A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Chief cheerleader, CVB’s Eric Summe, says ‘Meet NKY’ and love it — because ‘we take care of people’

By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune Managing Editor

Eric Summe is a Northern Kentucky native who took a circuitous route to wind up promoting the region he loves.

After a successful 27-year career with Delta Airlines, Summe came out of retirement in 2011 to take the helm of the Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“I’m just ecstatic to be working where I grew up because I love this area and for our part we are totally dedicated to Northern Kentucky as a destination,” Summe said. “Our bureau is a cofounder of the regional tourism network, which is promoted as Cincinnati USA.”

Eric Summe

Eric Summe

In partnership with the Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau, Cincinnati USA takes a collaborative approach to the promotion of travel and tourism on both sides of the Ohio River.

“We work on a number of initiatives together and a high tide raises both ships,” Summe said. “One of the things we are working on is a growth modeling strategy and we are trying to assess our collective assets and determine how we can best promote that.”

The Summe name is a familiar one to many in the region.

The family owned and operated a dairy, along with their cousins, the Rattermans, on East 20th Street in Covington for about 70 years until the early 1960s.

“We’ve been a part of Northern Kentucky for 130 years. That’s why there are so many Summes here, because my dad was one of seven boys and they all had a slew of good German-Catholic kids,” Summe said. “Now we are into the subsequent generations and there are so many, even I don’t know who they all are any more.”

The family farm was located in the Ft. Mitchell area in what is now Amsterdam Village.

Unlike a lot of Northern Kentucky legacy families that tend to gravitate toward a common career path, the Summes have chosen many different professions.

The common thread among those that have remained in Northern Kentucky is community service. The more recognizable names include Eric’s cousins Patricia Summe, a Kenton County Circuit Court Judge and Gabrielle Summe, the Kenton County Clerk.

Eric Summe graduated from Covington Catholic and received a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Kentucky in 1974.

After graduation he was looking for a career that would allow opportunities for advancement and the airline industry had always interested him.

“I wanted to work for a good company, so I had to find an entry level and for years they only promoted from within, so I knew I had an opportunity for advancement,” Summe said.

Summe started out in reservation sales in Northern Kentucky and held a number of positions in a career that saw him rise through the ranks and travel extensively throughout Delta’s network.

He was a marketing representative in Pittsburgh for five years, beginning in 1984, and went through a management training program that he thought would lead to a regional management position. Instead, he was sent to Atlanta and worked in a variety of roles, including as administrative assistant to Delta’s president.

In 1996 he returned to Northern Kentucky as Delta’s regional director for the Central United States and Canada.

Five years later, Summe became Delta’s director of government/public affairs. He was still based in Northern Kentucky but covered 12 state legislatures in the Central United States.

“If something occurred in an area, I was the responsible person, so there were some states I covered that I never went to,” Summe said. “I was basically a lobbyist and at the time we represented Delta and Comair.”

Just a few months after accepting the new position, however, the airline industry – and the world – were changed forever by events on the morning of September 11.

Summe has always been active in the community and was well known in many circles, so it was only natural that people looked to him for answers.

“The jobs that I had allowed me to be the public face of Delta Airlines,” Summe said.

“My job was to get the people in this community on both sides of the river to think of Delta as a local company and I was a local guy.”


The nation’s air system was shut down for three days after 9-11 and Cincinnati was still a major Delta hub at the time, so people throughout the region were looking to the “local guy” for answers.

“There were a lot of people that had family and friends that were traveling and they didn’t know where they were,” Summe explained.

“They knew me and they didn’t really know anybody else at Delta so just trying to help those people out was something I will never forget. I just started making the calls because you know people and you reassure them just by letting them know that their loved ones are safe and they will be getting home.”

From a national perspective, Summe’s most vivid memory was of communicating with people at Delta’s sales office at Penn Plaza in Manhattan.

“They were on an upper floor watching the television with the first tower in flames and they could see it from the office,” Summe said. “They see a plane come around targeting the second tower, and they see it in person and then they see it on television at the same time as (the second tower) erupts in flames.”

As with many in the airline industry, Summe’s career is divided into life before 9-11 and the time after it. The nation was devastated by the events of that day and the changes to air travel rocked the industry.

Almost four years to day after 9-11, Delta joined the growing list of airlines that had filed bankruptcy. While Delta emerged from Chapter 11 less than two years later, Summe retired from the only career he had ever known and has not returned.

He went to work for Fifth Third Bank as a vice president of private client services for a while, but left that job after a few years and was officially retired when the CVB came calling.

“I was still heavily involved in the community, but I wasn’t working for a company,” Summe said.

Summe joined the Convention and Visitors Bureau board of directors in 2002 and stayed on as an advisor after his retirement from Delta in 2005.

He was asked to become interim president in September of 2011 and took the role on a permanent basis in December of that year. Now 62, he is devoted to making Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky a regional tourism destination.

Summe has often been told that his career with Delta has prepared him well for his new role and agrees that there are a lot of parallels with the hospitality industry.

“As the airline person, you look at things from a regional perspective. The airport is in Northern Kentucky, but the primary business base,” Summe said. “That helped me because the visitor comes here with a regional perspective. The river is a great place to be, because it allows people to have experiences on both sides.”

While it is not as recognizable as Southern California, or South Florida, Northern Kentucky is a destination that is also a direction, which is an advantage, but can also be a challenge.

There is a perception among some in the Bluegrass state that Northern Kentucky is just an extension of Cincinnati, but across the river, the opposite is true.

Branding is critical in the hospitality industry and Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau is a mouthful, so the CVB needed to brand itself. The organization has adopted the Meet NKY initiative to let people know what is unique and special about Northern Kentucky.

The idea came from a rebranding exercise that was done two years ago, to get input about how the CVB was perceived.

“What we are finding from the destination assessment is how many diverse things you can find if you come here,” Summe said. “There are so many options – culinary, cultural, the arts, history, major league sports, universities, as well as unique attractions like the Creation Museum.”

Meet NKY:  There's a lot to see and do. (Photos provided)

Meet NKY: There’s a lot to see and do. (Photos provided)

More than 400 meeting planners participated and the CVB learned that visitors do recognize Northern Kentucky as a unique destination within a region.

“People knew who we were and they liked what they knew,” Summe said.
In its surveys of visitors the CVB also determined that once a group or convention comes to Northern Kentucky, there is a 97 percent intent to return.

“We’re very proud of that because we learned that what differentiated us is how we take care of people,” Summe said.

The convention and visitors bureau is also working on an initiative called Visit Kentucky USA that targets international visitors.

“It enabled us to have a stronger presence for Northern Kentucky at the state level and it helps our standing because they know we are a regional destination,” Summe said. “The number of international visitors to the United States is increasing and we want to find the best way to get them to Northern Kentucky.”

As a tourist commission the primary role of the CVB is to promote and develop the region as a destination, but Summe said the amenities that attract visitors are also here for residents to enjoy every day.

“We don’t pay for products, but we like to have a seat at the table,” Summe said. “Our goal is to be relevant and be an influence on behalf of the visitor.”

Related Posts

Leave a Comment