Affable, with a beaming smile, Craig Davis is about as far from the stereotypical computer geek as you can get, yet the president and CEO of VisitPITTSBURGH spent his college days in front of a screen. Thankfully, a summer job with his college’s housing department turned him on to hospitality. “I was bitten by the bug,” he says, referring to the draw the hospitality business has on so many. “It’s such a positive industry and you’re usually present when people are having a good time.”
Davis, a Canadian, got his start in hotels in Toronto before moving to Chicago and eventually Pittsburgh. He joined the Convention and Visitors Bureau 16 years ago. Pittsburgh’s renaissance of late may be making his job a little easier now, but when he began selling the city as a business and leisure destination, he was up against serious hurdles. “It was an opportunity to change people’s perception of Pittsburgh,” he says with trademark positivity, but the reality is that when he started, the city’s reputation as an industrial city with rusting steel factories was front and center. Another challenge? The city was in the process of closing its old convention center; his first two years were spent helping to develop the sales strategy for the now Platinum LEED-certified convention center.
“When the convention center opened and it was powered by mostly green energy and utilized carbon-neutral materials, we had a tremendous opportunity to retell the story of Pittsburgh,” he says. And retell it they have. Pittsburgh, once thought of as “not as bad as you think,” is now a hip destination with National Geographic Traveler and Condé Nast Traveler calling it one of the best places in the world to visit. So what’s all the fuss? “You’re smack dab in the middle of it when you’re here. It’s clean, safe and friendly,” Davis says.
“For planners, you want a place that’s affordable and easy to get to with plenty to do,” he continues. While Pittsburgh may be getting more than 15 minutes of fame for its edgy style and hot technology start-ups, ultimately it’s still a city of immigrants. “The city remains authentic and there are still little neighborhoods with their own styles,” Davis says. It’s just one of the reasons he loves sharing the city with visitors as well as making it his home.