Al Hutchinson Speaks Out

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Prevue reached out to Al Hutchinson, president and CEO, Visit Baltimore about the open letter he and other black destination industry leaders released about systemic racism in the U.S.

That letter states, “Clearly, whether we realize it, admit it, or like it, all of our lives have been impacted, and our world has changed. This industry must and will also change. How will be determined by the actions we take now. One thing is for sure, going forward, we can no longer do business as usual.” It continues, “If you are not a part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” Here is what Al Hutchinson has to say about becoming part of the solution.

Prevue: How important is diversity, equity and inclusion in the meetings and hospitality industries? 

Al Hutchinson: I can’t stress how important diversity, equity and inclusion are to the meetings and hospitality industries. We’ve gone far too long with these topics on the backburner, but it’s time that we have an honest conversation about racism and lack of diversity in our industry. I recently co-signed a letter alongside other black industry leaders calling for much-needed change. In the letter, we made a special call to our white counterparts, encouraging them to use their leadership to make positive and lasting change. Specifically, we’re asking white leaders to ask themselves tough questions like how their organizations are nurturing cultural change and how they are engaging underserved communities to attract diverse talent.

Prevue: Do you think the current political climate threatens the ability to hold meetings and events that respect diversity and rights of all attendees?

Al Hutchinson: Although the current political climate is divisive and problematic in many ways, I’m hopeful that this movement to eradicate racism will press on in our country and industry. Our country has come face-to-face with structural racism over the past several weeks, and even in the midst of a global pandemic, individuals are loudly calling for change.

Prevue: Is there anything meeting professionals can do to prevent the current spirit from being reflected in our field?

Al Hutchinson: I believe meeting professionals should speak with their boards about the importance of a diverse representation, especially people of color. Additionally, professional organizations should revisit their mission statements and strategic plans to make sure there are strong statements about social injustice and being inclusive in everything that they do.

Meeting professionals should also advocate for programming at meetings and events that address issues like unconscious bias and white privilege. Additionally, meeting professionals can help advocate for diversity and inclusion trainings for staff to ensure attendees feel welcome and safe.

Prevue: How do you feel meeting professionals can create program content that accounts for ethnically diverse audiences?

Al Hutchinson: It all starts with representation. If you don’t have a diverse representation of meeting professionals in the room, the more difficult it will be to create programming for an ethnically diverse audience. Then once programming conversations happen, make sure you are bringing in a diverse array of thought leaders and panelists to your event.

Prevue: What does the future hold for diversity at meetings and in the meetings industry? 

Al Hutchinson: While none of us can predict what the future holds and these conversations are just the beginning, I’m cautiously optimistic about the future of our industry. My hope is that our industry will remain committed to diversity and inclusion long-term and that this isn’t just a passing fad. For this to happen, we need white industry leaders to step up as allies. Black leadership can’t do this alone; we need support to make positive and lasting change.

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