Five minutes with Visit Baltimore's Al Hutchinson

Authenticity is one of the city's strengths, new Visit Baltimore head says.

The new head of Visit Baltimore keeps a busy schedule.

Al Hutchinson was named to the role of Baltimore's tourism chief in October and started in November. Since then it's been a whirlwind of meetings — getting to know the city and the politicians, the staff and other stakeholders in the nonprofit, which is charged with booking conventions and promoting Baltimore as a travel destination.

On Twitter, where he's posted pictures from the Army Navy Game, Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the Billie Holiday statue on Pennsylvania Avenue, a favorite mantra is #gogetit.

A Virginia native, Hutchinson entered the tourism industry by accident, applying to a job in a newspaper advertisement in the early 1990s after a recession stopped him from following a career in financial services. The field has taken him to Virginia Beach, Pittsburgh and Charlotte. He was the president and CEO of Visit Mobile in Alabama when Visit Baltimore's board selected him from more than two dozen applicants.

Hutchinson said he was drawn to the position in part because Baltimore "has the tools … to really tell a great tourism story."

But the job facing him isn't easy.

His first challenge may be fiscal. Mayor Catherine Pugh has raised the possibility of asking the General Assembly to change how much of the city's hotel tax goes to fund Visit Baltimore's roughly $16 million budget. The organization currently receives 40 percent. Anthony McCarthy, a spokesman for the mayor, said she will decide whether to seek changes soon.

Hutchinson also inherits Visit Baltimore's campaign to convince the city and state to build a new and bigger convention center, which some officials say is important to keeping Baltimore competitive. He also wants to revive regional visits, which took a hit after the April 2015 rioting.

On Feb. 18, Visit Baltimore will host its first Legends & Legacies Jubilee at the Baltimore Visitor Center, which the organization is billing as a "family-friendly" event with music and activities to highlight the area's African-American history during Black History Month.

"This is one of those opportunities to continue to grow our community partnerships," Hutchinson said.

Amid grumbles that Visit Baltimore has focused too much on the Inner Harbor and its corporate hotels, Hutchinson said he is looking to connect with community groups and plans to do more to promote the entire city.

State Sen. Bill Ferguson of Baltimore said he was impressed in an early meeting with Hutchinson.

"His energy and immediate focus on engaging neighborhood leaders and Main Streets was really a breath of fresh air," said Ferguson, referring to organizations that promote neighborhood businesses. "It was really about how do we market all of the assets of the city."

Highlighting the city's neighborhoods makes sense, Hutchinson said, since many travelers are looking for "authenticity."

"That's one of the strengths of Baltimore," he said.

nsherman@baltsun.com

Al Hutchinson

Title: President and CEO of Visit Baltimore

Age: 57

Previous job: President and CEO of Visit Mobile (Ala.)

Birthplace: Richmond

Residence: Looking for a home in Baltimore; currently living out of a hotel (a Hyatt)

Education: University of Alabama, 1982, degree in marketing

Family: Wife and two children

Hobbies/interests: Avid reader, jazz connoisseur, fitness

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