Brad Toll credits his parents with his love of travel. They lived in a small town about an hour south of Green Bay, Wisconsin, but took a family vacation every summer and “always enjoyed seeing new things and meeting other people,” said Toll, president and CEO of the Greater Green Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau.
In high school, he took some class trips, and when he attended the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, he started handling travel for his men’s choir — which once included a trip to England and Ireland.
Toll wasn’t looking forward to the “real world” after graduation because that meant maybe two weeks off every year, and he’d have to spend at least some of that visiting his parents, he said, jokingly.
“I was like, ‘Oh no, now I’m going to have to get a real job, and the travel will be limited,’” he said. “Lo and behold, you can work out there and get a job that’s all about travel.”
Toll’s first job out of college was with Holiday Vacations, a national tour operator based in Eau Claire. He spent a few months as a tour guide, quickly worked his way into sales and soon became sales director, a position he held for about 10 years.
After working for Holiday for about 13 years, Toll decided to switch sides of the table, moving from the buyer side to the supplier side. The idea of working for a CVB appealed to him in part because, rather than knowing a little bit about a lot of places, he could learn a lot about one place and share that with other people.
“I often thought how cool it would be to know everything about a destination and sell it,” he said.
Toll’s wife, who was a flight attendant for Delta Air Lines, was making the 90-minute commute from Eau Claire over the Minnesota border to the Twin Cities airport. Toll decided to pitch himself to Visit Saint Paul, which just happened to have a position open; “within a few weeks, I was there.”
Toll spent eight years in St. Paul, working as the vice president of marketing and communications for the city’s CVB. St. Paul is a great city, and Toll loved being there, but both he and his wife are Wisconsin natives, and “it’s not the easiest to live in Viking country when you’re a Packers fan,” he said with a laugh.
When the opportunity to lead the Greater Green Bay CVB came up in 2006, “it was just meant to be,” he said.
The Green Bay Packers put the city of 105,000 residents on an international stage — people from all 50 states and 36 countries visited the Packers training camp this year — and that renown helps attract meetings and conventions. Any discussion with planners about Green Bay usually starts with the Packers. Still, “having the name certainly gets you the attention, but having the product is essential,” Toll said.
A recent expansion of the KI Convention Center “put us in the position to attract more business,” he said. The project nearly doubled the center’s space to about 80,000 square feet and added a 25,000-square-foot grand ballroom. The attached 135-room Hampton Inn underwent a massive renovation and reopened along with the convention center, and the adjoining Hyatt Regency offers another 241 suites.
Iconic Lambeau Field also serves as an event venue: Groups can use the 6,800-square-foot Legends Club Room, gather in the expansive entrance atrium and book numerous other spaces. Attendees can also take guided stadium tours and visit the newly renovated Packers Hall of Fame.
Next to the stadium, the 13,200-square-foot Johnsonville Tailgate Village opened this summer. Across the street, the four-star Lodge Kohler opened in July with 134 guest rooms, 10 suites and stadium views from its Taverne in the Sky restaurant.
Next to the hotel, Hinterland Brewery and Bellin Health’s sports medicine clinic anchor the Packers’ 45-acre Titletown District. The development includes a sprawling event plaza with a sleek, purpose-built tubing hill; a skating rink; a full-size football field; and areas for horseshoes, bocce, cornhole and other games.
Because the Packers and Lambeau Field draw so many visitors, they help support other attractions and venues that similar-size cities may not have, such as the National Railroad Museum, the Green Bay Botanical Garden, the New Zoo and Adventure Park, and the Automobile Gallery, Toll said.
Toll is proud of his community’s big-city amenities but prouder still of its small-town vibe. The people are friendly, the CVB is helpful, and “whether it’s getting a Packers player or coach or something like that for an event, there’s not much we won’t do to make sure a planner has a great experience,” he said.
Name: Brad Toll
Organization: Greater Green Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau
Location: Green Bay, Wisconsin
Born: Fond du Lac, Wisconsin
Education: Bachelor of Science from the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, Certified Destination Management Executive from Destinations International
Career History: Sales director for Holiday Vacations, a national tour operator, 1985-1998; vice president, Visit Saint Paul, 1998-2006; and president/CEO, Greater Green Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau, since 2007
Meeting Tips from Brad Toll
• Destinations impact registrations. Make certain to pick a destination that will deliver.
• Work with the destination CVB. In most cases, their services are free and they know the destination.
• It is great to be the big fish in a little pond. Check out third- and fourth-tier cities, as they have a lot to offer, and you will get a lot of visibility in a smaller destination.