IMPORTANT VOICES: Martha Sheridan, president and CEO of the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau, and Evan Smith, president and CEO of Discover Newport, both have leadership roles with Washington, D.C.-based Destination Marketing Association International.
The Rhode Island travel and tourism industry grapples with many of the same issues as its peers globally, including how to raise awareness about the value of transportation infrastructure like bridges and airports – and the taxes that feed it.
Enter Evan Smith and Martha Sheridan, two fixtures here in Rhode Island that represent, respectively, the resort area of Newport and the metropolitan destinations of Providence and Warwick. The duo have worked together for years and now will be working even more closely through the Washington, D.C.-based Destination Marketing Association International.
Smith, president and CEO of Discover Newport, and Sheridan, president and CEO of the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau, have led their destination-marketing organizations for 10 and eight years, respectively. In July, Sheridan finished her yearlong stint as chairwoman of DMAI and remains in a leadership position as past chairwoman, while Smith was named to the 25-member board of directors.
“The fact that little, tiny Rhode Island has two people on this board is notable, because we are making a difference in the travel industry,” said Smith.
“We can go toe to toe with any of the greatest names in travel. … I can stand next to [people from] Orlando, and they say, ‘I love Newport.’ A lot of people think we’re too small, but I’ve got to tell you: we stand among the giants in the travel industry and our voices are heard on the national stage,” he said.
The DMAI has 700 destination-marketing organizations (also known as convention and visitors bureaus) and 4,200 professionals as members, said Michael Gehrisch, president and CEO for the past 14 years.
DMAI leaders work for their respective organizations but must also “make the best decision for the industry” as a whole, Gehrisch explained. Smith is “cerebral” and “thoughtful” and will sift through information when making decisions for the group, he said.
Likewise, Sheridan is “practical, straightforward and has the ability to get everybody together,” Gehrisch said. She used those skills to oversee completion of “Destination Next,” a study issued this summer that outlines strategies for shaping what the future will look like for DMAI’s members.
Smith was invited to the board in part because of his connection to Sheridan, and in part as a tactical move to have both resort and metropolitan areas represented, not only in Rhode Island but in the Northeast, Gehrisch said.