In the rush of the holiday season, Brian McCartin takes over the reins as president and CEO at Tempe Tourism Office. The former executive vice president of Travel Portland is returning home to Arizona, where we went to college (Northern Arizona University) and started his extensive career with Marriott International. McCartin shares his favorite things to see and do in Tempe, and his plans to further position Tempe and the state of Arizona as a must-visit destination.
If you were to create a quick bucket list of things a visitor new to Tempe should experience, what would it include?
When you get here, you do have this ability to take in a ton. You’ll wish you’d come here a few days early and stayed a few days after your conference [or plans]. There are so many terrific events that happen on Tempe Town Lake, right in the heart of the downtown area. The Ironman competition happens here in November, and the activities in advance of the competition itself are very exciting. In October, there’s the Ironman 70.3 competition, too. There’s also [the Four Peaks Brewing Co.] Oktoberfest on the lake each October, which is a lot of fun.
What about the arts?
The arts and culture scene is special. To be able to take in a Broadway show at The Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium—a world-class, phenomenal facility, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright—is pretty amazing. Plus, when you have a major university like Arizona State, there are so many activities. The university keeps the city alive and active. There are always lively events on the weekends, like festivals and concerts at the waterfront. Shopping is another great option. There are a slew of different, unique stores and bargains to be had at Arizona Mills and the Tempe Marketplace.
How do the Portland and Tempe markets differ?
They are both great places, no question. Portland has come a long way over the years, and it was fun to watch that build and develop. I feel at home in Tempe. Three hundred thirty days of sunshine each year allows for even more activity than you could perhaps partake in in Oregon, although people do go outside all year there. Arizona State plays a big part in what happens in relation to Tempe. All the natural parks in the state of Arizona have so much to offer. People go, “Wow, I had no idea, there is so much here; we thought it was just about the university.” And ASU does bring a lot of action and diversity to Tempe, but there’s also a large corporate presence here that provides a good business space. You have that year-round corporate culture and activity.
Are there any strategies your longtime predecessor, Stephanie Nowack, had in place that you plan to edit or revise?
The first thing I want to do is get in and understand from the staff, board and community what is so special about Tempe and what they love most about it. From that point, I’ll determine what we’re the best at and then figure out how we go and take action on that. I look forward to the opportunity to get in and learn about the great work that they’ve done here. Then, I’ll look at what we haven’t been able to accomplish yet. There’s so much more in the state of Arizona than the Grand Canyon, so we’ll work closely with the state tourism office to attract even more international visitors.
Which successful strategies will you bring with you?
I’ll bring a collaborative, cooperative effort of working with all the partners in the destination. I’ve already sensed that the spirit of tourism is strong in Tempe and appreciated throughout the state. So taking and leveraging that to the best of our ability will be a focus. We’ll work closely on the relationships Tempe has with other large destination marketing offices and partners throughout the state and work on how we can leverage that cooperative and collective effort for the good of Tempe. In Portland, we were very convention-focused, but in Tempe, we’ll be more focused on the product. The sweet spot here is meetings with between 10 and 500 attendees. We’ll figure out how we can maximize that group and meetings side of things.
What’s your perspective on the overall state of the tourism industry in the U.S. right now?
I have to give a huge kudos to U.S. Travel and the entire travel industry, which has come a long way. It’s really educated people on the value of the tourism industry. I’ve never seen the spirit within the industry as strong as it is today. All the groups are working to position the value of the visitor industry.
What trends are you seeing?
People are keeping an eye on national politics, but I think our industry is doing a great job of stepping forward and taking everything into account as legislation is looked at. Technology is going to continue to be a big issue, and it’s ever changing. Tourism operators need to continue to show relevance to their customers. We are all challenged by this question: How do we ensure we are positioning our city in the best possible way? For us, I think it’s leveraging partnerships. Around the world, there’s a concern over security. All destination marketing organizations and those focused on the industry need to work to ensure that we support all interests and measures around providing a good and safe environment. You’ve got to work hard with your local officials so that people can feel free to travel and not be worried about safety.
Tell us a little more about yourself. Do you have any hobbies?
I like to golf. I’m not very good at it, but I enjoy it! I love being a grandfather. I have two [grandchildren] now and one on the way in February. I really enjoy family, and that’s part of why we moved back here. My family has a wine business in Oregon, so I enjoy fine wine and good food.
Are you loyal to any sports teams?
Well, the sports are one big part of what Arizona has to offer, so I’m becoming an ASU fan. But I enjoy sports, all around. I grew up in Denver, so I’m a Broncos fan. And having lived in Oregon, I’ve come to appreciate Oregon State University—some of my children went to school there. It’s going to be exciting to find out about what the other teams have to offer here in Arizona!