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Baltimore can be proud of its tourism industry (and of itself) | READER COMMENTARY

Greg Brown, general manager of Hilton Baltimore, on a Hilton Baltimore Inner Harbor balcony overlooking Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The hotel has welcomed back guests and even hosted dozens of meetings since reopening in April after a year-long closure. June 17, 2021. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun).
Greg Brown, general manager of Hilton Baltimore, on a Hilton Baltimore Inner Harbor balcony overlooking Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The hotel has welcomed back guests and even hosted dozens of meetings since reopening in April after a year-long closure. June 17, 2021. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun). (Kim Hairston/The Baltimore Sun)

As we all know, the pandemic brought the tourism and meetings industry around the world to a rapid halt. Tourism economies representing millions of jobs, and billions in revenues and brand identities suffered greatly. However, with vaccine rates increasing, we have seen leisure travel resuming once again in many destinations.

We at Destinations International represent over 600 tourism organizations, including Visit Baltimore, in 15 countries around the world. Annually, we convene our members in a central venue to exchange timely data, research, best practices and the latest in advocacy and education for our members.

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In 2020, our team had to quickly pivot to host our annual convention virtually. Although a lot of information can be shared virtually, we believe that nothing can replace in-person meetings and gatherings when they can be safely accomplished. With vaccinations on the rise and the meetings and events industry starting to recover, we were thrilled at the potential of hosting a hybrid convention in 2021 — but we had a lot of work ahead of us!

As you can imagine, a global convention takes at least a year to plan. Faced with the choice of having our convention be virtual only or hybrid, our board of directors and internal team decided to move forward with a hybrid event in Baltimore. Meetings and events play an enormous role in supporting Baltimore’s tourism industry which helps create or sustain 86,000 jobs and generate visitor spending of over $10 billion in a typical year. Under the leadership of Al Hutchinson, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, we knew we would be in good hands to plan a safe and successful event.

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Al quickly engaged his entire team at Visit Baltimore; Peggy Daidakis, executive director of the Baltimore Convention Center and the entire Baltimore hospitality community to work hand-in-hand with our team to host the city’s first convention since the pandemic. It is also important to note that this was the first time in the 100-plus year history of our organization that we convened in Baltimore for our annual convention.

The convention was kicked off at Camden Yards with an opening reception on Tuesday, July 13, and we hosted numerous educational and networking events at the Hilton Inner Harbor, Baltimore Convention Center and around the downtown community. Throughout all of these events, the excitement was palpable.

Our opening keynote speaker, Wes Moore, asked everyone in attendance if they had been to Baltimore before and surprisingly only a small percentage of the audience raised their hands. He then asked how many would come back after their experience and the entire room raised their hands.

When we weren’t in meetings, our guests filled local restaurants and hosted numerous parties around the city. We then wrapped up the event at the Museum of Industry and it was one of those beautiful nights on the harbor where no one wanted to leave.

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As a native Baltimorean, I cannot begin to express my gratitude and appreciation for everything the city of Baltimore did to successfully and safely host our annual convention.

Every time I visit Baltimore I am impressed by its growth, and I saw firsthand how the community’s commitment and resolve — including from local elected leaders — are vital and essential to the success of the tourism community.

Please know that I have no doubt that many of our convention guests will return to Charm City in the not-too-distant future to enjoy all that Baltimore has to offer. Until then, thanks again, and be proud of Baltimore

Don Welsh, Washington, D.C.

The writer is president and CEO of Destinations International.

Add your voice: Respond to this piece or other Sun content by submitting your own letter.

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