Cynthia Eichler didn't follow a traditional career path, starting in a corporation and working her way up. In fact, she didn't even work in tourism before becoming the CEO and President of Visit Fort Collins. But it turns, out her background in commercial real estate and economic development was a tremendous asset, especially in guiding the organization through the disruptions of COVID.
In this Co-Creators in Conversation interview, Cynthia shares how working "through the largest commercial shopping center bankruptcy in the history of everything" prepared her to lead Visit Fort Collins during COVID. This was especially challenging because "2019 was a high watermark for the organization....We were ready for big things in 2020." But the stark reality didn't hold her back from dreaming big.
Cynthia reflects, "trying to focus on what you can do versus what you can't, I think is always powerful. And I kind of I have my own internal I'm like no whining...there are challenges every day. This just happened to be a really different challenge."
So when she and her team started focusing on what they could do they asked, "How did we stand in the gap for our hotels, our restaurants, our resellers?" They looked at this "great disruption" as an opportunity to completely reimagine how they served the community, "Shake the etch-a-sketch, shake it apart. Now, what do you want to draw?"
They evaluated the community's needs, "many of our smaller businesses in town, we came to discover how many of them did not have websites...we decided to create a community sales mechanism."
While the need and vision were crystal clear, Cynthia knew she needed people with the right skills to build the platform. "So it's finding the right people and getting finding good partners and folks who just understand and maybe dream or are a bit of a risk-taker or just say, if we don't do this, are we going to look back later and say, Gosh, I wish I would have."
But that wasn't the only innovation she championed at Visit Fort Collins in the last year and a half. Cynthia also drove the creation of a Tourism Improvement District, funded by a 3% fee on overnight lodging.
When she talked to the Manager of the City of Fort Collins, he didn't mince words, "'You realize this is the worst possible time to do this.' And I was quiet for a minute. And I said, 'it is. And I said, What else are we going to do? When is the good time?'" Luckily, he was supportive nonetheless.
Cynthia's drive and determination to do what she could along with her willingness to shake up the way they worked were effective for two reasons. She had the support of others integral to their success. And she had a willingness to "get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable...You just need to learn to recognize it. But it's not necessarily a stop sign...It's a pause sign, it's a think sign."
This Co-Creators in Conversation episode is sure to inspire missiong driven leaders who are ready to make a difference because they can't not try.
Connect with Cynthia and Visit Fort Collins