From Childhood Dreams to Tourism Innovation: Cleo Battle's Journey

Join us for an enlightening episode of the Tourism Academy's Business Class Podcast as we sit down with Cleo Battle, CEO of Louisville Tourism. Cleo's journey from childhood aspirations to becoming a dynamic leader in the tourism industry is nothing short of inspiring.

Cleo dreamt of becoming a firefighter as a child, driven by his innate desire to identify and solve problems. Little did he know that this problem-solving spirit would serve him well in the world of tourism.


In this engaging conversation, Cleo sheds light on the intriguing dynamics of working in a tourism organization, where you're tasked with attracting visitors and managing your community's assets without owning them. He delves into his pivotal career shift, leaving the hotel business behind to work for a Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) after a personal tragedy in 1994.

Discover how Cleo and his team in Louisville recognized the need for local talent to support the city's growing tourism sector, even before the pandemic hit. They initiated "talent academies" in high schools, focusing on hospitality and tourism, and collaborated with Junior Achievement to make these professions more appealing to young minds.

Cleo addresses a significant branding challenge in the industry, where parents often hesitate when their children are interested in hospitality and tourism. He emphasizes the importance of engaging with high schools and organizations like Junior Achievement to showcase the diverse career opportunities within the field.

As an industry innovator, Cleo draws inspiration not from a single individual but from his team's efforts and other destinations like DC, Napa, and Sonoma. He envisions Louisville becoming a destination akin to wine country, where visitors can savor the rich flavors of bourbon, culture, history, and craftsmanship.

Throughout the episode, Cleo shares valuable insights, including two critical pieces of advice he frequently imparts: "Hire well and get out of the way" and "If you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room."

Cleo's leadership philosophy centers on being a good leader of people and enabling others to succeed. He credits his upbringing in a military family for instilling a solid work ethic and a sense of focus.

As an advocate for servant leadership, Cleo discusses his involvement in various industry boards, such as the MPI's international board and the D.I. foundation board, emphasizing the importance of giving back to the industry.

The episode also delves into Cleo's journey, growing up in a military household, and the impact of personal losses on his life and career choices. He reflects on the need to engage with family and support their aspirations.

Intriguingly, Cleo shares his vision for the future of Louisville tourism, with ambitious goals of welcoming 25 million visitors by 2030 and expanding the bourbon industry.

Lastly, we explore a magical moment in Cleo's career, the successful establishment of a tourism improvement district, a challenging project that required intense effort and collaboration.

You can take advantage of this insightful and motivational episode with Cleo Battle, a leader who has truly made a mark in the tourism industry. You can connect with him on Twitter using #loutourismceo or find him on LinkedIn.

For more fascinating stories and insights into the world of tourism, stay tuned to the Tourism Academy's Business Class Podcast.

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