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David Peckinpaugh, the New President and CEO of the San Diego Convention and
 Visitors Bureau, Brings Enthusiasm to the Organization Beset with
 Steep Cutbacks and Political Wrangling

By Jennifer Davies, The San Diego Union-TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Business News

Sep. 19, 2006 - David Peckinpaugh found his career path by accident.

Peckinpaugh, the new president and CEO of the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau, had graduated from college and was looking for a job that would support his skiing habit. A split shift at a Colorado hotel seemed perfect.

Aside from giving him plenty of time on the slopes, Peckinpaugh said, he realized the hospitality industry fit his personality.

"It was all about networking, about relationships," he said. "It wasn't about selling widgets. It was about selling service."

His ability to connect with people is what local and longtime associates say is his strongest suit.

Peckinpaugh, who most recently served as chief marketing officer at the meeting-planning company Conferon Global Services in Ohio, has spent the first few months of his tenure at ConVis trying to build relationships that had been strained in recent years as the organization dealt with steep cutbacks and political wrangling.

Since taking over for Reint Reinders, who headed ConVis for 15 years and decided to retire from the bureau when his contract ended in June, Peckinpaugh has made it a priority to schedule one-on-one meetings with everyone on his staff.

In addition, he has met with the various players in San Diego's tourism business -- in many cases repeatedly.

Cami Mattson, San Diego North Convention & Visitors Bureau's president and chief executive officer, said she has met with Peckinpaugh three times since he started work in early June.

"When you meet him, he's easy to like," Mattson said. "He seems very real. There's no pretense. There's no hidden agenda, so that's refreshing."

While Reinders long was considered a visionary by national tourism and convention officials and is well-respected locally, he and ConVis faced some criticism in recent years over how the organization spent its money. That controversy, coupled with the city of San Diego's precarious financial situation, resulted in ConVis seeing its budget and duties cut.

Since July 2004, the Convention Center Corp. has had the sole responsibility for sales and marketing of the San Diego Convention Center, a task that previously was split between the Convention Center and the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau.

At the time, the move was considered unusual, because in most large cities the convention and visitors bureau runs the sales and marketing of convention centers.

Peckinpaugh said he has no quibble with the move.

"My opinion is that it is what it is. That decision was made in the past," he said. "In the meantime, we have to get these relationships back on track and move forward."

To do that, the two organizations held a daylong meeting to figure out ways to better work together.

Carol Wallace, head of the Convention Center Corp., applauded Peckinpaugh's more collaborative nature.

"He's somebody you just like. He's somebody who is open and forthright," Wallace said. "When people are open and honest, you can get to consensus very quickly."

Ed Shartar, the CEO of Experient -- which recently changed its name from Conferon -- where Peckinpaugh worked for eight years before accepting the San Diego ConVis job, said people are charmed by the new ConVis leader's enthusiasm and sense of humor.

"He's got a presence about him," Shartar said. "He has a very, very good way to communicate a mission and a vision in a way that captures people's attention."

Bruce Harris, the founder of Experient, said Peckinpaugh always had elaborate plans for the company's annual meeting that brought together employees, clients and vendors.

One year, Peckinpaugh persuaded Harris and the chief financial officer to dress up in turn-of-the-century bathing suits and perform a water ballet routine to "2001: A Space Odyssey."

"In our company, it is one of the most remembered events," Harris said.

There was a good reason for performing those silly skits, Harris said. As the company grew, Peckinpaugh and Harris wanted to make sure that the executive team still was perceived as human.

"One of the best ways to do that is to make fun of yourself," he said.

The youngest of five children, Peckinpaugh admitted to being the most outgoing of his siblings. Whether it was because of his birth order or just his personality, he isn't sure.

"My parents were exhausted by that time," he said of his upbringing.

Still, he said, his lawyer father and homemaker mother "raised us right."

Peckinpaugh, who grew up in Ohio, settled on Colorado College because of its skiing and its curriculum, which allowed a person to focus on one subject for 3 weeks.

He said that appealed to him because, in high school, he was the type of student who took "five courses and did well in three and not so well in two."

Peckinpaugh said he had planned to attend law school to follow in his father's footsteps. The death of a close college friend made him rethink the plan.

"It was a wake-up call," Peckinpaugh said. "Life is too short to do something that you don't have a passion for."

That led him to spend a year manning a sailboat, another favorite pastime.

Then he moved back to Colorado to ski and take a job at the hotel. From there, Peckinpaugh took a series of sales and marketing jobs at hotels across the country, including the La Costa Resort & Spa and the downtown San Diego Hyatt Regency, now known as the Manchester Grand Hyatt.

"I'm probably the only idiot who has left San Diego twice," he joked.

In 1998, Harris was able to lure Peckinpaugh from his job at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas to what then was known as Conferon, which helps companies plan and organize meetings and conventions. Harris said he was drawn to Peckinpaugh because of what he considered his rock-solid integrity and commitment to telling the truth.

Peckinpaugh said he does put a high priority on being honest, not only because it is the right thing to do but because it makes things easier as well.

He said he learned that lesson while serving as the associate director of sales at La Costa Resort in the mid-1980s while it was going through a remodel.

"People are very willing to take bad news, but let them know and don't surprise them," he said.

Peckinpaugh's most recent experience in Ohio will be a boon to San Diego, said Mike McDowell, executive director of the San Diego Lodging Association. At Conferon, Peckinpaugh had to know all the different cities' strengths and weaknesses in terms of hosting large-scale conventions.

"He can come in and say, 'I understand the competition and I know what we are up against,'" McDowell said.

While Harris was sad to lose Peckinpaugh, whom he considers a close friend, he said it was time for him to get the chance to lead his own organization.

Peckinpaugh said that while he struggled with leaving Ohio, where he was close to family and friends, he knew it was time to take on a new challenge.

"It was the chance to be the leader, to help build the environment and culture."

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To see more of The San Diego Union-Tribune, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.uniontrib.com.

Copyright (c) 2006, The San Diego Union-Tribune

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