Casandra Matej of Visit Orlando on the Strength of Collaboration

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Casandra Matej of Visit Orlando on the Strength of Collaboration

By Rich Luna | Jan 8, 2021

Casandra Matej begins her new role as president and CEO of Visit Orlando on Feb. 1 after 10 years at Visit San Antonio, most recently as president and CEO since 2017. She previously served as an industry leader in both destination and corporate arenas, including VisitDallas, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide and Hyatt Hotels.

Matej serves on the board of directors for the U.S. Travel Association and previously served on the board of directors for Destinations International. She is also past chair of the Texas Travel Industry Association. She spoke with The Meeting Professional.

What impressed you most about the opportunity to lead Visit Orlando? 

Orlando is the epicenter of travel and tourism, including meetings and conventions. It is a top meetings destination, with CVENT ranking Orlando No. 1 for six consecutive years. The destination is the complete package and a leader in our industry—home to one of the largest convention centers in the U.S., hundreds of hotels and resorts, world-class entertainment and dining. And it continues to evolve, providing unforgettable experiences to everyone who sets foot in Orlando. Orlando is recognized around the world for its spirit of innovation and collaboration. It is crucial that Orlando thrives not only locally but in healing the nation, and I am excited to have the opportunity to work with Orlando professionals to make a difference for the industry and community. 

What do you see as the major challenges in continuing to elevate Orlando as arguably the leading meeting and event destination in the U.S.? 

There’s been so much uncertainty in terms of timing of the recovery to our industry. Groups have shifted their events further out than they originally anticipated and so many decisions are coming down to the wire. Having flexibility and robust communication is critical to maintain the relationships, as well as safely executing the opportunities you do have to set the example of how meetings can still take place, when done right. I’ve been briefed about Visit Orlando’s pioneering partnership with the convention center and their local healthcare system that helps groups navigate new safety protocols and provides a variety of health resources for planners. Continuing partnerships like this will be critical elements of success. Orlando has successfully hosted dozens of events in the past six months, which showcases trust in the region to keep attendees safe and serves as a testament to its well-built reputation as a safe destination. In fact, we became an example by hosting the NBA season in a safe and secure way. 

How will our industry measure success in 2021 as we strive for recovery and eventual growth? 

Success is getting people back to work and getting people back to meeting face-to-face again in safe and smart ways. We need to work towards building events calendars back to their robust state from pre-pandemic days. It will take time and those events will include hybrid options, which is important, but we are already showing that new health and safety protocols and guidelines can be successfully implemented for groups to safely meet again. 

What are you most proud of during your tenure at Visit San Antonio? 

Looking back at the 10 years, we accomplished many things at Visit San Antonio. My goal was to make sure that the organization was sustainable for many, many years to come, from transitioning from a city department to a 501c6, then creating a Tourism Public Improvement District to providing additional resources so the organization can do even more in accomplishing that goal. You can look at the metrics of growth in room nights and overall visitation, but I am most proud of the team and the culture that we built at Visit San Antonio. Being recognized as a Top Places to Work is something that I am very proud of because we wouldn’t be successful if it were not for the professionals at the organization.    

You have an impressive leadership tenure in our industry. What in your experience has most helped prepare you to manage through this very difficult time? 

I am not sure anyone in my position across the globe was prepared for this difficult time. We have experienced many difficult times over the years, but this is still such a fluid situation. I often talk about being perpetually optimistic and focusing on what we can do, rather than what we cannot do. I know that [because] our industry is so buoyant, we will come back even stronger. In many ways, destination organizations are more relevant and provide an even stronger value proposition to our customers and stakeholders. However, the industry has to band together and bullishly commit to survival and growth. It has been the collaboration of the industry that has helped during this time.  

As you look back on the tumultuous year that 2020 proved to be, what message of encouragement would like to send to meeting professionals right now? 

Our industry is incredibly resilient and innovative. The challenges of 2020 have made us all become more adaptable and flexible in ways we never would have thought of before. The growth of hybrid and virtual meetings out of sheer necessity is a good example of this. We can harness these new skills to help us through recovery, so we come out stronger on the other side of this. It may be a long road, but we will get there. There is no replacement for face-to-face meetings! 

Photo by Cody Board on Unsplash



Rich Luna

Rich Luna is Director of Publishing for MPI and Editor-in-chief of The Meeting Professional.