Julie Coker, CEO and President of the San Diego Tourism Authority, discusses community; mentorship; destination boycotts; and diversity, equity and inclusion.
Julie Coker, CEO and president of the San Diego Tourism Authority, began her journey into the events industry while working in restaurants in high school. This love of interacting with the public and helping them get to know her hometown began her love for the industry. This led to a corporate management trainee position with Hyatt after graduating from college. Coker worked her way up the organization, becoming a general manager at four different Hyatt properties, all of which exposed her to the wider hospitality industry and the role of destination marketing organizations (DMOs). This ultimately lead to her role as senior Vice President of convention sales at the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, becoming President in 2016 and then moving to her current role in San Diego in 2020.
Destination boycotts are a hot topic. State legislation on abortion, LGBTQ rights or gun violence are all things planners consider when selecting destinations. Some have called for boycotts to destinations that do not align with the organization’s values. Coker highlights that it is the lower-paid workforce and small, independent businesses suffer the most from these boycotts. Instead, she believes that the best course of action is working with the destination to enact meaningful change. From town halls to holding voter registration drives, these actions can have a real impact.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Several tourism organizations have made DE&I a core part of their mission and strategic plan and fund initiatives around this. The definition of diversity and inclusion has broadened beyond gender and race and into accessibility, LGBTQ communities, and generational diversity too. Whilst Coker believes that improving and implementing DE&I initiatives is a good business decision, she notes that it needs to be approached intentionally, with measurable outcomes.
Diversity is continuing to evolve, with stakeholders realizing the importance of diversity in driving better business results. Focusing on women in leadership roles, Coker adds that there is still room for improvement. Board must recognize the importance of diversity and mentorship. They should invest in women playing crucial roles in continuing this development. The San Diego Tourism Authority currently works with an organization called Tourism Diversity Matters (TDM) to help create a strategy that will lead them toward achieving their diversity goals.
Regardless of who you are, the higher you rise within your field and organization, the lonelier it can become. For Coker, there are often decisions and responsibilities that you just cannot share with others. She believes it is important to have a community around you. Your community should include other people who have held the same or similar roles within but especially outside your industry. They can act as your safe space and allow you to bounce ideas off of or lean on.
Coker believes in the power of mentorship, especially for women. Mentors can demonstrate that they do not need to make the choice between career and family. They can reveal different various possibilities that are open to them. Mentorship and internship programs can help resolve the uneven playing field between men and women in the workplace. They help women move through organizations at the same pace and with the same opportunities as their male counterparts. Some of Coker’s mentors have played an impactful role in her life. But finding good mentors requires seeking out opportunities to make connections and establish personal or professionally-focused mentorships.
Head to your favorite podcast app now to hear this episode in full and learn all about how Julie Coker is breaking barriers and paving the way.