Baltimore Times’ Regi Taylor conducts Q&A with Al Hutchinson, Visit Baltimore CEO Attribution: Photo courtesy Visit Baltimore

In our continuing observance of Black Business Month 2023, The Baltimore Times sat down with Mr. Al Hutchinson, chief executive officer of Visit Baltimore, a quasi-government agency tasked with marketing and promoting the City of Baltimore as a destination for domestic and international travelers to our great city.

Formerly the Baltimore Area Convention & Visitors Association, the office was established in 1980 by former Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer, coinciding with the opening of Harbor Place that year. One year after the Inner Harbor’s opening, the National Aquarium in Baltimore welcomed its first visitors, five years after the Maryland Science Center graced the downtown waterfront in 1976. 

Harbor Place spearheaded the revitalization of downtown Baltimore, reinvigorating the local economy and infusing Baltimoreans with renewed pride and exuberance so contagious that visitors far and wide flocked to our city to share the experience. The vibrant atmosphere spurred by expansive growth around the Inner Harbor became a brand magnet. Visit Baltimore’s current CEO assumed leadership of the organization seven years ago to become the city’s chief booster.

Baltimore Times: “Good afternoon, Mr. Hutchinson, on behalf of the Baltimore Times, we appreciate you sitting for this interview. Hello, Ari [Hamilton, Visit Baltimore Corporate Communications Manager], good to see you again.”

Al Hutchinson: “It’s my pleasure, Regi. I’ve always recognized The Baltimore Times as an ally in the mission to elevate Baltimore. Glad to join you.”

Baltimore Times: “As an industry, what has been the effect of urban crime and violence on tourism and visitation nationally?

Al Hutchinson: “Frankly, it’s a problem. The problem is one that affects people’s decisions on where to travel, theirs and their families’ safety being paramount. The issue at its core is really a problem of gun policy that has outlived the stigma of being a Baltimore or big city problem. The fact that gun violence is prevalent in small towns and rural areas as well makes this clear. However, it is certainly true that one terrible incident involving a visitor to our city could derail much of our success.”

Baltimore Times: “As a primarily American problem, how has a spike in urban crime and violence affected international travel to the United States?”

Al Hutchinson: “It is very unfortunate that American destination marketing is constrained to a degree by international travelers’ perception of out-of-control gun violence in the U.S. It’s a fact that travel advisories have been issued warning business and leisure travelers to be wary about visiting America.” 

Baltimore Times: “Besides simply increasing police presence, what other resources can Visit Baltimore bring to protect Baltimore visitors?”

Al Hutchinson: “Great question, Regi. First, let me say that while we are vigilant in our efforts to keep visitors to Baltimore safe, we are equally vigilant concerning the safety of Baltimore residents. Safety begins at home. We have the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore Safety Summit, private Tactical Protective Services policing our conventions, and our high-tech Security Operations Center (SOC) to address cyber threats, among other initiatives.”

Baltimore Times: “Does Baltimore City police provide Visit Baltimore with recommendations addressing visitor safety?”

Al Hutchinson: “Again, our emphasis is on safety for visitors and residents. Visit Baltimore has always maintained a close working relationship with Baltimore’s police commissioner, as we’re both members of the mayor’s cabinet. We’re currently partnered with Acting Commander Whorley.”

Baltimore Times: “How does Visit Baltimore impact the average Baltimorean?

Al Hutchinson: “The impact is tremendous, Regi. Not only is the visitor industry the third largest segment of the local economy, many of the employment opportunities in the related hospitality sector are entry-level, commensurate with the skill level of many local job seekers. However, opportunities for promotion and advancement are practically unlimited due to training, skills development, and continued growth of the industry.”

Baltimore Times: “What is the convention and tourism industry’s overall impact on the region?”

Al Hutchinson: “The impact is multifaceted. Not only are visitors’ direct spending for hotels, restaurants, attractions, and retail businesses supporting an array of jobs across the economy, it derives substantial tax revenue that supports government services for residents after the visitors have gone home. Residents are generally welcoming to our visitors whose positive experiences encourage further visitation.”

Baltimore Times: “Wow. This is critical information we look forward to sharing with our readers. Thank you for helping connect the dots to the invaluable support Visit Baltimore quietly provides citizens that have a major impact on the vitality and viability of our city. Thank you for your time.”

Al Hutchinson: “My pleasure. Thanks to the Baltimore Times for helping to spread the word. Good day.”

Regi Taylor
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