Gretchen Hall – Destinations International

 Gretchen Hall

COO, Destinations International

Little Rock, Ark.

Describe your job.

Destinations International, based in Washington, D.C., is the world’s largest resource for destination organizations, CVBs, and tourism boards. The professional association is a forward-thinking collaborative of more than 7,000 members and partners from more than 650 destinations in approximately 17 countries. The organization’s work includes exchanging ideas, connecting people, and elevating tourism to its highest potential. Since April 1, I have been COO and am responsible for the strategic development, implementation, and retention of global membership and partnership initiatives. In addition, I work with a team to market and promote our member benefits, tools, resources, and industry events.

What made you choose the meetings and events industry?

Honestly, I stumbled into the industry by luck and then immediately fell in love with it. I’ve always had a passion for sports, especially basketball, and after playing collegiate basketball for four years, I began my career as a tournament organizer for a national association. I didn’t realize at the time I was working in tourism and that our tournaments were part of the meetings and events industry. I later took a job as an event coordinator at the convention center in Little Rock, Ark., a center managed by the Little Rock CVB. It was there I learned the full depth and breadth of a destination organization and more about the travel and meetings industry. I saw firsthand that the work of a destination organization can transform a city. From driving huge economic impact through travel spending to advancing the quality-of-life offerings for residents and creating hometown pride through content marketing. I knew I wanted to be part of this work.

How did you get started and what got you from there to today?

Over the course of 20 years, I had the great fortune to work in almost every division at the Little Rock CVB as well as being part of several major milestone developments within the destination, including the opening of the Clinton Presidential Center, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the integration of Little Rock Central High School, and leading the renovation and expansion of historic Robinson Center. Leaving the CVB was bittersweet—I loved the team of professionals there and the work we did in the community—but my new role at Destinations International affords me the opportunity to help the entire industry prosper. Business events and tourism in general have a tremendous impact on destinations around the globe, and our team works daily to provide tools, research, and resources to help destination organizations thrive. It is so fulfilling to see how that work impacts destinations around the world in positive ways.

How do you keep up with industry trends, changes, and cutting-edge developments?

Our industry changes at a rapid pace, but I am thankful that our community of members and the thought leadership of our industry partners provide the resources to stay on top of emerging trends, best practices, and new technologies. From podcasts to blogs, research, and industry media, I try to use them all. Additionally, I always try to surround myself with friends and colleagues who challenge me intellectually. We cannot get comfortable and complacent in a world that changes as rapidly as ours or we will be left behind.

What essential skills should every industry professional possess?

I think listening and having compassion for others is so important, but often underutilized. Being a leader doesn’t mean you have all the answers. Listening to others’ ideas and opinions and being willing to accept constructive criticism will lead to better solutions. Having compassion for others also will help broaden your understanding of individuals who may have different backgrounds from your own and create an understanding of critical issues that may be developing.

What is the philosophy or approach to work that gets you through stressful times?

The pandemic challenged the way we all think, especially the way we prioritize people and business activity. I think it forced us to reassess our core strengths and value proposition as individuals and organizations. Another thing I do is to remind myself of the bigger picture or desired results. That helps me push through stressful times.

What is the best professional advice you ever received, and what advice do you have for others in the industry?

The best advice I’ve received: Find something you are truly passionate about. It may take a while to find the right fit, but do not get discouraged. There is no longer a traditional path to success, so do not be afraid to bet on yourself and create your own path.

The advice I would give others is to remember the little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never be able to do the big things right. Be attentive to the details because the quality of your work will speak volumes about your future potential. Another thing I advise is to take initiative on the job. Do not wait to be asked to do something if you see a need—just take care of it.

Describe your biggest professional success.

My most notable professional success would be leading the $70 million renovation of Little Rock’s Robinson Center auditorium. The Little Rock CVB funded the public project, and I served as the owner’s representative, leading the design and construction teams. We were able to complete the project on time, within budget, and earned LEED Gold certification. That’s no small feat for a historic structure.

Although this project will always be a source of professional pride, what brings me the greatest joy is mentoring young professionals and watching them succeed. There is nothing better than knowing I played a small role in their professional success.

What is the best part of your job?

There are three things I really love about our industry: the impact it has on local communities, the diversity of people and events we have the pleasure of working with, and the fact that we really never live the same day twice.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Sports played a tremendous role in my life, teaching me invaluable lessons about hard work, dedication, teamwork, coping with loss, leadership skills, and much more. To give back, I spent years coaching youth basketball (I am currently on a sabbatical). That volunteer work introduced me to two young ladies I now call my “daughters.” In addition to watching college sports, when I have free time, I love to travel, enjoy time by the water, and participate in various outdoor activities.

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