Kathleen Ratcliffe, who has led the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association's far-flung convention marketing efforts for 6 1/2 years, is resigning to become president of the Jacksonville, Fla., convention bureau.
Ratcliffe, the Baltimore agency's vice president since her failed bid to become its president 15 months ago, will leave June 30 to take the helm at the Jacksonville and the Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Working with a budget far below that of competitors for most of her tenure in the effort to lure conventions to Baltimore, Ratcliffe nonetheless won accolades here and throughout the convention industry for a work ethic and a knack for selling and for delivering on what she promised from the city.
But since the mayor-appointed governing board for the convention bureau chose Carroll R. Armstrong over Ratcliffe and other finalists, her willingness to entertain offers from elsewhere has been no secret among tourism industry leaders. And she received several offers, including one to head the Fort Lauderdale bureau, in the peripatetic convention business where relocating typically is a prerequisite to career growth.
Ratcliffe, who still raves about seeing Baltimore for the first time from the glass elevators of the Hyatt Inner Harbor in December 1990, said: "This is really a hard decision for me to make, because staying at the comfort level would have meant to stay here. But it's the right decision for my career."
Jacksonville, she said, proved irresistible, largely because the city is poised for major growth in its convention and tourism industry and has demonstrated a broad commitment to building the industry through aggressive marketing and new projects such as a $300 million people-mover connecting hotels and the convention center.
Armstrong had high praise for Ratcliffe, whose salary will increase from $92,700 here to $110,000 in Jacksonville.
"It's a big loss, you know. She's been here 6 1/2 years and has done a terrific job in the time that she has been here with really very little money to work with for most of that time," he said. "She managed in spite of all to keep Baltimore in good stead."
Vincent Akra, the interim head of the Jacksonville bureau and president-elect of its governing board, said Ratcliffe topped 80 other candidates in a nationwide search. He said he was well acquainted with Ratcliffe's work and reputation in Baltimore as well as in her current one-year stint as president of Meeting Professionals International, an influential group of those who book conventions in the $83 billion-a-year meetings industry.
"It became a no-brainer: Everyone in the industry has nothing but glowing things to say about [Ratcliffe]," Akra said. "She's a go-getter, and the 8: 30-to-5 workday is just not in her program. She jumps right into action, and that's just what we need."
Ratcliffe, a Chicago native and 15-year veteran in the industry, came to Baltimore in early 1991 as director of convention marketing after working in marketing jobs in St. Louis, Denver and Carbondale, Ill.
Armstrong said he hopes to find a successor to Ratcliffe within a month. Other staffers will divide some of her roles until then, he said.
Though largely behind the scenes, Ratcliffe worked with hoteliers and others in making the case for more money to market Baltimore, which had been spending only a third to half what competitors routinely spend to lure visitors. Convincing lawmakers meant pointing to a dramatic drop in Convention Center bookings within the next few years, despite the center's $151 million expansion and renovation.
Baltimore is beginning to narrow the gap, with a state emergency measure doubling convention bureau spending to about $6 million last year and a law maintaining the level, mostly through city hotel tax proceeds. That should enable the bureau to mount more aggressive advertising and direct-mail campaigns, attend more trade shows and substantially boost its travel budget for sales blitzes and calls on potential clients.
The marketing should pay off. But the city needs one more critical ingredient to compete effectively, Ratcliffe said: a convention headquarters hotel, preferably within a block or two of the center. Like most others in the industry, she said the hotel selected by the city, baking mogul John Paterakis Sr.'s plan to build a mile away from the center, would not fill that need.
Pub Date: 5/30/97