Name: Bob Rogers
Title: Vice President of Conventions
Organization: Huntsville/Madison County CVB
Location: Huntsville Alabama
Education: B.S., Hotel, Restaurant and Travel Services, Florida International University
Career History: Omni/Dunfey Hotels, Hilton Huntsville, Jackson Center and Visitors Bureau, since 2007
Family: Wife, Becki; daughter, Monica
Hobbies: Cooking, golf, community involvement
From Coast to Coast
Bob Rogers’ career in hotels and hospitality had taken him from Miami to Atlanta, from Los Angeles to Boston and, eventually, to Montgomery, Alabama. When his career path pointed him to Huntsville, Alabama, Rogers went to the city to interview “and never looked back,” said Rogers, who is now vice president of conventions for the Huntsville/Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
When Rogers was 15 years old, his father sent him out the front door and told him not to come back until he found a job. So he did. His family lived in Miami, so it’s perhaps not surprising that the job he found was at a beachfront resort.
“Who wouldn’t like that?” Rogers said with a laugh. “That kind of hooked me into it.”
Rogers’ foray into hospitality started in the resort’s print shop, but he also worked at the front desk and as a bellman, among other duties. When he enrolled at Florida International University, he gravitated to a major in hotel and restaurant management. Choosing that field of study wasn’t some big revelation, he said, but working in hospitality had grown on him.
“I enjoyed the pace and the people and that things were always different,” he said.
After graduating, Rogers moved to Atlanta to work for a large convention hotel. Though he had already worked many jobs at the Miami resort, Atlanta was his “true training ground,” where he worked in every department, including the kitchen, housekeeping and the front desk.
“I do remember I made a conscious decision: ‘I want to learn everything about the business,’” he said. “I figured if I did that, I wouldn’t have anyone down the road who could tell me a lot of nonsense about running hotels.”
That experience set him up to get into and succeed in hotel operations. Looking for more opportunities for advancement, Rogers joined Dunfey Hotels and worked for the company in Atlanta before taking a job as a rooms manager in Los Angeles. He then moved to Boston to serve as general manager for a Dunfey hotel there.
Dunfey then asked Rogers to move to Montgomery, Alabama, to be the GM for a large conference hotel. The reason? Everyone in the company was from New England or the West Coast, but the company wanted someone from the South to manage the hotel.
“My boss said, ‘You’re the only Southerner with the company,’” Rogers said with a laugh. “I said, ‘I’m not from the South; I’m from Miami.’”
But the transfer proved fortuitous: Rogers hasn’t left Alabama since, and the new position served as his entree into the meetings and convention space. The 200-guest-room conference hotel had so much meeting space that one year, two of its ballrooms hosted election night parties for two opposing gubernatorial candidates.
Dunfy, which bought Omni International Hotels in 1983, got Rogers to Alabama, but Hilton got him to Huntsville. After 15 years as general manager of a Hilton in Huntsville, Rogers owned a mortgage company for several years. He returned to hospitality in 2012, when he took the reins of the Jackson Center, a conference center in the heart of Research Park, a high-tech hub and one of the largest research parks in the nation, before joining the CVB in 2014.
Huntsville always surprises visitors and strips them of stereotypes they have about Alabama, Rogers said. The city of 195,000 residents is home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center as well as the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command at Redstone Arsenal.
Some people are surprised when they find out Huntsville has an airport, when in fact, “basically every rocket that’s ever been designed and engineered came out of here,” Rogers said.
Huntsville is forecast to be the state’s largest city by 2025. Downtown is thriving, hotel development is hopping, and there’s always something to do. The city’s main convention complex, the Von Braun Center, will soon undergo a $42 million expansion and renovation. The project will include a new 35,000-square-foot ballroom with an outdoor terrace as well as 14,000 square feet of breakout space and a new concert hall with a food and beverage venue.
The CVB put more money into site visits because “if we can get them here, we can wow them,” Rogers said. “They really don’t leave here without saying, ‘I need to come back’” — similar to how Rogers didn’t look back after he moved to Huntsville.
Though he only started working for the CVB in June 2014, Rogers served on the CVB board when he was managing the Hilton. That gave him a unique perspective of both Huntsville and the agency that promotes it.
“We’re blessed with a city that’s really hitting on all cylinders,” Rogers said.
Meeting Tips from Bob Rogers
• Establish your goals and objectives before you start planning your event, and refer to them frequently as you plan.
• Use local experts, like a CVB, in the early planning stage. They can assist you in incorporating unique places and special events to create lasting memories for your attendees.
• Allow plenty of time in the schedule for collaboration and networking. This will help reinforce your message with your attendees and achieve your meetings goals.