Sunday, February 29, 2004

Look Who's Talking

Lisa Carrere, General manager of the Millennium Hotel and Four Points Sheraton complex

Lisa Carrere is the new general manager of the Millennium Hotel and Four Points Sheraton complex in downtown Cincinnati. As chief of Greater Cincinnati's largest hotel with 872 rooms, Carrere said one of her top goals is to attract conventions and tourists to Cincinnati. That's no easy task. Downtown hotels have struggled over the past three years with occupancy rates just above 50 percent. And downtown's Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center will have limited space for meetings over the next two years as construction crews start a $160 million expansion. The New Orleans native replaced Rob Gauthier, who left to take an executive job with a startup hotel development and management company in Valencia, Calif. She shares her views of Cincinnati's tourism industry.

HOW DIFFICULT WILL IT BE for downtown and regional hotels over the next two years as the convention center expansion is under construction?

Well, I don't take the center closing lightly. Obviously, the convention center and CVB (Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau) are responsible for bringing a tremendous number of visitors into the city. I am encouraged not only from the positive sales results and revenues results in 2003. From my conversations with fellow hoteliers in the area, 2004 is getting off to a positive start. Cincinnati as a city is approaching a bit of an awakening with the Great American Ball Park, Contemporary Arts Center and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. I think Cincinnati is really becoming a destination regionally for cities within a five-hour drive.

HOW DO YOU CONVINCE TAXPAYERS that it's a good use of tax dollars to promote tourism and conventions?

It's a tough sell. Nobody wants to increase taxes or take additional dollars from their wallet. It's difficult to see the value of adding a ball park, a new restaurant or developing a riverfront that gives the city a central focus point. I was born and raised in New Orleans. As a city, we didn't understand the importance of tourism until the late 1980s. We didn't understand the benefits, that it created jobs and improved the whole area.

DO CINCINNATI'S perceived racial and social issues prevent people from coming to the city?

I'm a creature of the hospitality industry. You need to be welcoming of all backgrounds, all people. You need to benefit from them, not exclude them.

WITH THE RECENT SIGNING of the National Baptist Convention, is the boycott dead?

I'd like to think so. I think Cincinnati and our community still have some growing, some learning and a little healing to do. There is still a greater need for more understanding. To solve any issue, all parties have to be willing to negotiate. The boycott is hurting all of us, including the boycotters themselves.

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