Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Ronnie Collins spent most of his youth in Tucson, Arizona, and in the southwest United States, working first in the food and beverage industry and then the past 12 years in hotel sales and marketing.
But when Hilton hotels asked Collins to move to Cleveland to head up the sales and marketing department for the new Hilton Cleveland Downtown
, he resisted.
“I was approached about this opportunity and I turned it down three times,” Collins recalls. “What people who have lived in Cleveland a long time don’t understand is the misperception that exists. You get very negative feedback about it.”
In February 2015, however, Collins relented and accepted the job. He and wife April moved to Avon with their two children, Emily and Trenten. “The high was like seven [degrees] that day,” says Collins. “It was really cold, so I struggled with it quite a bit. It was a tough pill to swallow.”
Getting to that point took some prodding from Hilton. “The regional manager called me and said, ‘hey, I think you’ll regret it [turning it down]',” he recalls. “I said, ‘It’s not for me’ and he said, ‘how can you say that without even seeing it?’”
The manager promptly put Collins on a plane to Cleveland. After he visited in November 2014, Collins was in love with the 216. Representatives drove Collins to various neighborhoods and parks in Greater Cleveland, and gave him a driving tour of University Circle. “It was really nice,” he says. Soon after, he accepted the job.
It didn’t take long for those negative impressions to be erased by the reception Collins received from Clevelanders. The spring thaw helped him adjust as well. “I was impressed with how friendly everyone was, how warm and accepting they were,” he says. “It’s not like that everywhere.”
Locals even tipped Collins off about a well-known secret to surviving Cleveland winters: springtime in Cleveland makes the cold weather worth it. “They said, ‘yeah, the weather’s not the best, but give it time,’” he was advised in those frigid first months. “Then you’ll understand why we like it.’”
Almost two years later, Collins could be called the city’s biggest advocate. In convincing potential conventioneers and other groups to book their events in Cleveland, he says his job is easy. “All you have to do is get people out here,” he says. “Once people get here, they fall in love with the charm. Cleveland is the underdog. It’s an under-appreciated destination and it’s all about getting them here.”
Collins uses his line, “I’ll buy, you fly” when he’s trying to sell clients on Cleveland – even with people who have been to the city before. When he’s faced with the same misperceptions he initially had, he has a simple response: “I ask them, when was the last time you were here? Usually, the answer is ‘never’ or it’s more than 10 years ago since they’ve been here.”
Of course Collins shows off the Hilton Downtown as the glittering gem it is. “The hotel is a great representation of what’s happening in Cleveland – in with the old and in with the new,” he quips.
Collins also showcases both established and newer attractions such as the Rock Hall
, the Great Lakes Science Center
, the museums in University Circle
, the Flats
on the newly refurbished Public Square.
Collins says those attractions sell Cleveland pretty quickly. “Once they get here, they fall in love with the destination,” he says. “It’s got a really edgy East Coast feel to it, but [it's also a] really walkable and nicely-packaged big city in an intimate setting.”
Collins adds that E. 4th
Street, University Circle, Edgewater Park and Little Italy
add to the draw. “They say that Cleveland does not have the amenities they are looking for,” Collins says, explaining that newcomers don’t think Cleveland has the restaurants, hotels and entertainment they're seeking. “It’s not about having high expectations, it’s how easily you can impress them. They leave here completely excited about it and pleasantly surprised.”
Even the Northeast Ohio weather isn't as bad as people – including locals – believe it to be. “People think it’s cold, damp and gray,” Collins says. “I don’t think they realize how many sunny days we have here. They think it’s industrial, worn down, [inundated with] crime and not very safe.”
An avid sports fan, Collins says he is thrilled to be in Cleveland during such a remarkable sports run. “I don’t know what it is, it’s not uncommon for cities to get hot like that,” he says of the recent high stakes games. “It’s exciting to see.”
Collins may even be part of the reason the Cavs and Indians have done so well. "The Carolina Panthers were 1-15, when I moved there, then they were 8-8, then went to the Super Bowl; the Broncos won Super Bowls back-to-back, and the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA championship,” he declares as he muses over the winning sports cities he’s lived in. “Wherever I go, the teams seem to do well.”
Now Collins actively follows Cleveland’s sports teams. “The Cavs were great,” he says of the team’s championship. “It was such an honor to be a part of that and I’m really excited about the Indians and I love going to Monsters games. I can’t fix the Browns though.”
In addition to sports, Collins enjoys traveling and exploring the area. “The Metroparks
, I think, are outstanding,” he says. “They’re an underestimated part of Cleveland."
Above all, however, Collins still maintains that it’s the people who make Cleveland special. “They welcomed me from the beginning, they weren’t stand-offish,” he says. “Clevelanders are honest, warm, inviting, salt-of-the earth people.”