Backgrounder: Dennis Edwards
Thu, Feb. 01 2018, 10AM by visitRaleigh
Every chance we get, we try to “beat the drum” — tourism is a $2.4 billion business in Wake County, making it one of the county’s top income and employment generators. And as such, it should be considered with the import and significance it deserves.
At the CVB, we take seriously our role as advocate for tourism-related goals and objectives, to see that tourism is represented at the table when important decisions need to be made about the future and direction of the county. We represent visitors and their unique needs and concerns when they are in our area.
At the helm of the GRCVB is Dennis Edwards, president and CEO. Have you ever wondered about Denny’s background and his personal perspective about tourism? Following is what we call “Backgrounder: Dennis Edwards,” a resume-of-sorts about Wake County’s chief tourism officer.
Q: How would you describe your personal brand?
A: “Integrity and passion, performance-driven and service-based, being a good listener, humble and a risk-taker.”
Q: How would you describe your style of leadership?
A: “I like to surround myself with top talent who have a passion for their jobs. Give staff the tools and resources to do their jobs and stay out of the way. I also want to be approachable at all times.”
Q: Can you summarize your philosophy of CVB leadership?
A: “I want to give staff the ability and encourage them to always be leaders in the CVB industry. Encourage them to think out of the norm and be willing to take risks. What is going to make us and Wake County stand out from the crowd? How can we play a role in ensuring our visitors have the best possible experience at every touch point?”
Q: Would you provide a brief version of your education/professional/work history?
A: “I graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with a public relations degree. I’ve been in the CVB business for over 34 years. Beginning in Sioux City, Iowa, Culver City, Calif., Palm Springs, Calif., Houston, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and I've been with the Greater Raleigh CVB for nearly 11 years.”
Q: What was it about the tourism industry that attracted you?
A: “Having the ability to have a positive impact on the quality of life for an area through economic development, tax generation and job creation. Every day is different and has a new set of challenges and opportunities.”
Q: How does tourism fit into the “big picture” of economic development in the county?
A: “It plays a significant role. Wake County had 15.6 million visitors in 2016 who generated $2.4 billion in direct spending. Those are new dollars that came into our county, which in turn generated over $242 million in tax revenues. And over $52 million in lodging tax and prepared food and beverage tax was collected.
“The majority of that money is invested back into tourism infrastructure in Wake County that our residents can enjoy (such as Raleigh Convention Center, PNC Arena, WakeMed Soccer Park, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, Marbles Kids Museum, Five County Stadium and even expansions at the North Carolina Museum of Art and North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences).
“Tourism is also a huge job generator for the county. It directly supports 25,535 full-time employees with a payroll of $715.3 million in Wake County alone.”
Q: How do you see your role as CEO of the Bureau in relation to other political organizations in the county?
A: “We are the voice and advocate of the visitor. It is our job to ensure that, when political decisions are being made, [leaders] consider how those decisions will impact the visitor and not just the resident. Thankfully, we now have a seat at the table, and our elected officials understand the importance of tourism, but we need to continue to spread that message and ensure that the visitor and their experiences are always taken into account.”
Q: What are you most proud of professionally?
A: “Everywhere I have worked, we have experienced growth in the tourism sector, including additional infrastructure and job creation. The community has understood the importance of tourism and has embraced our efforts.”
Q: How have you seen the tourism industry change in the last 20 years?
A: “The rapid advancement of technology and what it has enabled us to do from a sales and marketing perspective. When I started, we didn’t have the Internet. We relied on fax machines and print ads.
“CVBs are now recognized as economic development agencies. We are no longer simply sales and marketing experts. But we now have influence on infrastructure in all areas impacting the visitor.”
Q: What are you most proud of regarding the GRCVB?
A: “Our staff is always on the cutting edge in a number of areas. Many of our staff are or have been in industry leadership positions statewide and nationally. We also continue to receive numerous state and national awards, which speaks to the quality and professionalism of our entire team.”
Q: What do you perceive as Raleigh, N.C.’s greatest strengths (as they relate to tourism)?
A: “The cooperation and collaboration between the public and private sectors. Everyone has the same goal, which is to continue to improve our quality of life. The educational institutions and their relationship with the private sector. The outstanding arts and cultural amenities, live music scene, culinary experiences and the outdoor assets.”
Q: What do you perceive as Raleigh, N.C.’s greatest challenges (as they relate to tourism)?
A: “We still need a full-service hotel (or possibly hotels) within walking distance to Raleigh Convention Center. Many communities are building and improving their sports complexes. We need to ensure that we continue to do the same to remain competitive in that market. We need to continue to support RDU and its efforts to increase the number of domestic and international flights. Support governments efforts to improve ground transportation enhancements throughout the county. We need to continue to deliver exceptional customer service at every touch point."
Q: Fast-forward about 15 years from now; you are retiring and getting a lifetime achievement award for your work at the GRCVB. What would you want the presenter to say in your congratulatory speech?
A: “He always put his staff and family first. He led by example and had a passion for everything he’s done. Glad he played a role in what Wake County is today, one of the premier visitor destinations in the Southeast.”