‘Talent is Everywhere’ and Other Lessons in Leading DMOs During a Pandemic

Tammy Blount-Canavan reflects on what she’s learned in her role as a leadership consultant for DMOs during the pandemic, as she prepares to step into the top job at Visit Seattle.

Author: Barbara Palmer       


Tammy Blount-Canavan, then executive vice president and principal at Fired-Up! Culture, leads a session at PCMA Convening Leaders 2020. The hospitality industry veteran has been named CEO of Visit Seattle. (Jacob Slaton Photography)

Tammy Blount-Canavan, FCDME, who will become CEO of Visit Seattle on May 9, spent more than a decade leading CVBs in two Western cities, first in Tacoma, Washington, and then in Monterey, California. Along the way to the job in Seattle, Blount-Canavan took a detour — she left her position at Monterey in October 2019 to become a vice president at Fired Up! Culture, a leadership consulting firm, specializing in working with destination management companies.

Looking back, Blount-Canavan said, “I went into consulting just as my target audience’s economy collapsed” amidst the pandemic-related waves of cancellations of person-to-person events in 2022. She has no regrets, however. The crisis meant that she spent many hours talking — mostly on screens — to CEOs “about what was going on in that world and what was keeping them up night,” she said. She supported clients, “but I was also able to learn so much from so many different people in so many different markets about what their realities were and how they were dealing with it — and all of the really smart things that they were doing with their teams and their communities … I’ve really being able to see what’s working and what’s not, and, and learning from them has been really powerful.”

Then as life began “to turn a little bit more normal, we started to get back to travel and connecting with each other one on one,” she said. “I’ve spent the last year-and-a-half intensely involved in helping organizations rebuild and figure out what that looks like, what are best practices? In addition to working with individual destination management organizations, I’ve also done tons of interviews with others, to get ideas on what org charts look like and what are the new positions that are needed. And this new connection with the community — what does that look like now that we’ve been through all of this trauma together?”

As teams have been rebuilding across North America, she added, we’ve seen some new priorities emerge, including community engagement, research and business analytics, destination development, more cross-functional positions, and teams as opposed to specialists. As she prepares to lead the Seattle team, “these aren’t necessarily changes to make to the Visit Seattle org chart,” she said, “but the insights gained from the work we’ve done helping people shape their future will be invaluable as we evolve as an organization.”

In her time at Fired Up! Culture, Blount-Canavan said she has “been able to develop some really great relationships and I love the work, and at the same time I’ve been able to learn more about what makes a destination organization successful than I think I ever would have had I been in the trenches in one organization. It’s been a huge privilege.”

I’ve spent the last year-and-a-half intensely involved in helping organizations rebuild and figure out what that looks like, what are best practices?”

Tammy Blount-Canavan, incoming CEO of Visit Seattle

Seattle is really the only job that could have tempted her away from the leadership consulting firm, she said. “It’s a community that I’ve always been connected to,” said Blount-Canavan, whose hometown is Vancouver. In her 20 years in the United States, the state of Washington — and Seattle in particular — has always been the place that feels like home to her, she said.

It has everything, Blount-Canavan said. “That sounds ridiculous because no place really has everything, but it has everything that matters to me. It has this authentic culture of people who are genuinely themselves. It is a birthplace of innovation — everything from Microsoft to Amazon to Nordstrom and Boeing. The music scene is really cool, and there are incredible sports teams and cruises. And, on top of this, it is one of the most beautiful places on the planet … and it’s walkable. It is to me, one of the great cities on the planet.

“That’s it in a nutshell — it’s always been in my heart,” she said. “Since I was in Tacoma, that position in particular is one that I’ve always had my eye open for. I’m grateful for [retiring CEO Tom Norwalk’s] leadership and his friendship. He did a sterling job and I wish him well in his retirement. And I am grateful for all of the things that he set up so that I can now go in and carry on his legacy.”

We asked Blount-Canavan to share a few of the top insights gleaned from her experience over the last two-and-a-half years in terms of how the pandemic has shaped strategy going forward for destinations. Here are five, in her own words:

  • Leadership matters. Leadership always matters, but even more so when there’s uncertainty. Leaders who have been strong yet vulnerable, honest yet inspiring, and provided hope and clarity are the ones whose teams have emerged stronger than ever.
  • Prioritize. The pandemic forced us all to determine what’s truly important, meaningful, and impactful. This is an important lesson to carry forward — that we need to continually have conversations with our teams, clients, and stakeholders and focus on the things we do that make the most difference and create the most impact.
  • Value relationships. The broader our relationship circle, the more we can accomplish; the more innovative our ideas, the stronger our strategy, the better our results.
  • Be flexible. There’s an opportunity to look at everything we do and how we do it and ask ourselves if there’s a different way to produce ideas and strategy, or to work in order to fulfill the lives of our teams, or to make a difference for our communities.
  • Talent is everywhere. When we need ideas, or to solve problems, or to accomplish big things, there’s talent all around us in places we might not have previously looked. Be curious about the people in your orbit, and the hidden gifts and talents they bring with them.

Barbara Palmer is deputy editor at Convene.

Become a Member

Get premium access to provocative executive-level education, face-to-face networking and business intelligence.