Jonathon Hixon, CMP, Director of Sales, US Association, Tourism Toronto, shares his perspective about his destination and the value found in using a CVB, and Destination Marketing Association International’s (DMAI’s) Terri Roberts takes note.
Jon, as a lifelong hospitality and meetings professional with experience on all sides of the fence, brings an interesting perspective to his CVB work. Clearly a “natural” salesperson and a very nice human being, I urge you to read on to learn more about the engaging and unique destination of Toronto and connecting with Tourism Toronto to benefit from their full scope of meeting services.
TERRI: Tell me a little about yourself and your background in the CVB industry?
JON: My entire professional life has been in the hospitality and meetings industry. From my first job in high school as a buffet runner at the Francis Scott Key Sheraton, then tending bar at Bushwaller’s on Market Street, to managing registration and housing services for large professional and trade associations, and serving as a Meeting Director at the American Bar Association until I joined the team at Tourism Toronto. Every step of the way has exposed me to a different facet of this amazing industry and helped broaden the repertoire of skills I bring to the table as a consultative partner to our clients.
Eight years ago I was hired as an Account Director at Tourism Toronto. I’m grateful to the leadership in place at that time for recognizing in me someone with the personality and skills to succeed in sales despite no previous experience doing just that. Since then I’ve experienced the highs and lows of selling at the tail end of a seller’s market and riding the wave of this most recent buyer’s market. Along the way, I’ve grown into this sales leadership position as Director of Sales, US Associations where I’m fortunate to work side by side with an incredible team.
TERRI: What’s the best thing about your job?
JON: The best thing about my job is waking up each day knowing that it won’t be the same as the day before. There are always fresh challenges and opportunities and I appreciate that there’s really not a routine. I fear falling into a professional rut and the variety of responsibilities and tasks that come with what we do won’t allow for that!
TERRI: What makes Toronto a great meeting destination?
JON: Toronto is blessed to have an abundance of world-class meeting facilities…a must to be a great meeting destination. But beyond the bricks and mortar of those facilities and hotels, the Toronto community, both the hospitality community and the broader community at large, are incredible resources for convention organizers as well. The centres of excellence we enjoy in Engineering, IT and Medical Research all provide amazing intellectual capital for convention organizers to draw upon when convening in Toronto. In fact, many of those community leaders are advocates within their professional associations, championing the opportunity to host a meeting in their home town.
TERRI: What is the one thing planners are always surprised to learn about Toronto?
JON: Actually I would cite two: the first thing that seems to surprise many American planners is just how convenient Toronto is to much of the USA. We’re a 90 minute (or less) flight for 60% of the US population. The second thing that always catches our first time visitors off guard is just how large and vibrant the city is. If I had a looney (a Canadian dollar) for every time I heard “I never knew …” I’d be a wealthy man today.
TERRI: How do you see the value you provide to planners as a CVB?
JON: We’re here to serve two primary roles: first and foremost as “subject matter experts” regarding the destination. Every odd question a planner may ask we should know, or know someone who knows, the answer. Secondarily, we’re where we are to serve as relationship brokers between our clients, all of the hospitality service providers and that community at large to which I referred earlier. Often times clients may come to the city with one key volunteer as part of their organizing committee. It’s our role to augment the knowledge and passion those folks bring so that when the event does take place, all of the delegates walk away saying “So that’s why we met in Toronto!”
TERRI: What do you think are the advantages to reaching out to a CVB first when planning a meeting?
JON: I think that DMOs across North America and around the world pride themselves on providing efficiencies to their clients in a variety of ways: identifying appropriate venues to consider, making connections to the “right” service provider, taking some of that initial logistical burden off the planner’s plate, and I think that’s right. I also think the ideas that can come when we brainstorm together about a new way to achieve the organization’s goals and objectives can be phenomenal.
TERRI: What size/type of meetings best fit in your destination?
JON: As I mentioned Toronto is a city that is blessed with a diverse abundance of meeting venues. The Direct Energy Centre/Allstream Centre and the Metro Toronto Convention Centre are both capable of hosting extremely large groups; 20,000 plus. From there we scale down through large convention hotels such as the Sheraton Centre Toronto to intimate boutiques like the Thompson Hotel. The ideal group for Toronto is one with a bit of an international mandate that feels called to convene in an engaging environment, we’ve got it all!
TERRI: Can a planner of a small or a large meeting take advantage of your services?
JON: Absolutely, we have sales people and client services managers dedicated to meetings that run the gamut from that 10 person Board Meeting to the 20,000 delegate Annual Convention. There are more than 1,200 corporate and business members of ours in the Toronto hospitality community and they live and die by the volume of meetings business we bring to the community, not just the larger “citywide” conventions.
TERRI: Why are your services free?
JON: Our services aren’t free, but they are free to our clients. Our funding is sound thanks to the community’s belief in and commitment to the value we bring to our clients, and in return to the value those clients deliver to our community. The excellent service we provide to the hundreds of meeting organizers with whom we work each year is a large factor in their success, and in turn is something we can talk about as a key decision point with prospective clients. Of course we encourage all of our clients to get engaged with us as early on in their planning process as possible, so that they can see the benefit of the full scope of our services.
TERRI: What motivates you to provide the excellent service you are known for?
JON: That’s really all I’ve ever known. I was brought up by a father with a military background and a mother from a large Irish-American family so some of the first words I learned were “Yes sir, no sir” and “Yes ma’am, no ma’am.” From there I was taught to be unfailingly polite and to do whatever I did well, and with a smile. That grounding has served me well and I also believe in making a personal connection with our clients. I think it’s human nature to want to go the extra mile for people with whom you feel an affinity. And that’s what we do, every day.
TERRI: What would you like all planners to know about Toronto and the Toronto CVB?
JON: We are regularly at the top, or near the top, of the service rankings for North American DMOs, and I really hope that every planner gets a chance to experience that “Toronto love” at some point in time. The service mentality that is manifest in our executive leadership runs through the sales and service teams and is a real difference maker in our ability to deliver amazing client experiences. Give us a chance, we’ll make you shine!