Events Industry Remembers ‘Visionary Leader’ Spurgeon Richardson

Author: Curt Wagner       

After a long battle with cancer, Spurgeon Richardson, president and CEO emeritus of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau (ACVB), died Friday. He was 78.

Spurgeon Richardson

Spurgeon Richardson

Richardson, a respected events industry leader, served as president and CEO of the ACVB for 17 years, from 1991 to 2008. He played a vital role in the success of the 1996 Olympic Games hosted in Atlanta.

“Spurgeon was a servant leader who embodied hospitality,” William Pate, his successor at ACVB, told Convene on Friday. “He loved our city, and it’s not an exaggeration to say he built the hospitality industry in Atlanta. Spurge was a very dear friend and colleague, and we are going to miss his wit and wisdom.”

During Richardson’s tenure, Atlanta became one of the first CVBs in the country to develop a cultural tourism department, launch a destination website, begin a diversity marketing program, start a charitable foundation, implement a performance-based compensation system, and form a corporate development department, according to ACVB. Atlanta also played host to PCMA Convening Leaders 1995 during his presidency.

PCMA President and CEO Sherrif Karamat, CAE, on Friday remembered Richardson as “one of our great leaders … whose dedication to the profession demonstrated the transformational power of business events.

“His work in advancing the economic and social influence of Atlanta cemented its international status whether the city was hosting PCMA or the 1996 Olympic Games,” Karamat told Convene. “He will be sadly missed.”

Richardson was well-known for his use of colloquialisms. During a 2018 Atlanta MAX Awards ceremony in which Richardson was given a Lifetime Achievement Award, Pate jokingly said that Richardson would say the honor was “the kind of thing that would make a bulldog break his chain,” the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported.

During his decades-long career, Richardson served as chairman of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, and the Georgia Hotel and Travel Association. He is a former president of the Southeast Tourism Society.

In 2003, Richardson served as chair of the board of directors for the International Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus, now called Destinations International. During his time there, he strengthened the visibility of industry professionals by focusing efforts to integrate the travel and tourism communities and business and industry associations, ACVB said. London and Paris joined the organization and it expanded its international presence because of Richardson’s outreach, the CVB added.

“Spurge was not only a visionary leader in our industry for many years, and a Hall of Fame awardee, but a true friend to many of us,” Don Welsh, president and CEO of Destinations International, wrote to the organization’s boards on Friday.

Raised in Edison, Ga., Richardson, a University of Georgia graduate, began his hospitality career in 1968 at Six Flags Over Georgia. During his time there, he served as marketing director but mostly as president and CEO before leaving in 1991.

His honors include induction into the Atlanta Hospitality Association Hall of Fame, the Georgia Hospitality Travel Association Hall of Fame, the U.S. Travel Association’s Hall of Leaders, and the Hall of Fame of Destinations International.