The Big Picture
If Michaels has one talent in particular, it’s his ability to see the best in any situation. In the destination marketing world, that translates into focusing on what a city or region has versus what would be a good addition down the road.
For example, Michaels helped achieve a mountain bike certification at Virginia’s Blue Ridge, the CVB representing Roanoke and its surrounding communities. Anyone visiting that region could see it is picturesque and filled with great biking trails. What sets Michaels apart is he saw an opportunity to draw attention to the region and lure more cycling events.
“It took someone like Alex to see there is a way to attract more people to what you are already doing,” says Hilgert. “Bringing best practices from destinations like Jacksonville and Roanoke to the valley will be a huge asset for us.”
For his part, Michaels says he is constantly learning and observing. Before accepting the job at Discover Lehigh Valley, he and his wife compared the area to the Blue Ridge. “I almost feel that the Blue Ridge is Lehigh Valley 30 years ago,” he says. “I’ve learned that even at a small community, you can drive big business and national conventions.”
Spreading the Word
ArtsQuest alone hosts 4,000 camps, concerts and events per year. Musikfest draws about 1 million visitors. There are top-flight facilities for AAA baseball and minor league hockey. Easton hosts the PA Bacon Fest and country’s longest continually running open-air farmer’s market (established in 1752).
In short, Lehigh Valley is not hurting on inventory. But it’s positioned for more growth, especially when factoring in its proximity to Philadelphia and New York. Don’t bother asking Michaels what groups make a good fit in the valley—his enthusiasm and salesmanship get the best of him.
“There are opportunities for corporate groups, medical groups, educational groups, religious groups, financial groups,” he rattles off. “We have more meeting space than people even realize.”
It’s that last part that Michaels will hone in on. Much of his job is going to be spreading the word, inviting planners and media on FAM trips and attending industry conferences like Connect.
He has no plans to disappear into the shadows now that he is finally a president of a CVB. “I’ve always been a hands-on person,” acknowledges Michaels. “I’m going to want to be out there.”
Yet there are differences between serving as a vice president of sales—a position he has excelled in—and assuming the title of president and CEO. “I will approach things a little differently, maybe little more methodically,” he says. “Sales people tend to react quickly and make decisions fast. I need to look at greater interest of the organization and make sure I am making fiscally responsible decisions.”
The fact he is back in Pennsylvania only reinforces the importance of his position. The prodigal son is back with a chance to take a good product and make it even better.
“It gives you a whole different level of responsibility and level of passion toward it,” he says of being back in the valley. “I am just bursting with energy to get there and be back home.”