What I Know Now: Alison Best, President of Visit Oakland

By Libby Hoppe, February 28, 2015

Alison Best knew she faced a challenge when she accepted the position as president and CEO of Visit Oakland, the convention and visitors bureau for the city of Oakland, California. To start, she was a first-time CEO, coming in with two decades of industry experience in sales and business development, but nothing with the responsibilities yielded to top executives. “When I looked at the opportunity—size of budget, size of staff—it proved to be the right place to be,” she says. From day one, expectations were clear: Best was expected to turn around a struggling DMO. For the past two years, she’s been focused on doing that by hiring a completely new staff, building (previously nonexistent) relationships with the chamber and other local groups, and shifting the focus of the CVB staff from destination sales to destination marketing. Her philosophy? If you market a destination well and tell its story, it will sell itself. It’s been a wild and rewarding two years for Best. The city is enjoying new and renewed interest as both a meetings and leisure destination. She reveals what she’s learned about herself and the tourism industry during the transition and throughout her 20-year career. 

> As a first-time CEO, it is critical to present tourism as economic development if we want a seat at all the grown-up tables in our cities or on Capitol Hill.

> Ask for help. We are in one of the most openhanded, supportive industries out there. Peer-to-peer learning and sharing is my favorite part of the job.

> Technology is going to change my job every day, and I need to embrace it and use it to my benefit.

> Face-to-face meetings and events are still the most effective way to achieve success. I always say I want to see the person’s eyeballs and tell them “thank you” or ask directly for the business or what I need. Phone and email and webinars are great, but there is nothing like sharing a meal or sitting down one-on-one.

> This organization has a lot of history, and I’ve had to figure out how to balance the richness of our history and what had been accomplished in the past with what I wanted it to become.

> My biggest obstacle was fear: fear of letting people go who didn’t share my vision; fear of stakeholders not buying in to the direction; fear of failing. Once I trusted what I knew and trusted the partnerships I was forming, we were fine.

> The days of going to your CVB for rates and availability are long gone. Technology and the growth of third parties have all but eliminated that role. DMOs have had to reposition as destination experts, marketing and service agencies, and the best people in town to introduce the community to prospective clients.

> I need a solid structure and sound policies to experience the freedom to create. I am learning to trust the very capable people around me to carry out my vision.

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