, for the Department of Justice (Bureau of Prisons and Office of US Attorneys-General) and for the Department of Homeland Security. Tarlow’s fluency in many languages enables him to speak throughout the world (United States, the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe, and Africa, and the Eastern Pacific). Tarlow lectures on current and future trends in the tourism industry, rural tourism economic development, the gaming industry, issues of crime and terrorism, the role of police departments in urban economic development, and international trade. For more please visit



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