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Meeting Leaders: Al Hutchinson

A newspaper ad in Richmond for a job in sales caught Al Hutchinson’s eye and changed his life.

“I stumbled into this industry in 1992 on a blind newspaper ad in the local paper,” said Hutchinson.

The job was with the Metropolitan Richmond Convention and Visitors Bureau. “I didn’t know there were jobs where you sell a city,” said the Richmond native. “I fell in love with it.”

Now, 27 years and six cities later, Hutchinson is a respected destination marketer. He spent the first 22 years of his career in convention sales, before moving to top leadership jobs, first at Visit Mobile and, three years ago, at Visit Baltimore.

Of course, none of this was in Hutchinson’s master plan. He had partially based his college choice on football. He’d played in high school, loved the sport and applied to two football juggernauts — Alabama and Notre Dame — so that his college days would be boosted by big-time football.

“I was accepted to both,” he said, but Alabama won. “My grandmother and I took a 17-hour train trip from Charlottesville to Tuscaloosa. We got a tour, fell in love with campus, and I ended up getting academic scholarships.” The football aspect worked out, too. “We won two national championships while I was there.”

After graduating with a marketing degree, he returned to Richmond and worked for five years selling copiers for Xerox in his hometown. Then he saw the ad that shifted his career into hospitality.

It was a move that ultimately led to many moves for him and his family.

It wasn’t always easy. “In every community where we moved, with the exception of Richmond, we had no family, no friends.”

But with each move came new experiences and connections.

“Living and working in six destinations has been invaluable to me,” Hutchinson said. “You get an understanding of the politics, of the way people think and of what is important to the community.”

Along the way, he joined local organizations to give back and get to better know a community. In Virginia Beach, he coached basketball for the Boys Club of America. In Mobile, he joined the local chapter of 100 Black Men and tutored and mentored in the public schools.

“We were trying to show these young guys that there are opportunities that they can aspire to and that most of us came from a background similar to what they had.”

The move to Baltimore puts Hutchinson closer to home and in an urban area that reminds him of Richmond. The cities share challenges in public education, income disparity and workforce development.

He’s finding much to celebrate and to sell in Baltimore: an entrepreneurial spirit expressed through local restaurants and businesses; cultural assets, many tied to its African American history; a knack for creative reuse of handsome old buildings. “It’s a blue-collar town with more than 250 neighborhoods, and each is a little unique.”

And once again, Hutchinson is identifying what makes a town tick. In Baltimore, he has found, it is “the passion of its people. The people in Baltimore love Baltimore.”

Executive Profile

Name: Al Hutchinson

Title: President and CEO

Organization: Visit Baltimore

Location: Baltimore, Maryland

Birthplace: Richmond, Virginia

Education: B.S. in marketing from University of Alabama

Career History: Before Baltimore, Hutchinson was president and CEO at Visit Mobile in Mobile, Alabama. He also led the sales team at the Virginia Beach CVB for 11 years and worked in convention sales in Richmond; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Pittsburgh.

Tips from Al Hutchinson

• Be involved in different organizations. It allows you to understand the complexity of the community you live in and connect dots quicker to get things done.

• Listen to others. I’m big on surrounding myself with people who are much smarter and brighter than I am. I want to talk to people in different spaces who are the experts and can help me do my job better.

• Go to the DMO. Planners can save time and money by going to the destination marketing organization first. They are the experts on the destination. No one knows it better than the DMO rep.