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Travel Leaders: Reginald Charlot, SVP Tourism Market Development, NYC Tourism + Conventions

In a city that works, but in theory shouldn’t, like a jazz band on the brink of chaos before some seemingly accidental moment of pure harmony, where each street has its own beat, and there exists a strange but functioning paradox between space and connection, cynicism and hope, there is a man. 

In a city that works, but in theory shouldn’t, like a jazz band on the brink of chaos before some seemingly accidental moment of pure harmony, where each street has its own beat, and there exists a strange but functioning paradox between space and connection, cynicism and hope, there is a man. 

Reginald Charlot is NYC Tourism + Conventions’ senior vice president of tourism market development. And his story is much like that of the city he calls home. It’s pages of journeys, people, and a pursuit of something more, all bound together.

A happy childhood of summers in Haiti and Sunday picnics in DC

Born to Haitian parents and raised in the suburban landscapes of Silver Spring in Maryland, a suburb of Washington DC, Reginald’s early life was a happy one. And its refrain is like that of so many who come to New York. 

“My parents had to navigate raising their children with the same values and principles that they were raised with in Haiti, but then had to learn and adapt to life in the US, raising, in essence, American children.” 

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A young (very cute) Reginald.

The first language Reginald spoke was French (“because in Haiti, you speak French first”). Creole is an adult’s language and came later. 

Sundays were spent at the house of his great-uncle and great-aunt, who had come to the US in the 1950s. His great-uncle was a translator for the Organisation of American States, an organisation founded to promote cooperation among its member states within the Americas, focusing on things such as human rights, and social and economic development.

“Their house was the hub for so many of us. Every Sunday they’d host a picnic for all the young Haitian immigrants and students, and they would all come together and meet and chitchat and socialise.

“It was this big social event. And everybody in the Haitian community, ambassadors to such and such, or the doctor of so and so would all meet and congregate at my great-aunt’s house on a Sunday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”

Hindsight makes the past easier to read than when you’re living it. And much of Reginald’s story seems to be about seeking a future that would fit him. But looking back, it’s easy to see his childhood hinted at a future where understanding and bridging cultural divides would become his calling.

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“I was like the social studies, history nerd,” he tells Karryon. 

“I was always fascinated by people and cultures, how they connected, interacted and reacted. And maybe it’s because I had the chance to travel regularly to Haiti, or that I grew up having friends that were from different countries: from the Philippines, from France, from Nigeria, from Mali. Or the fact that my mother worked for the International Monetary Fund and travelled the world and would go to all these places.”

Reginald as he graduated from high school.

“And I loved and excelled in geography and that opened my mind too. I’d say, ‘I want to go visit these places when I get older’.”

These early experiences, set against the backdrop of a suburban American life, crafted a young man deeply aware of the world’s vastness and the myriad cultures beyond his immediate horizon.

“Oh, this is where I belong.”

Reginald’s academic journey took him from the familiar streets of Maryland to France. At the American University in Paris, far from the comforts of home, in the days before mobiles and WiFi could tether him to what he knew, he dove headfirst into the complexities of French life, culture, and language. 

“I had to grow up really quickly. And grow up quickly in a different language.” 

“I remember using a payphone to call my mother in the first couple weeks of the semester. ‘I don’t know if I’ve made the right decision,’ I told her. But I soon got over the homesickness and I never wanted to return.”

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Reginald with his mother.

But he did, and the experience did more than hone his already formidable language skills.

“In Haiti, at the time, there were only five careers that people did. So you were either a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, an economist, or a teacher. That was it. And none of those fit. As a child, I told people I wanted to be a dentist to make them happy.”

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A young Reginald with his father.

It was in the field of tourism and market development where Reginald would find his true calling, a realm where his passions for culture, history, and connection would converge.

After graduating from university, Reginald moved from Washington, DC to Chicago for work and then started working for Air France. 

“And that’s when I started to feel, ‘Oh, this is where I belong’, he says.

He was soon promoted and moved to New York.   

