Congrats to Cody A. Gray, President & CEO at Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou Tourism. He’s one of seven winners in the inaugural Emerging Tourism Star class, a program in partnership with MMGY Global.
Readers will meet the winners in upcoming issues of The Travel Vertical and they’ll all be recognized in person during the 22nd Annual eTourism Summit on Sept. 20–22, 2021 in Las Vegas.
What’s an Emerging Tourism Star? Savvy individuals (of any age!) in destination marketing and attractions that are new to the eTourism Community of digital travel and tourism professionals or have risen to the challenges of a role.
- Winners will be directly connected with a travel and tourism leader as a mentor
- Winners receive a scholarship to attend eTourism Summit
- Winners will participate in a panel conversation at eTourism Summit moderated by MMGY
- One winner will fill the eTS Emerging Tourism Star Advisory Board Seat (an annual appointment)
Q: How did you arrive in your role as President & CEO at Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou Tourism?
A: It was quite an adventure! I was involved in Florida’s tourism industry prior to my move to Louisiana, working as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Tru by Hilton/Lake City Hotels, Inc. A dear tourism colleague told me about the open position of Sales and Marketing Manager with Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou back in February/March 2020 – yes, right as COVID was forcing the country into lockdown.
After visiting the destination and meeting with officials there, I was offered the position. Fortunately, the position and the offer remained intact despite everything going on with the pandemic and its impact on the tourism industry. After quickly finding a new place to live (virtually) and confirming I could move across state lines, I set out for Louisiana. So many people thought that was a crazy decision during such an uncertain time, but something told me it was the right decision for me.
I officially started with the CVB in April 2020 and continued in my role of Sales and Marketing until October 2020, when the previous President & CEO, Timothy Bush, accepted an opportunity to become the new Chief Tourism Development Officer with OneSpartanburg, Inc. Our board of directors appointed me to the position of Interim President & CEO after Timothy’s departure, so I continued managing the sales and marketing department while also taking the helm of the CVB and learning the role of President and CEO. In December 2020, the board decided to retain me as the official President & CEO.
I’m extremely grateful to our incredible board of directors for their trust and confidence in me as I continue to serve our team, partners and destination. I also want to say how thankful I am to the people of Lafourche Parish for welcoming me into their community and making me feel right at home here on the Bayou.
Q: That sounds like challenging pandemic timing. What were your biggest ones?
A: I think one the biggest challenges I saw after arriving and settling into my role is that we are a very restaurant-focused, food-focused destination. Many restaurants were (and some still are) struggling from the pandemic. The lockdowns had a huge impact on our restaurant industry, so the CVB worked with our restaurant partners to keep driving business and finding ways to navigate the challenges COVID presented. One major initiative we came up with was “Bayou Feast Restaurant Month.” This culinary promotion allowed restaurants to feature signature dishes, meal deals and other options that were only available during the restaurant month. This helped drive visitation to their businesses and encouraged residents and visitors alike to support local establishments during a difficult time.
Q: Are you the youngest chief executive of a destination marketing organization in the US?
A: I would definitely say I am one of, if not the youngest. I have been fortunate enough to meet many tourism professionals across the country and the southeast, but I have not met any my age (I am currently 31) or younger that are chief executives of a destination. I would certainly love to hear from any other young DMO leaders out there!
Q: What are first-time visitors most surprised to learn about the destination?
A: The thing we hear most from visitors is, “The people here are so welcoming and so friendly.” It’s true! No matter where you go in Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou, you’ll be treated to big smiles and friendly waves from the people who are proud to call this place home and who are eager to welcome you to it. The Bayou Life, as we call it, isn’t for just anyone … it’s for everyone!
Our unapologetically Cajun destination showcases a side of Louisiana that many have never experienced, but once they do, they’re sure to come back. I think visitors are sometimes surprised by what we call our “cultural gumbo,” too. A visit here teaches them about the original Acadians and the diversity of nationalities that formed this area and developed much of the food, music and way of life that you see, taste and otherwise experience when you’re visiting our Bayou.
Q: Without mentioning the food (!), how might you describe the region to a first-time visitor in just three words?
A: Authentic. Unspoiled. Unapologetic.
Q: What do you hope to gain from attending your first eTourism Summit in 2021?
A: I am very excited to attend eTourism Summit for the first time and look forward to diving into the different sessions to gain insight form some of the top leaders in our industry. I think it is important to always be learning and growing in your career and I believe eTourism Summit provides a great opportunity for that. I am really looking forward to meeting new tourism professionals and broadening my network of peers while gathering valuable information to bring home and apply to our DMO.