Jeff Vasser, new CEO and director general of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), was center stage for the first time at the association's annual Caribbean Marketplace event in Montego Bay. Vasser is just the third CHTA head in the association's history, succeeding John Bell, who served in that post from 1974 until 2002, and Alec Sanguinetti, who retired at the end of 2012 after a 52-year career in Caribbean tourism industry, including 19 years with the CHTA, nine as director general/CEO. Caribbean editor Gay Nagle Myers spoke with Vasser about his goals and priorities and how it feels to be the new kid on the block.
Q: You most recently headed up the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority for over 10 years, so I imagine you've attended and presided over a number of large conventions in the past. How does Caribbean Marketplace compare, and what are your observations?
A: I've been warmly received by hundreds of people, from hoteliers and hotel associations to tour operators, tourism ministers, allied partners, government officials and media.
There are more than 1,200 attendees at this conference. This is a steep learning curve, and I feel a bit overwhelmed at times, but I'm excited by this region and about the opportunities it offers. I've been on the job six weeks, so I am enjoying this honeymoon period. Everything is new, but it's a bit like drinking from a fire hose right now.
Q: How will your background come into play in your new role?
A: Having come from a convention bureau will help with events such as this Marketplace. I worked under four governors and administrations in New Jersey, so I have hands-on experience in dealing with politicians and their issues. My hotel experience began as assistant food and beverage director at the Pierre [Hotel] in New York [later a Four Seasons and currently managed by Taj Hotels Resorts & Palaces]. I was with Choice Hotels, Cipriani International and Laventhol & Horwath hospitality consultants.
Later, I went back to school to get my master's at Columbia's School of International Public Policy. I spent an internship in Venezuela, worked for Deloitte & Touche, helped out with a study for Puerto Rico's Convention Center in San Juan, served as an election monitor in Venezuela and Jamaica and finally was recruited to my post in Atlantic City, where I grew up.
I'm bringing what I learned in all these fields to my CHTA assignment.
Q: What are your goals at CHTA?
A: I am a firm believer in visibility, accessibility and being a good listener. I want to get back up to speed on my Spanish; I want CHTA to be a repository of data and statistics and a conduit of ideas and suggestions from and with our colleagues and members. Our members need better communication from us; we need to provide more training for hoteliers through webinars, and we need to reach out to the small-property owners, in particular, with tools and resources, such as information on property management systems, solar technology and ... social media.
I want our members to tell CHTA what they want and what they need and how we can improve. I want them to upload and unload their information, problems and comments. CHTA is an association of many [hotel] associations. We are all in this together.
Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.