Oct 5, 2021
Today we are happy to speak to Don Welsh, the President and CEO of Destinations International!
Don is an energetic leader who has had a fantastic career! He is joining us to share his experiences, offer advice to everyone in the industry, and give us hope for the challenges we will be facing in the future!
We hope you enjoy our fabulous conversation with Don today!
Don Welsh’s bio
A seasoned tourism executive with over 35 years of experience in the industry, Don Welsh serves as the President and CEO of Destinations International. Since joining the association in March 2016, Welsh has implemented a strategic realignment for the association through a renewed commitment to focus on member needs to deliver the resources members have determined to be essential to the success of their organizations.
Before joining Destinations International, Don served as the President and CEO of Choose Chicago. Welsh also held the CEO position at the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and the Seattle Convention & Visitors Bureau. Before joining the destination marketing industry, Don served as senior vice president for Westin Hotels at its corporate headquarters. He has also held senior leadership positions in sales and marketing for Westin Hotels and Resorts, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, and the MGM Grand Hotel/Casino in Las Vegas.
Don Welsh’s journey into our industry
Don was hired by United Airlines when he was in high school. He kept on working there, part-time, through college. He worked for United after college until he moved to Seattle to be part of an airline startup.
Don was hired by Westin Hotels and Resorts, eventually becoming their Director and Vice President of Marketing and Partnership Programs. He left Westin and worked for The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company for the next four years. Although Don loved traveling the world, he still accepted an offer to return to Westin Hotels and Resorts. He later took an offer to join MGM in Las Vegas.
Don also ran the Continental Basketball Association for the basketball player Isaiah Thomas, and after that, worked for Roger Helms, from Helms Briscoe, for several years.
He later returned to Seattle to get involved in the Convention and Visitors Bureau for the next five years. He spent two-and-a-half years in Indianapolis before being asked to go to Chicago to form a new organization. That was where he learned about the value of meetings.
After five years, Don got recruited to help take Destinations International to a new level. He has been with Destinations International for almost six years.
Good leaders understand the importance of human connection, and great leaders help people rise. Don has found that the best leaders are comfortable with their hearts and soul. They are humble, genuine, true, and authentic individuals.
There was a lot of instability with the Destinations International organization when Don arrived in 2016. It took a lot of time and effort to make it financially and legally healthy and implement their core member benefits. Ironically, they got it all together in 2019, just before the pandemic hit.
The COVID pandemic
Destinations International did 64 webinars between the 15th of March and the end of 2020. They also grew their membership. Don feels proud of how the organization responded to the pandemic with webinars, zoom meetings, and virtual summits. He does not think that those things will change much for the next couple of years.
When business fell away during the pandemic, Don saw a fantastic response from destinations around the world. They adapted to their local marketplaces by supporting local restaurants and take-outs and even working with city services in local governments to ensure that there was one constant repository of information on behalf of that destination.
Businesses coming back
Over the last six months, Don has been seeing businesses coming back, even though many teams still have significantly less staff.
There is a global shortage of workers in many different service industries right now. Most hotels and restaurants, particularly those in North America, are struggling to find enough staff. That is forcing radical changes to what people have become accustomed to, particularly in full-service hotels.
Equity, diversity, and inclusion
Don is proud of the work that the destinations across the world have been doing in terms of equity, diversity, and inclusion. There is a paradigm shift in terms of the diversity of the staff in convention bureaus.
At DI, more than 350 CEOs signed a pledge to adhere to the principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion. As an industry, DI will ensure that young people will be trained adequately and made aware of what the organization does.
Should meetings take place?
Rather than recognizing organizations that are planning virtual, hybrid, or in-person meetings right now, the media has been focusing on meetings that were canceled. Don is grateful for the people who have been going to meetings without allowing the media to influence them. Great strides are currently being made around safety, security, and health measures for the attendees at meetings.
The data shows that it is safe to travel and attend meetings again, provided that safety protocols are in place.
Don has seen some great collaborations between the health departments of the various destinations and the meeting organizers to ensure the safety, wellbeing, and health of the visitors. He thinks that those measures will continue to stay in place.
The destination is the expert
Don believes that the destination is the expert in their marketplace. They exist to be a one-stop source of resources and information for all event planners. There are trusted tourism experts in every destination who will provide event organizers with all the information they need for free.
Don Welsh’s advice for people considering starting a business:
Have a solid plan and be committed to your goals. Stay passionate about what you want to achieve - even on the tough days.
Flexible work schedules
Flexible work schedules can work in the future for Destination members. Being an association, however, Don’s team has decided to go into the office for a minimum of two days each month. They go in with a schedule and cover the work to be done, discuss business plans and projects, and have lunch together. At least 50 to 70% of the team will be together for four or five days a month throughout the year. They use Zoom or Teams when they cannot be together in person.
A new type of thinking about work
Don thinks that many associations will need to start connecting via a combination of in-person and online for younger employees and the health of their organizations.
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