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Don Welsh Leaving Choose Chicago in April to Lead DMAI

Hil Anderson
, Senior Editor
January 25, 2016
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Chicago, IL -- Choose Chicago is launching a nationwide search for a new CEO after Don Welsh accepted a new position in Washington as President and CEO of the Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI).

Welsh will remain with Choose Chicago through March during which time the agency’s board will look for a new person to head up the Windy City’s overall convention, trade show and tourism marketing. “We appreciate the foundation that Don has laid and are confident that we will continue the trajectory,” Board Chairman Desiree Rogers said in a statement.

Among all of his accomplishments, Welsh told TSE he was most proud of the team at Choose Chicago and the outstanding results they have produced for the city and its partners over the past five years.  “I was grateful to be their biggest cheerleader and I will miss them,” Welsh said.

Welsh was named to the new position two weeks prior to the DMAI’s February 9 Destinations Showcase in Washington. The annual conference will bring show organizers and event planners together with representatives of some 125 destination marketing organizations at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Walsh told TSE he was “super excited to be working on behalf of our industry” and noted, “My first order of business at DMAI will be to show our partners that they are the reason why we exist.” 

Welsh is an industry veteran with more than 35 years of experience in the hotel industry and with the Seattle Convention & Visitors Bureau and Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association. He left the Indianapolis CVA in 2011 to join Choose Chicago.

Welsh will replace Michael Gehrisch, who left DMAI after 15 years last Fall. COO Charles Jeffers has been interim CEO since then. “After a thorough search process that included a stellar group of candidates, we are thrilled that Don accepted the position,” said Bob Lander, Chairman of the DMAI board and CEO of the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau.

During Welsh’s tenure, the total number of overall visitors to Chicago grew by 12.5 million. At the same time, Choose Chicago also had to lay off about 25% of its staff last year when its annual state budget allotment became stalled in the Illinois legislature. The $7.2 million was eventually approved in December; however no re-staffing has taken place. 

Crain’s Chicago noted that Choose Chicago’s mission would not be getting any easier in the coming years as new hotel inventory comes online, requiring even more heads in beds. At the same time, the neighborhood around McCormick Place is undergoing a major revitalization that includes a new convention hotel and a 10,000-seat event center.

Welsh said, “I am proud of what the Choose Chicago team and the visitor industry have accomplished in just five years. Opportunities like this do not come along often and I am incredibly grateful for it.”

Reach Don Welsh at (312) 567-8588 or dwelsh@choosechicago.com; Bob Lander at (512) 474-5171 or rlander@austintexas.org

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