by Lisa A. Grimaldi | February 08, 2016
Don Welsh
Last month, Don Welsh, CEO of Choose Chicago, was named the new president and CEO of Destination Marketing Association International. In this exclusive interview with M&C, Welsh -- who starts his new role in early April -- discusses his plans and goals for DMAI.

What challenges or successes at Choose Chicago have prepared you for leading DMAI?

We had challenges at all three of the destination marketing organizations I was with [Welsh previously served as CEO of the Seattle Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association]. What prepared me the most for this was having our funding cut last July: We had a $30 million budget that was cut by 42 percent overnight. If it could happen to us, it could happen to anyone. We launched an advocacy plan and had 7,000 letters written on our behalf, and we had major industry players, including U.S. Travel Association president and CEO Roger Dow, lobby on our behalf. We had to let [city officials] know the importance of tourism and the impact is has on the economy and jobs.

What do you anticipate as the biggest challenge in your new role?

I like to fix things quickly and implement them quickly. But I come from airlines, hotels and DMOs, and I've never run an association before. It's a shift in mind-set. It's not about how to fill a city [for a convention]. I will be dependent on the board and the team to help me get through the learning curve.

What are your goals or plans for DMAI?

We need to figure out what our next steps will be, and we need to be adaptable and nimble. I want to get on the road as quickly as possible. We have 600 members, and I'd love to hear from them as to what they want from DMAI and would like to see. We'll be determining where we want to be for advocacy and growth, and how we can partner with other industry organizations such as the International Congress and Convention Association and Brand USA. And we need to address new entrants that are changing the travel and meeting landscape, like Airbnb and Uber. We need to include them in the industry, even if we don't agree with them.

How will you address the diverse needs of DMAI's membership?

We want the organization to be inclusive for every member. Our services and offerings are scalable, and we want to provide research and create a toolbox that anyone can use. For international DMOs, we want to be inclusive and are compassionately committed to growing that market, working with other industry organizations like the International Congress and Convention Association to reach them.