Executive Profile: Dr. Lalia Rach

With a resume lengthy enough to fill this page, Lalia Rach, 57, is on a rare, year-long sabbatical from New York University, and will spend much of that time consulting with the Greater Madison Convention &
Visitors Bureau (GMCVB).

Rach is a renown expert on emerging economic areas worldwide, travel, and hospitality. She recently stepped down from her role as divisional dean of the NYU Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management to return to teaching full-time at the Tisch Center, and also serves on the board of the New York City Convention & Visitors Bureau. "I am an educator, not a politician, and I have a very different point of view," she said.

Wisconsin holds a special place in Rach's heart. She was raised in Spring Green. Her grandmother, in fact, owned Eulalia's restaurant and bar there for 40 years, serving as many as 400 dinners on a weekend. "She understood hospitality!" Rach said, admiringly.

Over the next year, Rach will offer what GMCVB president Deb Archer describes as, "a global business and economic perspective on tourism, tourism trends, and consumer travel habits."

From a tourism standpoint, Rach said Madison is really not that unique. "There is always a creative tension between destinations and the community: The more visitors, the more impact on a destination's infrastructure and quality of life." The question is, whether the powers-that-be recognize the impact and importance of tourism. "[It's easy to] understand what manufacturing means to a city, or agriculture to a state. But we're not always clear on what tourism means. In fact, it's an economic driver in the same fashion, but what is produced is intangible rather than tangible. Think of how many paychecks are related to tourism. How much electricity is generated …

"You always need to be educating elected officials. Many destinations look at tourists as [a taxable resource] with no limits, but there are limits." First, a city must understand who it is, she said, and avoid stagnation, which can lead to demise. "I'd rather actively plan the success of a community, across all sectors."

So we had to ask: What are her thoughts on some hot tourism issues here?

On the Edgewater expansion: "There's an emotional attachment to The Edgewater — what it was, and what it means to the city. The current situation is actually a recognition of how cosmopolitan Madison is as a primary tourist destination."

On Madison vs. the Wisconsin Dells: "Madison has incredible, world-class facilities, but that's one piece of the puzzle. Without accommodations meeting the needs of large groups, the Dells becomes a problem. With or without the Dells, a lack of accommodations diminishes what you can attract [tax revenue, jobs]."

On high-speed rail: "What is the purpose of the train? Who will the customers be? Tourists? Locals? Those are very different conversations, and that's what should drive the location of the station. But wherever it ends up, there has to be an effort to attract, educate, and make the station a viable part of the local destination."

While Dane County's airport offers a top-notch first impression, Rach admits the commute to downtown needs work. "There's a disconnect. You've created a positive beginning, but that has to continue through. Same with the train station. There has to be a connection."

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