by Andrea Doyle | February 16, 2018
Al Hutchinson, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, is doing what he does best: getting all the stakeholders of his city together and creating excitement. Hutchinson, who became president and CEO of Visit Baltimore at the end of 2016, is a strong believer in holding town halls to bring a tourism community together.

For a destination to be successful, according to Hutchinson, all of a destination's stakeholders -- including government officials, tourism executives, and even residents -- must buy in to its tourism effort. With that in mind, Hutchinson orchestrated a Town Hall meeting on February 8th that attracted more than 270 Visit Baltimore members as well as thought leaders and industry visionaries to the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric, a 123-year-old venue. 

"Everyone has to be a cheerleader. If you live in Baltimore, work there, play there, we want you on the team," said Hutchinson. "We need you all to help us tell the Baltimore story."

Visit Baltimore gathered an impressive lineup that included Christopher Thompson, president and CEO of Brand USA; Don Welsh, president and CEO of Destinations International, and a native Baltimorean; Susan Robertson, executive vice president of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE); Sharon Moffett, director of professional development and meetings at AMDA - The Society for Post-Acute and Long-term Care Medicine; and moderator David Dubois, president and CEO of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE).

Knowledge Hubs to Compliment Traditional Attractions

Baltimore has a big-city feel, but still exudes small-town hospitality and affordability. Attractions include the National Aquarium, whose glass pyramid is an Inner Harbor landmark, the American Visionary Art Museum, the Baltimore Civil War Museum, and Camden Yards, the Orioles' old-fashioned, yet state-of-the-art baseball stadium and one of the few major-league ballparks in the middle of a downtown business district. 

Attractions like these have kept Moffett coming back to the city again and again -- 11 times to be exact. Six of these times were for citywide meetings. Dubois, too, revealed that IAEE is eyeing Baltimore for its 2023 annual meeting and exhibition after the success it achieved in the city in 2015. 

But Robertson stressed the need to leverage the "knowledge economy" in the city to attract meetings as well, citing Johns Hopkins University as an example. Baltimore merchant Johns Hopkins founded a university bearing his name in 1876 with a bequest of $7 million. Today, it is one of the most respected institutions of higher learning in the nation. Then there is the University of Maryland that houses Davidge Hall, the oldest surviving medical teaching facility in continuous use in the United States, that today is used for conferences and lectures. 

ASAE's Robertson told the Town Hall audience that not only are these facilities important but so are the experts who inhabit it. "Don't overlook the knowledge economy you have that ranges from medicine to education that associations and attendees can take advantage of," she explains.

Another segment not to be overlooked is international tourism, added Brand USA's Thompson. He explained to the audience that in 2016, 76 million visited the United States and spent nearly $245 billion dollars, originating from Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Japan, and China. 

Baltimore has many features that international tourists look for, said Thompson:  it's located in the Capital Region, is in the Northeast Corridor, and is 40 minutes from Washington, D.C. by train. "There is an embarrassment of riches here," said Thompson. "I did a Google search and came upon a list of 245 things to do and see in Baltimore when people are traveling."  

Add to this authenticity and great value, Welsh pointed out.

New Social Media Campaign 

Many associate the Inner Harbor with Baltimore and although this is a sightseeing hub, the city offers 200 communities to explore. Hutchinson said that plans are underway to promote the entire city. 

With that in mind, an effort has been launched to encourage residents to share photos of their neighborhoods. The social media campaign, #MyBmore, has seen more than 40,000 posts since it began. 

"The key to brand messaging is that everyone has to embrace it," stressed Hutchinson during the Town Hall. "Plus, everyone has to be on their A game with service delivery, as we want to be recognized as a destination that offers great service."

Conference volunteers make attendees feel welcome, the presenters agreed. "They are your ambassadors," said Robertson. "We are handing you our brand and want our group to feel welcome from the minute they hit the airport to the moment they are leaving."