Chianti C. Cleggett – Destin-Fort Walton CVB and Convention Center

Chianti C. Cleggett

Senior Sales Manager, Destin-Fort Walton Beach CVB
and Convention Center

Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

Describe your job.

As the senior sales manager, I lead a staff of three sales managers plus a sales and events specialist to bring new business to Okaloosa County. I specifically manage the sales for association, corporate, and faith groups. However, we also target sports, military, fraternal, education, and social events. One of my key responsibilities is to develop strategies to maintain great relationships with our accommodation partners. Additionally, I help educate the community on the importance of tourism and group business.

What made you choose the meetings and events industry?

I don’t think I chose this industry—it’s more like it chose me. I did not have a clue that there was such an amazing variety of careers in tourism, travel, and hospitality when I was in college. Before accepting my first job in this industry, I enjoyed great careers in journalism and nonprofits.

How did you get started, and what got you from there to today?

I started as a national sales manager at the Greater Birmingham CVB in Alabama. My original markets included fraternal and faith. In the nine and a half years I was with the organization, my markets grew to include LGBTQ, multicultural, scientific, engineering, Texas, and the West. My first position exposed me to the industry and taught me a lot. I fell in love with the people, the industry, and, honestly, how fun it is to work in this field.

Looking to grow further and gain more leadership experience, in 2022, I accepted my current position with Destin-Fort Walton Beach. I often came to vacation in this area, so it was a pretty easy decision for me. I love the leadership role that is part of my current position. I have an outstanding team who allow me to challenge them to think outside the box and help us all grow. We are focused on increasing group business in our destination, and we’re working to grow our partnerships with neighboring DMOs. Each city has its own beautiful beaches and offers varying amenities, and we believe we are stronger together.

How do you keep up with industry trends, changes, and cutting-edge developments?

I enjoy attending conferences and learning from leaders in the industry. I read industry publications and attend webinars regularly. We are part of the International Association of Venue Managers Convention Center Consortium, which has been a great resource. There is always something new being introduced through each of these forums. Most importantly, I listen to planners, as they often are the trendsetters of our industry.

What essential skills should every industry professional possess?

Everyone should learn the importance of two skills: listening and flexibility. Suppliers should listen to what clients say and pay attention to their silence; it can speak volumes. This goes both ways. Likewise, being flexible is a skill that can serve you professionally and personally. If you can learn to bend without breaking, the world will be easier to navigate.

What is the philosophy or approach to work that gets you through stressful times?

Taking a break is always my answer to getting through stress. Sometimes taking a walk helps. The beach is close to work and home, and I love to put my feet in the sand. Other times, I actually need to drive or fly away to get a clear head.

What is the best professional advice you ever received, and what advice do you have for others in the industry?

The best professional advice I have received is to never stop learning and growing. You’re never too old to try something new. The advice I share with others is to take that tip a step further: Always advocate for yourself. It’s not necessarily up to your managers to get you to the next level, so put yourself in the right rooms and around the right people to level up. Believe in yourself even when others don’t; bet on yourself even when others won’t.

Describe your biggest professional success.

One of my biggest professional successes was getting the National Association of Black Journalists Annual Convention and Career Fair to Birmingham for 2023. Team Birmingham was up against all odds. The organization had not considered us previously because of our tier size, and we never made it far in the process when we attempted to bid. Then we hosted a regional event, and the attendees liked what they saw. We actually received an invitation to bid, where we competed against bigger cities like Chicago, Washington, and Houston. We all eventually won our years, and Birmingham was the first one announced. I was ecstatic. It goes back to my advice about betting on yourself. We were absolutely confident in our city.

Share an anecdote about a meeting or event that did not go as planned and how you handled it.

My team was hosting a FAM, and I had been in charge of ordering food and beverages. I was so caught up in the planning that I’d forgotten to order anything other than wine, spirits, and water! One person could not have any alcohol and wanted something other than water, and I panicked when I realized I had not thought of him when ordering. We quickly got non-alcoholic beverages brought out, and I sincerely apologized. I learned my lesson about always having varied options available after that experience.

What is the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is introducing my city to people who have never visited before. I like to wow people with unexpected experiences and amazing food. The second-best part of my job is getting to travel to different places to try new things.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Going to the beach is my No. 1 favorite thing to do. It is super convenient now that I live here. I also love being a tourist in my own city and state. I am excited about the many things I have yet to discover here in Florida. Plus, I love a good road trip. Rounding out my favorite things are hanging with family and friends, napping, reading, catching up on my favorite shows, and taking a flight to one of my favorite places like Las Vegas, Miami, or Puerto Rico.

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