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Association Bisnow
October 2, 2007

Travel Industry Association CEO Roger Dow knows all about those things. For 34 years he served with Marriott International, most recently leading its 10,000-strong sales team. In fact, he grew up with Marriott—starting as a lifeguard for the young company that had just six hotels. By the time he retired in ‘05, the Bethesda hotel chain had 3,000.

Roger collects art. He says his walls at home are completely full. This piece came from a gallery in Colorado, where Roger owns a second home filled with Western pictures. He knew this piece would fit perfectly in his office: It depicts the nation’s capital with different forms of transportation.

Roger says there are three keys:

  • Use your national account people. Someone on your team needs to understand the scope of the business, and your history.
  • Have the same clauses for all your contracts. Owners are sensitive because it’s a litigious area. The hotel wants to know, “Have you represented my interests well with your contract?”
  • Stress the business for the particular hotel. It doesn’t care how much business the whole chain gives it. If the hotel staff can say from a sales standpoint, “Yes, we’ve looked at this association, they’ve met five years in a row, they’ve delivered on their numbers,” that makes much more sense than “Gee, we don’t know what their history is, it’s a brand new meeting for the association.”

A globe in Roger’s office, selected by his wife. The TIA cares a great deal about getting foreigners to visit.

How did an old Marriott hand end up running the TIA? Roger happily retired from Marriott—but it lasted only 48 hours. He got a call about the job, wasn’t particularly interested, but then realized it represented the chance to influence the industry that molded his life.

Today, TIA has 2,000 members who promote and facilitate travel, from Hilton Hotels to the tiny B&B in Maine, from state tourism offices, and convention and visitors’ bureaus to airlines, trains, boats, cars, theme parks, and payment systems.

We asked Roger some other things:

What are your most important member benefits?
Tradeshows and our research. But also, since I’ve come here, we’ve been seeking a much bigger voice in public policy. In 2001, the travel industry came to its knees in a matter of minutes. Basically, the industry has been under assault. To get a visa to come here from Brazil, you have to wait almost 100 days for an interview. That’s not only hurting the travel industry, it’s hurting our economy. There’s not an industry in the world that cares more about the safety of travelers than the travel industry. We don’t want bad guys in this country. But the bottom line is keeping Brazilians out of the country isn’t keeping bad guys out of the country.

What exactly is that unusual conference you have called International Pow Wow?
It’s a 5,000–person convention held every year. Pow Wow pairs international buyers with domestic sellers. But it’s not like a typical association convention. This is an appointment show. It’s almost like the Dating Game. You tell me who you want to meet with, and we have a computer program that matches you up. We do 42,000 20-minute appointments in three days. It’s not people walking and taking brochures.

How do you know if it’s successful?
Feedback. We estimate there’s more than $3 billion worth of business that’s done at that show where people actually write contracts, and are putting their new pricing out for next year. Most obvious is the fact that they come back.


Arent Fox
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