Paving The Way During Unprecedented Challenges

Al Hutchinson is the President and CEO of Visit Baltimore, and has a 30-plus year career within the industry. Hutchinson’s career began with a blind advertisement in a newspaper back when he lived in Richmond, the role being for a sales manager position within the Richmond  Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). Since then Hutchinson has worked in Charlotte, Pittsburgh, Virginia Beach, Mobile and has now been in Baltimore for six years. He is also the  chair of Destinations International Board of Directors, only the second African American to hold this position in the association’s 108-year history.

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Hutchinson explains that the role of a destination management company, whether it be a CVB or destination management organization (DMO), has changed. Previously, their main goal was to bring a convention to your city which in turn would result in hotel room bookings and other city benefits such as increased footfall to restaurants and other businesses. As we all are experiencing, budgets are tighter and as a result Hutchinson notes that the role of a DMO is to develop closer partnerships with local governments at all levels to help the community and its quality of life.

The main change has been to understand how to work with your number one customer, which are the local residents. This is something Visit Baltimore have been implementing. For example, one of the new challenges DMOs face is how best to convey the importance and role of travel and tourism to your local community. It’s important to understand the neighborhoods outside of the main city, identifying who the key people are and establishing relationships with them as they can help tell your city’s story, elevating it and the message you want to share. 

DMOs are impacted by political decisions, the various elements they have to take into consideration and the implications these decisions can have for businesses, tourism and more, sharing his thoughts on the ways he and his organization approach these difficult issues.

One of the big the issues to tackle is dealing with systemic racism in the industry a topic that came to the forefront following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. Under Hutchinson’s leadership, Destinations International (DI) has launched the first Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) scholarship fund. Two years later, most businesses and organizations have established some form of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives. These are positive signs, but Hutchinson’s biggest concern is people and organizations thinking that this means the work is done, when for him it’s only just beginning. Also, DEI is wide ranging, and the issues faced by women and LGBTQ+ people in the workplace are just two additional examples. 

Much like the discussions around race and DE&I in the wake of George Floyds’ murder, there are now more discussions around gun violence in America. While this didn’t use to be something a DMO considered, that has changed and what DMOs need to consider is the economic impact of gun violence. If the destination you represent doesn’t feel safe and they choose not to visit because of this reason, that is lost revenue to that destination, the businesses and the community at large. Hutchinson believes DMOs should be part of the conversations around solutions and improvements around gun safety because it is an issue that impacts their industry and the work they’re trying to do. 

Hutchinson is also concerned with workforce development, in particular how we  train, motivate, and educate employees with a focus on customer service, some he feels is a lost art. Baltimore is working on ways to create an environment of exceptional customer service. For Hutchinson this is something tangible that help build careers and also separate out destinations and therefore lead to winning business. This isn’t something that is just for the front service staff but extends all the way up into senior roles and requires investment and understanding from all involved.

The role of leaders and leadership is one that Hutchinson finds to be particularly important. If we have leaders in place that are inclusive and flexible in their thinking, authentic and representative of America then they can help elevate the story of these destinations. As people are going back to traveling they’re looking for places that are welcoming and where they can be comfortable in, knowing that we will be accepted regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, religion. Visit Baltimore’s ‘Warm Welcome’ program is all about being welcoming and accepting, some that is important to the destination and the role of the DMO.

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