Jerrine Lee Rises to VP of Sales at Richmond Region Tourism

We talk to Jerrine Lee about her accomplishments in Richmond and where the destination is headed.

Jerrine Lee Rises to VP of Sales at Richmond Region Tourism

Jerrine Lee remembers attending her first Connect Sports Women in Sports Tourism Summit. Conversations about negotiation and advocating for yourself as a woman in this industry were more than words to her. They were a call to action.

Flash-forward four years, and Lee is celebrating yet another well-earned promotion, her second in the past two years. In her new role as vice president of sales at Richmond Region Tourism, she is now expanding her role beyond sports. But as anyone who knows the Virginia capital knows, you never leave sports far behind.

There is a new structure in place at the CVB in large part due to the success Lee and her compatriot, J.C. Poma, have recorded in using athletics to recover from the pandemic. Both are now vice presidents (Poma focused on community relations), and Danny Bonifas was recently upgraded to director of sports and events. Fittingly in a sports-centric community, a team effort is instrumental in what promises to be a bright future.

Connect Sports talked to Lee about her achievements, rapid career advancement and where Richmond stands on the road to recovery.

Congrats on the new position! What does it entail?

In this expanded role, I will lead a very seasoned destinations sales team that is focused on business development, which will allow me to focus on financial management and budgeting, strategic planning and managing relationships with local stakeholders. My main objective will be to work with our convention center and hotel partners to make sure we are layering business appropriately across all markets to provide economic stability for the Richmond region. 

So are you really leaving sports behind? 

Never! Sports is my heartbeat, and I’m grateful that I will still oversee this team as well. As of Jan. 31, Danny Bonifas was promoted from sports events manager to director of sports and events. This will be a seamless transition for Danny to pick up where I, and my colleague J.C. Poma (who is now our vice president of community relations), left off as he’s already built such great relationships with our clients and our venue partners. With the promotion of Danny, I will be hiring a sports sales and events manager (see job listing here) to join the team with a big focus on building new relationships for the Richmond region. Once the new team is in place, I will take a step back from direct business development and focus on strategic planning and enhancing our relationships with local sports groups, parks and recreation, colleges and universities, and entertainment venues.

How has your role leading sports development prepared you for the promotion?

The key for me has been relationships and reputation. With leading our sports efforts, I have established so many strong relationships with clients, local stakeholders and other DMOs. Above that, I have always ensured I represent the Richmond region with integrity. Because of these things, leadership, the new team and partners are confident in my ability to lead all of our destination sales efforts.

What are you most proud of during your tenure running sports?

First, above everything, I am grateful that I was given an opportunity in this industry. When I transitioned from services to sales it was important for me to elevate the Sports Richmond, VA brand while also building my brand. I had some pretty big shoes to fill from my predecessor, so I laced them up and hit the ground running.  Diversity, equity and inclusion are very important to me, and I have been most proud of the role sports has played in showcasing how welcoming and hospitable our destination is for everyone to play. In 2018, we received the Emerging Sports Destination Award from Compete Sports Diversity. From there, we hosted the 2019 Compete Sports Diversity Jubilee, the 2020/2021 Stonewall Sports National Championship and will host the 2022 NAGAAA Cup this April. I am also very proud of the partnerships formed in the industry with rights holders and other DMOs/sports commissions.

As a woman who is Black, you are trailblazing for two groups still underrepresented in leadership roles. What advice do you have for others as the industry tries to be better about diversity and inclusion?

My advice would be to keep moving. There are more than 400 years of corrective behavior, mental shift and policy/procedure changes that need to take place, and it’s not going to happen overnight. Organizations and individuals can keep moving by investing time and resources in education and training and finding ways to mentor underrepresented communities. As a Black woman, it is extremely important to me to leave the ladder down so that others can continue climbing to success along with me, and hopefully one day surpass me.

How has Richmond weathered the pandemic? Where does it stand now?

Sports Tourism led the recovery efforts in the region. We were fortunate to start welcoming sports back in June 2020, and the momentum has continued as restrictions have relaxed. It was not without challenges and constant adjustments to work with clients and venue partners on ensuring they were on the same page regarding safety protocols. Like most destinations, it was sports tourism that kept our hospitality community’s head above water. Now, with the full return of leisure travel and recent return of meetings and conventions, we closed out 2021 beating 2019 in hotel occupancy overall. On the sports side, the number of events and estimated room nights are pacing well for 2022!

Our jurisdiction partners are constantly working to upgrade our current venues and develop new venues, so keep your eye out for some exciting announcements coming soon!  In addition to venue development, the audience should be excited and aware of our bustling restaurant and attractions scene.