“It was absolutely fantastic. I was super excited. And then 9/11 happened.” The travel industry globally took a hit, but New York felt it much, much more. 

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The Charlot siblings.

So then Reginald started working for SHOOT Magazine, a TV commercial production company, “which was sort of interesting”. 

“But it wasn’t my world,” he says.

“It was fun because I got to go to parties and I was in my early 30s, so I could go to a party every single day of the week. But I missed the travel industry.”

The travel industry gets under your skin, he says.

“It was the bug of being able to go and see different places and broaden my horizons, of meeting different people. It was the interaction, the engagement, and the fact that I was always learning something new.” 

To NYC and beyond

So Reginald came back to the fold, working with Thai Airways. But his opportunities for advancement were limited at a national carrier, and he was once again faced with a conundrum.

“I wondered, ‘What do I do with my life?’”

“My grandfather, my father’s father, was the Minister of Tourism for Haiti for about four years. So he basically set the path for tourism in Haiti back in the 50s, and early 60s, which carried over into the 70s and early 80s. And I was always fascinated by that.” 

This realisation spurred him towards a Master’s degree in tourism development from NYU Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality.

“When I told people, they would say, ‘Your grandfather was Tourism Minister of Haiti, it’s really great you’re following in his footsteps’.”

At a meeting of the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International, Reginald came across the then-called NYC & Company (now NYC Tourism + Conventions). The CEO, then George Fertitta had just gotten off stage and Reginald had been told this was who he needed to talk to if he wanted to work in tourism development.

“So I walk up to Mr Fertitta at this luncheon and I said, ‘I want to come work for your company’ and he says, ‘Okay, well come to my office tomorrow morning’. He asked me three questions. What’s my major? What do I want to do? And how much do I want to make?

“He then proceeded to introduce me to Fred Dixon (who is our current CEO). We chit chatted for an hour. Then I was sent over to talk to the communications team. Then I was sent over to talk to the membership team, and then other people in the tourism development team. And I went back to Fred. And I asked, ‘Am I interviewing for a position?’ He said, ‘Oh, no, we just wanted you to meet people. Keep in touch with me, we’re trying to figure out how to evolve this department’. So I kept in contact with him for three months. 

“And then, lo and behold, by luck, when Thai Airways was announcing that it was shutting its doors in New York City and was going to start laying people off in a month, the next day Fred called me up and offered me a job at NYC & Company. I’ve been here now 16 years in July.”

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The city and the legacy

But to be in the kind of role for the kind of company Reginald is in, there needs to be a love of the product, of New York City. I ask him how long it took before New York felt like home. 

“Day two,” he says. 

“The first month that I moved here, I couldn’t believe I was here. I was seeing the skyline that was on TV now live in person. I was just drunk with the amazement of being in this impossible city.

“And now, you see the wonderment and amazement in the eyes of people new to the city when they look up and you kind of get nostalgic because you were once like that. But New York changes so much, you find yourself with the same look in your eyes.

“I live in New York City. I have lived here for 24 years, and I work for the tourism board, and I don’t know New York City, because there’s no way that you can know New York City. It changes so much.”

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Reginald with his husband Dr Peter (Tucker) Woods

Reginald is a champion for the city’s endless capacity for renewal and its welcoming spirit. His work, a reflection of his life’s story, bridges continents and cultures, inviting the world to discover the countless narratives that weave through New York’s bustling streets, towering skyscrapers, and quiet corners.

Today, as he focuses on expanding New York’s tourism appeal to new markets, including the LGBTQI+ community and luxury travellers, Reginald’s work is a reflection of his belief in the inclusivity and boundless potential of the city. 

A proactive man of ambition, I’m surprised by his response when I ask him about the legacy he’d like to leave. His answer is simple. “Optimism,” he says. “I want to leave the world with optimism.”

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“People aren’t as optimistic as they were a couple of years ago, a lot of years ago. I want people to laugh, experience joy, to show me their teeth. My father used to say, in French, it goes, ‘Show me all of your 47 teeth’. It sounds better in French.”