As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jason Dunn Sr. He is the Chairman of NCBMP and has been a change maker in Cincinnati and within the national hospitality industry for almost two decades. He has a drive to redefine how the industry thinks about multicultural and diversity meetings and their impact on the destinations. As the first supplier to be elected Chairman of the National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals (NCBMP), Jason Dunn, Sr. has found intersections between his role as Group Vice-President in Cincinnati and Chairman of NCBMP. Under Mr. Dunn’s leadership, NCBMP has forged a partnership with Meeting Professionals International (MIP) and provides an equitable exchange- introducing professional development access through educational opportunities. The partnership will focus on unifying the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) industry in a comprehensive way by leading with data and mutual access to untapped resources.
Since joining the Cincinnati Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CCVB) in 2004, Mr. Dunn has led efforts to deliver significant new convention business and forged inroads with the national multicultural and diverse meetings market. During his tenure, the number of multicultural and diverse meetings in Cincinnati has represented more than one-third of all CVB new business from 2008–18, with a direct visitor spend of $200 million. Mr. Dunn brings deep perspective and a successful track record in connecting communities of all backgrounds to Cincinnati, Ohio.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
JASON DUNN: I joined the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners in 2004 and joined the Board in 2014. Post the name change of National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals (NCBMP) and the broadening of the organization’s scope, I was elected Chairman of the Board in 2019. I understood there would be challenges as my election was historic, but I never anticipated the obstacles that would come in 2020. In retrospect, my past prepared me for my future and the task at hand. In 2001, Cincinnati, Ohio endured unrest after Timothy Thomas was shot and killed by the Cincinnati police, leading me to play a role in an economic boycott of the city that resulted in major entertainers, conventions, events and corporations choosing not to come to Cincinnati.
Ironically, I later joined the Cincinnati CVB in 2004 and have been credited with reshaping the city of Cincinnati as a multicultural destination by including diverse communities in an authentic way and hosting some the most prestigious organizations within the industry.
Fast-forward to 2020, and the first thing that happened was the COVID-19 pandemic hitting the country, which delivered the hardest blow the meetings industry has ever taken. Second, the global outcry over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, shook the nation, which placed more emphasis on the importance of NCBMP’s work.
Being an organization that reflects and advocates for Black professionals, we had to take a leading role in speaking out on the disparities within the hospitality industry and how the industry has the moral obligation to change the narrative through creating intentional partnerships and delivering crucial industry data.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
JASON DUNN: I often listen to a local Cincinnati podcast and I remember that one particular episode offered a prospective on leading in difficult times. The conflict of humanism and power or the intersection of moral cause and profit is at the core of every empathetic leader’s decision process. I believe that tourism empowers communities and supports a destination’s ecosystem that can be transformational, if properly fostered via workforce development, small business growth, quality of life, and the retention of residents. However, many people believe that tourism is a relational or profit driven model and don’t appreciate the wholistic impact of the industry. The intersection presented above is a delicate balance and they are both interdependent, yet, if separated or imbalanced, tourism can have a devasting impact on an economy as we are seeing manifested today.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
The Founder of NCBMP assembled, organized, and created a platform that spoke to the inequities, disparities, and exclusion of Black professionals within the tourism and hospitality industry before the word Diversity was popular in 1983. They chose to speak up for collective empowerment and blazed the trial for what is known as the Diversity market and made the business case for Black tourism.
In the last 37 years, NCBMP has vowed to do business with our friends. It is the characteristics of friendship — respect, trustworthiness, accessibility, honesty, support publicly/privately, empathic, and mutual equity — that make up our creed, which speaks to the core of our existence. The movement isn’t new, the willingness to listen is.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
JASON DUNN: Telling the truth in a respectful and unapologetic way, collaborating with mutually aligned organizations, empowering our members to be their best selves, and welcoming new friends. The genesis of this effort lies within the desire and pursuit of humanity.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
JASON DUNN: For the NCBMP, during Covid-19, a great deal of our Membership has been either furloughed or let go all together. We see that our members are under a great deal of stress and hurting as a result. NCBMP has decided to be a support system for our Membership by offering professional development webinars and other online activities that can empower and encourage them. In fact, we are presenting our 37th national conference in November, which will be a virtual convening. During this event, we are presenting national thought leaders on a whole host of topics that will hopefully uplift our members-mind, body, and spirit.
Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
JASON DUNN: Regarding a Post-Covid economy, in our business, I definitely see the tourism and hospitality industries coming back. They may not hit 100% in the first year. Yet, I do believe that people will want to travel again and experience new destinations.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
JASON DUNN: I truly hope we can treat each other better and recognize the humanity in all of us.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
JASON DUNN: The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25th by a police officer caused unrest nationwide. Unfortunately, at the same time the hospitality industry was imperil, due to travel restrictions, loss of customers and the downsizing of many companies during the COVID-19 pandemic. All of these challenges have forced corporations to look inwardly at their culture and business model. We have followed these (5) steps:
- We encouraged our members and stakeholders to get back to the basics of why we were created.
- Compile data to accurately capture or center your organization.
- Treat your staff with dignity and authenticity.
- Make decisions in a balance and thoughtful way.
- Have enough courage to share.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
JASON DUNN: Everything that I just stated, especially, regarding having courage and definitely seeing the humanity in all of us.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
JASON DUNN: “Never forget who or whose you are.” This quote has given me the confidence to persevere in difficult times by reflecting on my faith and the sacrifices of my ancestors.
How can our readers further follow your work?
JASON DUNN: People can follow me on Instagram @jasondunn55 or just simply email me at [email protected].