Every year growing up in Iowa, Tom Noonan would observe as his father, the director of a large medical organization, put on a conference for roughly 25,000 attendees. Most children wouldn’t take an interest in such a heady event, let alone ponder the impacts the event had on the various host communities; but for Noonan, this yearly occurrence sparked an interest in economic development. Even as a child, he thought about how the conference brought business to the hosting markets, provided educational opportunities for locals and more.
By the time he graduated from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, Noonan had his heart set on working in tourism. He was also looking for a challenge.
“I was looking to push my comfort zone,” he said. He was offered an entry-level sales job in Dallas that fit the bill.
“Initially, I was thinking I would take the job with the Dallas CVB for one to two years and then find another opportunity to grow my career,” Noonan said.
What surprised the eager new employee was how much he instantly loved Dallas, the DMO world and the numerous opportunities for advancement that he found within the same organization. Noonan ended up staying with the Dallas CVB for 18 years, leaving as senior vice president of sales and service.
Journeying east, he assumed the helm of Visit Baltimore when the position opened up in 2007.
“Baltimore was such a different destination to promote than Dallas,” said Noonan, who led the organization for 10 years and during one of Baltimore’s most dynamic periods of growth.
When the CEO position at Visit Austin opened up about 10 years later, in 2016, Noonan felt the Lone Star State tug on his heartstrings. “I was hoping my combined history of selling a major Texas destination and 10 years of being CMO of a DMO put me in the right place, at the right time,” said Noonan.
Now living and thriving in the city equally known for being the Live Music Capital of the World as its funky tagline, “Keep Austin Weird,” Noonan said success in Austin boils down to being yourself.
“You definitely should have a love for great music, like cuisine with a Southwest twist, and have a love for the outdoors and water,” he said. “Bring the best you, and you will find there is a place for who you are and what you love [in Austin].”
For meeting planners, Austin offers great hotel packages, with plenty of brand-new rooms from which to choose. The city’s hotel capacity has been on a steep upward climb since Noonan arrived and is expected to total more than 12,000 rooms by the year 2020. There are now talks about expanding the already large airport, which already added nine gates and a Delta club this year. In addition, the city council just approved a plan that includes the potential expansion of the convention center.
Noonan is happy to be a part of the city’s growing footprint in the meeting space and to once again be bringing economic impact to Texas. He credits his successful tenure in Austin thus far to a team-first attitude, imagination and old-fashioned hard work.
“To me, the hospitality industry is a large family,” said Noonan. “Working hard with people you like, doing something great for your community, is a delightful way to make a living.”
Name: Tom Noonan
Title: President and CEO
Organization: Visit Austin
Location: Austin, Texas
Birthplace: Iowa City, Iowa
Education: Luther College, Decorah, Iowa
• 1988-2006: Dallas CVB (various positions)
• 2007-2016: Visit Baltimore (President/CEO)
• 2016-present: Visit Austin (President/CEO)
Tips from Tom Noonan
• Make sure you are keeping yourself educated by consulting with the DMO teams at all the major destinations that could host your meetings. You can make yourself a real hero to your boss, board or attendees by having the latest scoop.
• Ask the DMOs for special venues or events that have already taken place in that city that you can emulate.
• Ask how your organization can make a difference to the city hosting your meeting. Giving back to that community will often ensure that the destination’s city council members and other leaders will go out of their way to see that you have a great experience.