Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau President, William Pate, Reports Banner Years for the ATL

John Tabellione

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

How do you draw 37 million visitors, tourists and business people to Atlanta to spend over $11 billion in one year?

And just what kind of background would a person need to lead such a highly successful convention and visitors bureau? PR guru? Fortune 500 executive? Sports marketing expert? Non-profit trade association leader? 

To find answers, we asked William Pate, President of the ACVB, whose lengthy resume can be described as such, how he does it. He responded to our questions as follows: 

What is the general outlook for Atlanta tourism and conventions for 2015 and beyond?

Atlanta experienced a banner year in 2014. Metro Atlanta ranked No. 1 in hotel occupancy growth among the top 25 U.S. markets, and for the first time in the city’s history, hotel occupancy for the year reached more than 70 percent. These numbers reflect our momentum as we attract new and return business in 2015 and beyond. 

More specifically, what are some of the milestones for 2015 and beyond that you can tell us about?

We have 18 major citywide conventions scheduled this year, and our booking pace over the next eight years remains strong. The convention and tourism industry in Atlanta generates about $14 billion in economic impact for the city annually and the outlook on convention business remains healthy. We’ve also secured the NCAA Men’s Final Four in 2020, and we hope to add the College Football Playoff national championship in 2018 and Super Bowl in 2019 to help the city close out the decade strong. 

On a related note, can you briefly describe for those unfamiliar with your organization, examples of the type of long-range planning that goes into the strategy to attract visitors, company meetings and conventions?

ACVB has a five-year strategic plan, along with an annual operating plan, which really drives our business. We do a great deal of long-range planning when it comes to attracting people to Atlanta. We are bringing major national meetings to the city, so our team works with meeting planners from the corporate and association segments years in advance. Currently, our sales team is booking meetings as far out as 2030. 

When people ask “Why Atlanta?” there are certainly plenty of good reasons, but what one thing/name/slogan do you think best describes Atlanta as a destination vis-à-vis other cities, e.g., Nashville being “Music City,” Charleston (The Holy City), New Orleans (The Big Easy), etc.?

Atlanta is a milestone city. It’s home to the world’s busiest airport, the American civil rights movement, Centennial Olympic Games and the birthplace of one of the world’s most iconic brands – Coca-Cola. We are the world’s most welcoming city where Southern hospitality isn’t a catch phrase—it’s the way we do business. Over and over, visitors tell me about the unexpected warmth and kindness they received from people when they visit our city.  

Similarly, how well do you think that the abbreviation “ATL” is catching on?

ATL is an icon that’s easily identifiable with our city, much like the swoosh is with Nike. It’s particularly popular with millennials, which is an important audience as we look to future growth. 

How do you interact with the Atlanta city officials and with counties and other cities in the metro Atlanta area, i.e., do you meet jointly regularly, or do they submit information on an ad hoc basis? Or do you have contacts in your organization talk to their counterparts, etc.?

Atlanta is a city known for collaboration throughout the business community. I’m a firm believer that a rising tide lifts all boats, so it is important to sit at the table with stakeholders throughout the business community. ACVB works closely with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s office, Metro Atlanta Chamber and Georgia Department of Economic Development on ways we can continue to align strategies that strengthen Atlanta’s economy. We also work with leadership officials throughout the region and country to discuss the potential for new business opportunities. As the Capital of the South, Atlanta is a gateway to many destinations in the region so their success is also good for us.

What methodologies and metrics does your organization use to determine the annual dollar influx for Atlanta metro area for a convention, as well as for measuring an entire year?

We manage our business by the numbers. Each department has a set of metrics that are rolled up into a dashboard that I review monthly and then share with our board. Tourism Economics developed an economic impact calculator that has become the industry standard for destinations to use when estimating impact for conventions. ACVB uses this tool to project direct spending for meetings based on factors like expected attendance and length of stay.  

What different types of communication tools do you use to spread the message about the benefits of Atlanta to your various target market segments?

ACVB is unique because it is a fully-integrated marketing organization, capitalizing on digital, print and broadcast channels to push out content about Atlanta. In 2014, our marketing team led a redesign of, the city’s official tourism website. With a shift in focus, this platform incorporates authentic, original content about what to explore in Atlanta. Our meeting planner website,, recently launched as a more user-friendly tool for event planners. Atlanta Now, the official visitors guide magazine, also has a new look with 10 additional pages of content. Each of these channels is unique in how they raise the destination appeal of Atlanta.    

How much and which social media do you use as part of your marketing strategy?

Social media is an integral part of how we market Atlanta. Our social presence is everywhere – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, Google+ and Flickr. So many people rely on social media to receive news and gather information, so our channels allow us to insert Atlanta into the conversation. The way people make travel plans has changed and social media and technology play an enormous role in that. ACVB continues to create new ways to use social media to attract visitors to the city.   

Can you please describe your management organization and team?

ACVB is governed by a board of directors and executive committee. Our cabinet of executive leaders consists of seven people that oversee six departments: administration and finance, sales and convention services, marketing, membership, government affairs and communications. 

Please name some important milestones since you’ve been CEO of the ACVB?

We hit several milestones last year of which we are particularly proud. Metro Atlanta ranked No. 1 for the highest growth rate in hotel occupancy among the top 25 U.S. markets, and occupancy in the city of Atlanta surpassed 70 percent for the first time in history. In 2013, Atlanta set a new record for visitation in a single year, welcoming 45 million visitors. Some of the most important milestones I’ve experienced as CEO here have been the success of my staff. Last year, one of my employees became COO of Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI), which is the global trade association for official destination marketing organizations. Another employee is now the president & CEO of a CVB in Tennessee.  

Can you please tell us a little about your personal background?

I’m a native Atlantan and while my career has allowed me to travel the globe, I’ve been fortunate that I’ve never had to move. I’m a proud graduate of Georgia State University where I received my undergraduate degree in journalism and my graduate degree in communications. A marketer by trade, I started my career working for Goodwill Industries and the American Red Cross. I later became CMO at BellSouth and then led domestic and international advertising and public relations for MCI. My biggest accomplish is my family, though. I’m married with three children – two have graduated college and are working in marketing, and my youngest is in high school. 

Who are some important influencers in your life?

I’ve been influenced by many wonderful people, but none more so than my mother. She raised me by herself and juggled a lot to make sure I could accomplish my goals. My older brother helped shape my career path and has always been a huge supporter of everything I’ve done. Harold Davis, the chairman of the journalism department at Georgia State, played an enormous role in my life. He taught me about business and communications, but more importantly about intangibles in the work place like how to manage politics and listen to people. Tim Price, president of MCI, is responsible for teaching me how the power of marketing can grow a company. Those skills have been invaluable during my time at ACVB.

Do you have anything else you would like to share with our audience of business professionals, company owners, government officials, etc.?

Success for any company, or any leader, is really based on the people you hire. You’ve got to hire great people who are smart, self-starters and have good leadership and decision-making skills. The most important thing is to get the best people in the industry working for you, and then give them the tools to succeed.

About John Tabellione

John Tabellione is an award-winning, professional business writer, complemented by over twenty-five years of strategic communication responsibilities as a Marketing, New Business Development and National Account Sales Executive in consumer goods and commercial industries. 

Experience with Fortune 500 companies, as well as with smaller firms and non-profits, encompassing a variety of products, including those of Georgia-Pacific, Kimberly-Clark and Stanley Works. 

John has a B.A. in English from Fairfield University and an MBA in Marketing from the University of Hartford. In addition, he has studied Russian at the Defense Language Institute at Syracuse University, and Italian language and culture at Kennesaw State University.