What are the challenges and opportunities in our city’s tourism industry today, and what does the future hold? Venture Connectors' September lunch featured three tourism experts — Cleo Battle, Chief Operating Officer for Louisville Tourism (formerly the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau), David S. Beck, President and CEO of Kentucky Venues, and Sean Higgins, Chief Fun Officer at Mint Julep Experiences. They discussed tourism’s economic impact, what Louisville needs to grow the industry and attract larger conventions to town, as well as opportunities for the entrepreneurial community to get involved.

A Certified Destination Management Executive (CDME) and Certified Association Sales Executive (CASE), Battle has worked in the hospitality industry for over 30 years. Prior to coming to Louisville in 2013, he spent 12 years as Vice President of Sales & Services of the Richmond Convention & Visitors Bureau in Richmond, VA. A native of Denver, Battle has a bachelor’s degree in hotel/restaurant management from Metropolitan State University and an MBA from Averett University.

Kentucky Venues operates the Kentucky Exposition Center, the Kentucky International Convention Center and produces the Kentucky State Fair, North American International Livestock Exposition and National Farm Machinery Show. Beck was named President and CEO in 2018. Prior to that, he worked at Kentucky Farm Bureau for 41 years. Beck also serves as a Commissioner on the Louisville Tourism Board and a Director on the Kentucky Derby Festival Board. He is a native of Lyon County and has a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from Murray State University.

After a 20-year career in startup technology in California, Higgins moved back to his hometown of Louisville to manage the global enterprise space for Cisco Systems. He and his wife, Lisa, started Mint Julep Experiences in 2007 to get out of the corporate world and build something meaningful. They have grown the company to include two locations, an employee base of 63 families and 28 vehicles. The company will host over 40,000 visitors in 2019.