Tourism was among the many industries that took a major blow last year, and Daviess County felt the impact. According to Visit Owensboro, the pandemic resulted in 2020 being the worst year on record when it came to hotel occupancy and revenues — both of which make up 100% of the organization’s funding.
Convention and Visitor Bureaus across the country were forced to drastically reduce expenses, including marketing costs and staff reductions.
“We had to make some very hard decisions as a result of the pandemic,” said Mark Calitri, Visit Owensboro President & CEO. “We operate like a small business. When people don’t stay in hotels, our budget significantly decreases.”
Despite the many hardships that affected the CVB, Calitri says Visit Owensboro has managed to weather the storm, and that his team is back to full strength and ready to recoup all that was lost in 2020.
“During the pandemic, we took a hard look and knew we had to have an effective plan and staff ready to go for recovery,” Calitri said.
The plan Calitri and his team have implemented includes four pillars of success representing a variety of tourism-related focuses:
- Staking the claim as the Bluegrass Music Capital of the World and marketing Owensboro as such
- Expanding, improving and enhancing the overall visitor experience, which will include a rebranded visitor center, updated community events calendar, mural development and public art promotion and a storytelling/ambassador front-line training program
- Maximizing the economic impact opportunities at the Owensboro Convention Center
- Developing an indoor facility for sports that are capable of attracting overnight hotel stays.
To achieve these goals, Visit Owensboro’s team includes some new faces and upgraded positions for veteran staff as well.
Sarah Haynes will serve as director of destination sales and services. Haynes previously served as the general manager of multiple hotels across Owensboro, Evansville and other locations.
Katie Pickens has been hired as the director of visitor services. Pickens was previously a reporter for Owensboro Times, where she wrote over 1,000 stories covering a variety of topics about the Greater Owensboro area. She will play a large role in content creation and digital marketing.
Chris Gendek is taking on the role of director of destination development and sports management. Gendek’s biggest priorities will be uncovering new sports tournament opportunities for both the newly added indoor sports flooring at the Owensboro Convention Center and the new turf fields at Jack C. Fisher Park.
Dave Kirk will continue as the director of destination management. Kirk will spearhead all of the destination marketing and communications duties, as well as leisure travel development and group sales.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the team we’ve put together Visit Owensboro,” Calitri said. “We’re already seeing results as a benefit of our new staff.”