|By Eric Heisler, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Apr. 11, 2006 - The No. 2 tourism chief in New Orleans has been hired to lead the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, the agency announced Monday.
Kathleen "Kitty" Ratcliffe will assume her position as president of the CVC next month.
Ratcliffe will be charged with reviving a local convention business that's fallen short of expectations and helping to save a convention hotel complex that's in jeopardy of defaulting on its construction loans.
The commission picked Ratcliffe because of both her industry connections and her ties to St. Louis, said Dan Dierdorf, chairman of the CVC. Ratcliffe worked here as a convention recruiter in the 1980s.
"We wanted someone who was a real industry insider, someone who could hit the ground running without a long ramp-up time," Dierdorf said Monday. "I think you'll find this is big news in the industry because she's popular and well-known."
Ratcliffe is the executive vice president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau. Before that, she was the tourism and convention chief in Jacksonville, Fla. She will replace Carole Moody, who retired in March.
Ratcliffe comes to St. Louis as pressure mounts to bring more visitors and out-of-town meetings to the region.
St. Louis's recent struggles to lure conventions have caused pain for the city's convention hotels, the Renaissance Grand St. Louis and the Renaissance St. Louis Suites. Talks are under way about restructuring the hotels' debt.
Dierdorf said the commission would like to see an improvement in the number of conventions in St. Louis, but he said "we know the industry has become extremely competitive."
Ratcliffe said she's excited to return to St. Louis and she has some ideas on how to raise the city's profile among those who book conventions.
"I think a lot of people in the marketplace think St. Louis is a nice place to live, but that there's not a lot of juice to it," she said. "We need to look at the marketing programs and make sure everybody understands the experience they will have here."
Ratcliffe, a Chicago native, was a convention sales executive for the St. Louis CVC from 1985 to 1989. "I feel like this is coming home," she said.
Gary Andreas, a hotel consultant with H&H Consulting Group in Chesterfield, said he's pleased the CVC hired someone from outside St. Louis. Going outside, he said, might help change the negative perception the city has among some industry officials.
"The previous people pulled some bonehead moves," Andreas said. "If they didn't go outside, it would tell the world that St. Louis wasn't serious about changing ."ˆ."ˆ. With an outside person, you get a different list of contacts you can call on."
In Ratcliffe, St. Louis also gets someone with experience in a region that has successfully competed against the nation's top convention cities, Andreas said.
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