Now that the
violence in Baltimore, which followed the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, has subsided and normalcy has returned, the staff at Visit Baltimore is working hard to bring meetings and tourists back.
"This could have happened in any city," said Tom Noonan, president and CEO of the destination marketing organization. "But it happened here. We know we have real issues."
In the middle of the unrest, the Door and Hardware Institute's CoNEXTions 2015, set to run April 29 to May 1, was canceled, as was the American Heart Association's 2015 QCOR (Quality of Care and Outcomes Research) conference. According to Visit Baltimore, those two groups would have brought about 2,500 attendees to the city.
"We had our challenges, and we had our inspirational moments as well," said Noonan, who received swift support from others in the meetings industry. Fellow DMOs sent gifts (for example, Destination DC drove lunch from Ben's Chili Bowl up to Noonan and his staff), and several organizations have committed to bringing large meetings to Baltimore in solidarity with the city.
"Our meetings business has held steady, and people are reaching out and asking how they can support Baltimore," said Noonan. Some are seeking ways to add charity events to their meetings or events to help the city.
Noonan expects to spend the summer encouraging locals to plan staycations and getting local businesses to keep their off-site meetings in town. "We're looking at ourselves more as a service organization right now," he said. "We're there for anybody who has a question."