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Gretchen Hall
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Destinations International Announces Comprehensive Community Engagement Initiative for 2024 Annual Convention in Tampa, FL

Washington, D.C., USA (April 8, 2024) – When Destinations International (DI) announced Tampa, FL, as the location for its 2024 annual convention, the choice sparked discussions among members due to recent Florida laws targeting women, the LGBTQ+ community, and African Americans. However, DI, the world’s leading resource for official destination organizations, convention and visitors’ bureaus (CVBs), and tourism boards, reaffirms its commitment to fostering inclusivity and local engagement, choosing collaboration over boycotting.

Don Welsh, president and CEO of Destinations International, underlined the importance of DI’s Social Impact Assessment in the site selection process. “Choosing Tampa was a purposeful act to promote engagement and understanding. Visit Tampa Bay's dedication to inclusivity, reflected in their outstanding Social Impact Assessment scores, was a key factor in our decision. This, combined with the city's welcoming spirit, reassures us that Tampa is the right place to foster dialogue and connection,” said Welsh. “However, we recognize the concerns raised by our members and see this as an opportunity to highlight the importance of showing up, immersing, and positively impacting the communities we visit.”

Ellie Westman Chin, CDME, 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.

In a move to further develop DI’s vision, the DI leadership team, several executive board members, and DI’s strategic partner at IGLTA (International LGBTQ+ Travel Association) visited Tampa to meet with Mayor Jane Castor, Santiago C. Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, and others from the Visit Tampa Bay team. These discussions laid the groundwork for an innovative case study aimed at demonstrating effective community engagement and support strategies that can serve as a model for other destination organizations.

"Visit Tampa Bay is a proud member of the Destinations International community, I am honored to highlight Tampa's enduring commitment to diversity and inclusivity. Our city is a beacon of progress, embodying values of equality and community, which stand as a testament to our distinct approach within the broader destination organization context. Tampa's vibrant spirit and dedication to welcoming all communities reflect our mission to make a positive and lasting impact. Our founding as a multicultural community and our leadership in inclusivity are well known and respected. We stand united in celebrating and promoting these ideals at every opportunity," noted Corrada.

John Tanzella, president & CEO of IGLTA, who participated in the planning discussions in Tampa, highlighted the significance of the partnership. "Our collaboration with DI for the Tampa convention reflects a shared commitment to inclusivity and the power of travel as a force for good. Tampa's proactive approach to welcoming diverse communities, assessed and verified through DI’s Social Impact Assessment, sets a commendable example for destinations worldwide,” Tanzella stated.

The Tampa case study initiative, born from these discussions, centers on community engagement, support, lasting impact, and local investment, aiming to leave a positive legacy in Tampa and serve as a model for future destination efforts.

“Our vision extends beyond the convention to creating a lasting imprint of inclusivity in Tampa,” said Sophia Hyder Hock, DI’s Chief Inclusion Officer. “This initiative is an invitation to our industry to join in fostering community engagement and embracing diversity as a strength.”

The Tampa Case Study Initiative: A Model for Positive Engagement

The Tampa case study initiative is structured around four key components designed to maximize the convention's positive impact on the local community:

1. Community Engagement: Participating in an immersive learning experience in Tampa will empower individuals to directly engage with the local community, fostering deeper connections and facilitating discussions on topics that hold significance within the community.

2. Community Support: In partnership with Legacy Collective, this initiative will support various local charities, emphasizing the importance of direct financial support to foster community development.

3. Lasting Impact: Collaborating with Tourism Cares, DI will introduce a Meaningful Travel Map for Tampa, connecting travel professionals with sustainable, community-led businesses, initiatives, and experiences to explore during the convention.

4. Local Investment: Highlighting DI’s commitment to economic empowerment, this component will showcase the collaboration with Visit Tampa Bay to engage local minority-owned businesses during the convention.

Additional information about each of these initiatives will be announced in the months leading up to the event in July.

“Our approach goes beyond the convention. It’s about leaving a lasting positive imprint on Tampa and demonstrating the transformative power of inclusivity and community engagement,” said Sophia Hyder Hock, DI’s Chief Inclusion Officer. “We invite our members and the broader travel and tourism industry to join us in this important and meaningful initiative.”

Registration is open for Destinations International’s Annual Convention. Find more information here.


About Destinations International:
Destinations International is the world’s largest and most reliable resource for destination organizations. In short - DI educates, equips, and empowers our members to grow the success of their destinations and to excel professionally. Membership grants access to a wealth of important industry resources, educational opportunities, and exclusive benefits. For more information, visit

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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