In the latest installment of our #HeresWhy Q&A sessions, we interviewed Don Welsh, president and CEO of Destinations International:
Give us a snapshot of your career. Did you always think you would work in the travel sector?
I was enamored with the airline industry throughout high school and college. So, after graduating from Towson University, I worked for United Airlines for many years, then moved to Seattle to work with a start-up airline called Horizon Air. From there, I started working in marketing and sales with hotels – Westin Hotels, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, and the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
Following that, I ended up getting out of the industry for about a year and into basketball with the Continental Basketball Association. But shortly after, I returned and went to work with Roger Helms at HelmsBriscoe, which gave me the opportunity to learn the importance and impact of third-party companies. That moved me to Seattle, WA, where I worked as both senior vice-president of sales and president and CEO of the Seattle Convention and Visitors Bureau.
From there, I went on to serve as the CEO of Choose Chicago and Visit Indy. Now, I am in Washington, D.C., serving as the President and CEO of Destinations International.
Destinations International held its 2018 Annual Convention in Anaheim, CA in July 2018. What were some of your proudest moments for that show?
Last year, we introduced our new branding and laid out the core pillars of the community, advocacy, research and education that guide the organization’s vision and focus. It was really special this year seeing every session and speaker at the 2018 conference bring those pillars to life and how show attendees responded to it.
What are some of the biggest trends you’re seeing in terms of destination marketing right now and what can watch for in the coming year?
The answer is two-fold – the industry and planners are changing simultaneously. Everyone assumes the job of show and meeting organizers is to check space, hotel availability, logistics, etc., but the expectations and demands are getting bigger, more complex. They are taking shows to the next level by matching them with destinations based on cultural values. And at the same time, a city that understands that evolving role and demand is also bringing more strategy to the table and enhancing how they differentiate and service a meeting. I think this new holistic concept will continue to be a focus for the industry and appear in more communities in the next year and beyond.
Destinations International is an advocacy champion within the industry. What changes or transformations have you seen from these efforts?
At Destinations International, some of our most prominent advocacy work is supporting members in the travel and tourism sector by making sure funding models are current, local politics don’t hinder growth, and everyone within that specific circle has the tools and resources to understand and elevate the city to truly be the holistic offering organizers are seeking.
You’ve seen the impact legislation has on the events industry and how that can affect travel and destinations. What policies are you keeping an eye on next year?
Destinations International tracks numerous issues both political and alike and their existing or potential threat to our industry. In particular, state/local/or federal policies that have caused travel boycotts or bans to their particular destination(s). You may learn more about travel boycotts and bans through our Weaponization of Travel Study here.
For 2019, we are watching the growing issues surrounding homelessness and affordable housing and the role our destination organizations can take.