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Why 3 Veteran DMO Execs Joined Forces for Tourism and Destination Recovery

January 19, 2021
Kris Smith, Karin Aaron and David Jackson, all longtime members of the destination marketing trade, founded KKD Tourism Advisors.

We’ve heard so much about the isolation brought on by COVID-19 and how it’s kept us apart—work and industry colleagues and especially family and friends. But the havoc wreaked by the pandemic actually brought together three experienced DMO executives, who started an innovative new consultancy group, KKD Tourism Advisors.

KKD, each letter standing for the first name of one of its three founders, focuses on tourism recovery and destination development, as COVID-19 has caused innumerous travel cancellations and what are likely to be permanent changes to the MICE and leisure travel industry (plus, a recent relief bill that showed progress but still left CVBs wanting).

The consultancy group—spearheaded by Karin Aaron, Kris Smith and David Jackson—will help drive economic recovery for destinations by tapping the founders’ more than 100 years of combined experience in destination marketing and its broad network of experts.

Aaron was formerly president and CEO of New Jersey’s Greater Newark Convention and Visitors Bureau, while Smith most recently served as director of the Detroit Sports Commission. (Pre-pandemic, the two had successfully helped secure the 2025 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament for the city of Newark.) Jackson most recently served as vice president of sales for the Pocono Mountains CVB.

Changes to Destination Marketing

In May, Jackson was on furlough and reached out to Smith, who was experiencing something similar at the time, and the two began having discussions on what the meetings and tourism industry would look like post COVID-19. Then Aaron entered conversations in the summer and fall, and by November, Jackson said, they were “full speed ahead.”

“The industry has been good to us,” he said. “I’ll admit, I was taken aback by just how disruptive COVID had been to the industry. I felt let down. But this has put a new juice back into us, creatively. We want to be a part of the solution as opposed to being a part of the problem. It’s a simple concept, really, in that we want to use our experience to get it out there that we are open and ready to assist, particularly tourism and hospitality.”

KKD, like many industry folks, know that the ways in which cities market their destinations has changed, from emphasizing GBAC STAR accreditations to revealing ways in which they’ve helped planners pull off safe, successful in-person meetings amid the pandemic.

“You almost have to re-prove that you’re safe,” Jackson said, “and that you have your visitors’ interest top of mind—that you will come to our destination or hotel or place of business and we will help you leave as healthy as you came. You have to convey that, and there are certain steps to do that, certain key words and language. They also want to hear some of what others have to say and have experienced, so testimonials are more important than they’ve ever been.”

Once through that threshold, Jackson added, then it’s time to tout what the destination offers that no one else can. And post-pandemic, CVBs and DMOs might have to dig even deeper for those captivating differentiators.

“We want to be in the position of helping you uncover that kind of thing to bring out that separation from the pack and to answer questions you didn’t even know you had,” Jackson said. “And getting the community on board—because I think it’s going to be very vital that the community is speaking the same language. That can become your greatest asset.”

[Related: Associations and CVBs Winners in New COVID-19 Relief Bill, But Still Left Wanting]

A Life Raft

KKD also plans to offer an array of services aside from tourism recovery. Other areas include cross-cultural sales and marketing; tradeshow consultation; diversity, equity and inclusion training; and improving sustainability in tourism.

“We’re the equivalent of coming in, getting a project, and you don’t have to pay the salary or benefits that you would for a full-time employee,” Jackson said. “You’re getting a ready-made team working on your behalf, whether it’s a short-, medium- or long-term effort. On top of that, we have such a reach of our network, that if we need to bring in experts on a specific topic or need to bring in additional staffing, they will be more than glad to join forces.”

And if a destination or hospitality organization just feels out of their depth in these unprecedented times, KKD can be that life raft.

“CEOs who have to answer to boards, we want to give them that confidence back,” Jackson said, “where they can go to their board meetings and be prepared…We’re one phone call away.”

Visit www.kkdta.com for more information.

Read Next: Health Experts Say Large Meetings May Resume by End of 2021

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About the author
Sarah Kloepple | Content Developer, Destinations and Features

Sarah Kloepple joined Stamats as a staff writer in August 2018. Previously, she's written and edited for numerous publications in St. Louis.