past Talks

Destinations International CEO Summit

3:20-3:55 PM ET

2020 Insights on Leading Through a Crisis


Over the course of my more than 30-year career, I’ve navigated through a multitude of crises – each one shaping my perspective on leadership and teaching me unique and invaluable lessons. The unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 crisis has challenged CEOs across the world to evolve into new ways of managing organizations and redefine leadership for ourselves. On December 15, I sat down with Mark Jeffries, esteemed author and keynote speaker, during Destination International’s CEO Summit to share the insights and principles that past crises and the current situation have taught me as a leader within the travel and tourism industry.

Here are my top three tenets to evolve beyond challenges and lead through uncertainty:

1.) Plan and Don’t Panic

Whenever there’s a crisis – don’t panic. The best way to evolve past challenges and abrupt change is to have developed a situational plan and to have practiced pre-crisis. Most of us aknowledged a global pandemic plan in our crisis manuals and most of us never thought we would use it. In our case, the timing of reauthorization meant we had gone through a pandemic plan and didn’t realize it. Well before we celebrated the news of our reauthorization in December 2019, we developed a contingency plan to help navigate through a variety of potential outcomes. Soon after the start of the year, we moved from celebrating our reauthorization to grappling with the reality of a global pandemic and near halt in travel. Our 2019 contingency planning provided a framework which allowed us to quickly evolve to our current state-of-readiness and efficiently meet the immediate needs of our partners and the industry. Your ability to think ahead, scenario plan, and your willingness to adjust and be nimble will help you chart a clear course of action and, in due time, a brighter future for your organization. Always evolve.

2.) Be open, honest, and optimistic.

One of the most critical tools to sustain an organization through a crisis is communication. Do it openly and consistently and through various channels. For Brand USA, we’re committed to keep our stakeholders aware of the travel landscape through research webinars, board of directors’ meetings, partner outreach, and now through our game-changing Brand USA Global Marketplace platform. Any crisis comes with its share of “bad news”, so as leaders it is important to keep a steady stream of optimism and glimmer of inspiration alive for your team and for your audiences. For us, that optimism comes with knowing that travel will return again, and our ability to inspire and connect with international audiences is now stronger than ever.

3.) Embrace Uncertainty and Change

The unprecedented challenges COVID-19 has presented continues to transform us all, both personally and professionally. When encountering these rare moments of uncertainty and change, first accept the reality of the matter and then lean into the possibilities. As an organization, the nature of this crisis has forced us to embrace new ways to work and still find ways to maintain a collaborative and fun work culture. It’s challenging us to connect with each other in different ways, reinvent the way we do business, and bring out the ingenuity within all of us. Even more powerful is the way in which this crisis is reminding us all of what truly matters – our health, loved ones, and sense of peace. As a CEO who’s travel schedule has dramatically changed, I’m embracing being grounded in every sense of the word and finding meaning behind newfound stillness. I’ve even been able to participate in a great cause and grow a beard at the same time. We are forever changed, yet there’s a lot for which we can be grateful.