Destinations

Interview: Why Visit Pittsburgh CEO’s Job Has Become Easier

Jul 06, 2014 2:00 pm

Skift Take

Pittsburgh needs more hotels and better meeting space but at least now people really want to visit, which is the biggest hurdle.

— Jason Clampet

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Craig Davis may have come to Pittsburgh for work, but he stayed for love.

He arrived in the Steel City in 1994 when he was 27 and quickly fell in love — first with a girl, then with the girl’s city.

“I married a Pittsburgh girl,” he said. “If you marry a Pittsburgh girl, they tend to want to stay.”

And so stay he did. Now he and the Pittsburgh girl — Gwen — have been married for 18 years, longer even than his marriage to VisitPittsburgh, the official tourism promotion agency for Allegheny County, where he is now CEO.

As the area transformed in recent decades, tourism rose to a new level of prominence, growing into a $5.5 billion a year industry that generates almost 40,000 jobs countywide.

Long gone are the days when he would go out and sell Pittsburgh with a bit of an apologetic tone, Mr. Davis said recently, sitting in his 28th floor corner office at Fifth Avenue Place, Downtown. Behind his desk is a breathtaking view of the converging rivers — and a free look at the action in PNC Park.

“Pittsburgh is one of the hottest tourist destinations right now in the United States,” he said. “It’s such a great honor to be in charge of the group that’s tasked to sell the city and what it has.”

And what, exactly, does it have? That is the question Mr. Davis and his team are tasked with answering for companies seeking a convention spot, families looking for a road trip and young adults on the prowl for a weekend of fun.

“Clean, safe and compact” is the phrase that came up again and again.

Whether it’s business people working at the convention center and dining Downtown, families catching a game at PNC Park before riding the incline up to Mount Washington, or a couple of 20-somethings gallivanting through Oakland and South Side like characters from Michael Chabon’s “Mysteries of Pittsburgh,” everyone can appreciate clean, safe streets and the compact nature of the city.

The city’s evolution in recent decades is especially remarkable to Mr. Davis, now 49 and living with his wife in Murrysville. Plenty of tourists still come with questions about steel, he said, expecting a polluted company town.

“People, if they haven’t been here lately haven’t been here,” he said.

Mr. Davis would still like to see another major hotel attached to the convention center, which he said would give the city a competitive edge with other convention hubs like Baltimore and Louisville.

But even without that added amenity, Mr. Davis continues to promote the city he loves.

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