President and CEO David Gilbert started by telling the audience that last year’s branding campaign has helped make Cleveland into a travel destination. “The world is taking notice,” he said. “We believe this is just the start. We’re on a rollercoaster and about to crest and it’s going to be a wild, wild ride.” Then, he dropped some serious numbers in referencing the nearly 3 billion dollars that have been spent on visitor-related infrastructure.
He admitted that the perception outside the community “wasn’t very good” but had numbers that suggested that it has started to change. He also touched on the Republication National Convention, which he described as the biggest event to arrive to the region in decades. Mayor Frank Jackson was on hand to talk about the significance of the convention too. Gilbert and co. pointed out in the wake of the RNC announcement, some 13,000 articles have been written about the city as “It’s Go Time” flashed in large letters on the scoreboard.
Introduced by Gilbert as a “great, great Clevelander,” chef and restaurateur Michael Symon delivered a keynote address and talked about spending time on “both sides of the river” while growing up here. “But I fell in love with the city’s core,” he admitted. “I never had doubt in the city because of the people who live here. We’re cranky and slightly defensive but we’re a resilient bunch. We should show the country why it’s the greatest place in the country.”
Gilbert concluded by citing “amazing” changes in the perception of the city and he had statistics to suggest the locals feel better about recommending the city as a tourist destination. “We have the tool kit and now we have to use it,” he said in closing. “We have great things coming but they are not our destination. They are our runways. It is go time.”
The Moxies, a hip, energetic indie rock band, played during the reception that followed the presentations.