Al Hutchinson, a veteran hospitality and destination marketing executive with experience in five cities, has been named to head Baltimore’s convention and tourism bureau, just as city and state officials are preparing to launch a study that could determine whether Baltimore expands its 37-year-old Convention Center.
Visit Baltimore, the convention bureau, announced Monday that Hutchinson, 57, has been hired to be its next president and chief executive officer, following a nationwide search. He replaces Tom Noonan, who resigned last spring after nine years in Baltimore, to become head of the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau in Texas.
Ron Melton, who became interim president and CEO at Visit Baltimore after Noonan’s departure, will return to his role as chief operating officer of Visit Baltimore.
Since July 2014, Hutchinson has been the president and CEO of Visit Mobile in Alabama. Before that, he worked with the convention and tourism efforts in Virginia Beach, Pittsburgh, Charlotte and Richmond. His last day of work in Mobile is October 28.
Hutchinson is coming to Baltimore at a transitional time for the local convention and tourism industry. He will begin his new job on November 14, six days after a new mayor is elected and before the new mayor takes office.
As president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, Hutchinson will be responsible for leading the growth of the convention and tourism industry in Baltimore, overseeing the day-to-day management of all sales and marketing programs and serving as the hospitality industry’s liaison to the business, civic and local community, while demonstrating the impact of tourism on the city and state.
In addition, he will be a key figure in the city’s efforts to expand and upgrade the Baltimore Convention to remain competitive with facilities in other cities. In August, the Maryland Stadium Authority approved a request from Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to begin a study to determine the best way to expand the convention center and possibly also replace the Royal Farms Arena. The study has not begun and consultants have not been selected. A $1 million first phase is expected to take one year to complete, from the time it is started. The full study is expected to cost $2.5 million.
Hutchinson also must help the city recover from the lingering effects of the civil unrest following the in-custody death of West Baltimore resident Freddie Gray in April 2015. Following the riots, weeklong curfew, and national media coverage, attendance dropped sharply at many of the city’s best-known attractions.
“Al is well-respected within the industry,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. “We are lucky to have him and I am confident that he will serve as a strong advocate for tourism in Baltimore while also working to build relationships and partnerships within the community. I was impressed by his passion and perspective on how tourism can further advance Baltimore’s economy.”
“Visit Baltimore is a strong bureau well positioned for growth and I have great confidence that Al is the right leader to build upon recent successes of the organization,” said John Frisch, the agency’s chairman, who announced the selection following a board meeting. “I know that the organization, and in turn the city, the region and the state, will benefit from his sales and marketing experience and strong reputation as a collaborative, transparent leader and effective communicator.”
“I look forward to leading Baltimore’s tourism efforts and to working with the Visit Baltimore team, Convention and Tourism Board of Directors, the city’s elected officials and the citizens of Baltimore to lead the city to new heights,” Hutchinson said. “I’m excited by the opportunity to take the helm of such a strong organization.”
According to Visit Baltimore and Visit Mobile, Hutchinson brings more than 24 years of experience in the hospitality and destination marketing industry to Baltimore. In Mobile, he was recognized as the 2016 Alabama Restaurant and Hospitality Alliance’s ‘Tourism Promoter of the Year.’
“Since arriving in Mobile in July 2014, Al has led Mobile’s hospitality industry toward record-setting convention bookings and attendance, an increase in overall visitation and visitor inquiries and the launch of an award-winning brand, ‘Born to Celebrate,’ “ said Visit Mobile chair Karen Outlaw Atchison, in announcing Hutchinson’s departure.
“He has played a critical role in the marked success of the organization,” Atchison said. “We cannot thank Al enough for the vision, commitment, passion, enthusiasm and motivation he has displayed since arriving in Mobile.”
Before joining Visit Mobile, Hutchinson served as the vice president of convention sales and services at the Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau. For more than 11 years there, he led the convention sales and service team, directed the advertising agency and worked closely with community leaders, industry decision makers, elected officials and tourism partners.
Hutchinson has also served in leadership positions with the Greater Pittsburgh Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Charlotte Convention Center, the Park Hotel in Charlotte and the Richmond Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau.
A graduate of the University of Alabama, Hutchinson currently serves on the advisory council for the University of South Alabama Business School. He is a member of the Mobile Rotary and the 100 Plus Men of Greater Mobile, is active with the Religious Conference Management Association Advisory Committee and serves on the board of directors for the Gulf Coast Exploreum and the Destination Marketing Association International Foundation.
Hutchinson previously served on the board of directors for the Virginia Aquarium and the Urban League of Hampton Roads, and as part of the Industry Partner Alliance program for the American Society of Association Executives. He is married and has two children.