Building Bridges, Not Walls: Our Journey to the 2024 Annual Convention in Tampa

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<span>Building Bridges, Not Walls: Our Journey to the 2024 Annual Convention in Tampa</span>

A Comprehensive Community Engagement Initiative

When we at Destinations International (DI) announced Tampa, FL as the location for our 2024 annual convention, it sparked a meaningful dialogue among our members. Given recent Florida legislation affecting key community groups, our choice raised important questions about our values and our strategies in the face of social challenges.

In recent years, the decision to boycott destinations due to legislative actions perceived as hostile to marginalized communities has become a topic of considerable debate within the travel and tourism industry. While well-intentioned, such boycotts can inadvertently harm the very communities they aim to support, isolating them and exacerbating economic disparities. DI holds a steadfast belief in the transformative power of business events and in-person meetings. Our experience and research suggest that engagement is far more effective than withdrawal. By continuing to meet and collaborate within these destinations, we not only foster dialogue and understanding but also ensure that our events bring economic benefits and spotlight progressive local practices. This approach aligns with our commitment to inclusivity and the long-term prosperity of all communities.

The conversations surrounding our choice of Tampa gave us the perfect opportunity to put our beliefs into action. We see every obstacle as an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to inclusivity, to community engagement, and to constructive dialogue — choosing to collaborate rather than to boycott. This belief guided us in selecting Tampa, not despite the challenges, but because of them. It was a deliberate choice to engage where it's most needed, to learn, to influence, and to make a tangible difference.

Don Welsh, our President and CEO, highlighted the role of our Social Impact Assessment tool in choosing Tampa: “The tool showed us that Visit Tampa Bay is a leader in inclusivity, achieving outstanding scores across all categories. These results, combined with Tampa’s vibrant spirit of welcome and dialogue, reassured us that Tampa was not just a suitable location but the right one to bring our members together.”

Ellie Westman Chin, Chair of the DI Foundation, echoed this sentiment. “Through the engagement that DI is planning for the 2024 Annual Convention, we will demonstrate the tangible benefits of investing in social impact and inclusion while meeting in a community.  Our goal is to showcase the power of collaboration and the profound impact local engagement can have on a community,” stated Westman Chin.

Our planning process included fruitful discussions in Tampa with local leaders like Mayor Jane Castor and Santiago C. Corrada, CEO of Visit Tampa Bay. John Tanzella, President & CEO of the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association (IGLTA) and a member of the planning committee, also noted the significance of our collaborative approach. “Our collaboration with DI for the Tampa convention reflects a shared commitment to inclusivity and the power of travel as a force for good,” said Tanzella.

The Tampa Case Study Initiative, born from these discussions, includes several key components:

1. Community Engagement: We’re diving deep into Tampa’s community through immersive experiences that will connect our members directly with local issues and voices.

2. Community Support: In partnership with Legacy Collective, we'll provide crucial financial support to local charities, underscoring the value of lifting up community resources.

3. Lasting Impact: With Tourism Cares, we’ll launch a Meaningful Travel Map for Tampa, linking travel professionals with sustainable, community-led initiatives.

4. Local Investment: We're committed to economic empowerment, specifically through engaging local minority-owned businesses during our convention.

Sophia Hyder Hock, our Chief Inclusion Officer, summed up our vision: “Our approach goes beyond the convention. We’re aiming to leave a lasting, positive imprint on Tampa, showcasing the transformative power of inclusivity and community engagement. We're not just meeting in a community; we're becoming part of it.”

This initiative is more than just a series of events; it's a commitment to real, sustainable change. As we move forward, we invite our entire DI community to join us — to learn, to engage, and to make a difference together.

We're excited to meet in Tampa in July, and we're even more excited to share this journey with you. Registration is now open, and we look forward to welcoming you as we explore these opportunities for engagement and growth.

For more information on the annual convention and to register, click here.

Together, let’s build bridges.

Gretchen Hall
Chief Operating Officer, Destinations International

About The Author

Gretchen Hall

Chief Operating Officer
Destinations International

With over 20 years of experience in the travel industry, Gretchen has a proven track record of strong leadership, sustainable growth, innovative strategy and delivering results. She is a respected leader holding positions on various travel industry association boards and committees. Prior to joining Destinations International, Gretchen worked at the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau (LRCVB) and in the sports industry; developing and managing youth basketball tournaments across the US.

During her tenure at LRCVB, Gretchen provided leadership with several signature developments including the Grand Opening of the Clinton Presidential Center, the 50th Anniversary of the integration of Little Rock Central High School which including the opening of a new National Parks museum and managing the $70 million renovation and expansion of Robinson Performance Hall and Conference Center. As Chief Operating Officer, Gretchen is responsible for the strategic development, implementation, communication and retention of global membership and partner initiatives for Destinations International.

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