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Meetings Leaders: Jason Outman

Executive Profile

Name: Jason Outman

Title: Executive Director

Organization: Experience Columbia SC

Location: Columbia, South Carolina

Born: 1977

Education: MBA in hospitality and tourism management from Strayer University; bachelor’s degree in sports management and communications from Central Michigan University

Career History: Executive director for Experience Columbia SC; director of sales for Experience Columbia SC; director of trade show sales for the Cobb County Convention and Visitors Bureau; national sales manager for the Georgia World Congress Center

Family: Married for 17 years; two teenage children

Hobbies: Golf, boating, attending all the kids’ sporting events, avid football fan

How a Fluke Turned into a Career

Jason Outman got into the hospitality industry on a fluke. But that fluke proved fortuitous; Outman is now executive director of Experience Columbia SC.

Outman applied to a job he thought was with the Georgia Dome, the former home of the Atlanta Falcons that was demolished in November. But the job was with the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC), the city’s 3.9 million-square-foot convention complex. The Georgia World Congress Center Authority managed the Dome along with the convention center.

“I had never been in a building that size,” he said with a laugh.

Outman applied because his first love is sports. He grew up in Lansing, Michigan, just three miles from Spartan Stadium, home to Michigan State football. As a child, he played it all: baseball, football, soccer, even floor hockey.

He attended college at Central Michigan University where he was a walk-on for the football team, although he never played in a game. Since sports played such a big part in his background, he gravitated toward it in his studies and earned his bachelor’s degree in sports management and communication from Central.

“I had all intentions of being a college football coach; that was my goal in life,” Outman said.

And he was for a few years, one year in Florida and two in Georgia. “But it never really took off,” he said. “So I actually ended up starting my career managing sports facilities.”

Outman worked for a company managing multisport facilities in the Midwest that often hosted large tournaments and then was hired by the YMCA of Lansing.

“I was 24 years old and really didn’t know what I was doing but had fun doing it,” he said. “That was kind of really where I got my start.”

When he was hired as a sales manager at GWCC, his career path shifted, and he loved it.

“I loved the process, loved the size of the building, loved meeting clients and loved bringing groups of 20,000, 30,000, 40,000 people to the Atlanta market,” he said. “It’s something I didn’t know anything about — didn’t have any education in it — but quickly fell in love with, making an economic impact in the community I lived in.”

Outman considers himself more of an introvert than an extrovert, something he had to overcome when he was starting out in the business that he never meant to be in. His wife jokes that there are two Jasons; there is the quieter one at home, while “work Jason is a little bit more of a ham,” he recounted.

He realized that he needed to find a personal way to communicate with clients. So he strived to learn about them, their interests and their families so he “could call them up on any day of the week and ask, ‘How did Timmy do in his baseball game?’” he said.

Outman quickly moved up the ranks at GWCC and, by working closely with the Atlanta CVB, started to make the connection between venue sales and destination-level marketing. So when he was courted by colleagues at the Cobb CVB in north Atlanta to come on as director of trade show sales, “I recognized it would give me the opportunity to start understanding the destination aspect of sales,” he said.

After a couple years with Cobb County, Outman was once again recruited, this time to take on the role of director of sales for both the Columbia, South Carolina, CVB and the Columbia SC Metropolitan Convention Center. In 2010, Outman, his wife and their two children moved to the city of 135,000. He then became executive director of Experience Columbia SC in 2014.

“My role has now expanded into more economic development and destination development,” he said.

CVBs have morphed — or should morph — from heads-in-bed organizations to agencies that help shape their destinations. While CVBs still focus on the visitor, they also have a role in economic development, Outman said. Beyond being destination ambassadors, CVBs should be destination builders “because now we are trying to help bring those things here so our destination gets better.”

After a dozen years in hospitality sales, Outman is as comfortable in the industry as he is with his other love: football.

“I have an extreme comfort level in this industry, almost like when I talk about football,” he said. “I have found that comfort level in being able to talk about meetings and conventions and tourism.”

Tips from Jason Outman

• Use the local convention and visitors bureau. The service is free, and they are there to help. As destination experts, they are your best resource for a successful meeting.

  Identify the personalities of your attendees and build local activities around those personalities so attendees are all having an enjoyable experience. If they like craft beer, plan a tour of local breweries. If they enjoy the culinary scene, plan a dine-around or a food tour. Use the destination’s strengths that align with the personalities of the attendees for a rewarding experience.

• Plan, plan, plan — not only with the organization’s planning committee but also with the host city. Make sure the expectations of the meeting are relayed to the host city and the host venue. This can be anything from feeling safe and secure to notifying local eateries that your group is in town. The more information that is shared, the more likely the event will be successful.