The Richmond Region Tourism team knows RVA. Our “Five Questions” series introduces readers to the region’s experiences, attractions and restaurants through the eyes of Richmond Region Tourism staff.
This month, we’re talking to Vice President of Destination Sales Dasha Runyan, CDME.
Tell us about your career journey.
I started working as a manager at an international travel agency in Moscow, Russia, while pursuing a major in journalism at the Russian Academy of Fine Arts. A few years later, I started leading operations at the agency. I also wrote for a couple of cultural publications and did some political reporting and translation work.
When I came to the United States, I always wanted to get back into the hospitality and hotel industry. I started working in the restaurant sector first and made it Assistant General Manager and was in line to become a GM, but understood that it was not quite my calling. I did some work with travel agencies and then was hired to be on the opening team for a new hotel in Memphis.
They say, “hospitality is in your blood.” I started working for various hotel chains in the capacity of Director of Sales and Marketing and opened and ran a number of properties in Philadelphia, New Jersey and Virginia.
In 2001, I joined Richmond Region Tourism. Working for a DMO (Destination Marketing Organization) was always my dream. I started as a Government and Association Sales Manager and gradually was given other markets that needed to be developed. My focus was always on cultivating client relationships and fostering long-term partnerships.
I was always attracted to the deeper cause of travel. Tourism not only inspires wonder and intellectual and cultural exchange, but it is a powerful economic engine, supporting thousands of jobs and local businesses. It also can become an agent for change for a community, enhancing its environment, infrastructure, cultural assets or civil right policies.
The hospitality industry is so multi-faceted and I always wanted to learn more, so I kept asking for more responsibilities. My role gradually changed to Senior Sales Manager, Acting Director of Sales and then Vice President of Destination Sales.
I loved every stage of this journey and even after 20 years with Richmond Region Tourism, I start my day with the same excitement and gratitude as I did it on my first day.
How do you help clients?
Essentially, we become business partners for meeting planners. We are focused on finding creative solutions to deliver successful events for our clients and their attendees. Things are changing quickly and we are assisting clients as they navigate uncertainty – sharing with them up-to-the-minute destination updates, vaccination progress, GBAC certifications and cleanliness commitments.
We share a common goal with planners: Drive attendance to the destination in the most responsible way. As experts in community resources and destination offerings, we provide insights into available hotels, space and venue options, in addition to restaurants, off-site venues and entertainment to excite and impress attendees.
Our team promotes the total value of the meeting to the community, often bringing many community partners together to deliver the best value for the group. At the same time, we are happy to report back to the planners on the economic impact that they brought to our community.
Many groups are now looking for opportunities to give back to the community and incorporating Corporate Social Responsibility components into meetings. Clients are bringing in local talent and small businesses into their events, volunteering in the community or sharing expertise, food and item donations. We are happy to help with these programs.
We know that many of our clients have been impacted by the pandemic. When we recruit meetings to the region, we offer various incentives and financial assistance, based on different factors.
If a planner involves us at the beginning of their planning journey, they will find a valuable and an informative business partner when working with Richmond Region Tourism. Very often this relationship evolves into a wonderful friendship. We have many clients that return to us time and time again.
What is a common misconception about working with a Destination Marketing Organization?
Oh, there are so many: That we only work with large groups, that we send information to the entire stakeholder database in an indistinguishable manner or without a rhyme or reason.
That our complimentary services are limited to maps and visitor guides. This is so far from reality. We have one of the most creative and robust Visitor Experience and Convention Services Departments! Along with the Destination Sales team, they truly make the event memorable and help the planners meet their objectives.
What are your favorite podcasts?
I have several favorites!
DMOU (Destination Marketing Organization University) – This podcast always has some interesting and thought provocative interviews with Bill Geist.
Hidden Brain – Every episode is fascinating.
Revisionist History – I love anything that is written by Malcolm Gladwell.
99% Invisible – It’s an amazing podcast about unseen and overlooked parts of life.
On Being with Krista Tippett – The series features some very profound interviews.
What is your favorite RVA moment?
I love our hospitality community. I’ve worked in many different cities, and I truly have not seen that connectedness and partnerships that I see in RVA.
There is something very special about our hotel partners – their integrity, ingenuity and grit. I love when I see a lobby or a courtyard at the hotel full of the attendees networking among each other and with our hotel partners. That is the power of face-to-face meetings and human connection.