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Industry Briefs

Destination DC (DDC), the official destination marketing organization for Washington, DC, recently announced key promotions at the executive team level. Robin A. McClain is chief marketing officer; Theresa Belpulsi is senior vice president, tourism, sports, visitor services and Melissa A. Riley is senior vice president, convention sales and services. Additionally, Rico Ashab has been promoted to chief of staff to Elliott L. Ferguson, II, president and CEO of DDC.

"You're only as good as your team, and I clearly have a deep bench of leaders that have seen our organization through many ups and downs, said Ferguson. "As DDC comes into additional funding for marketing and sales through new Tourism Recovery District legislation, they each oversee critical aspects of our strategic recovery, as well as supporting the executive office. I appreciate them all personally and professionally and I'm proud of what we've been able to accomplish together as we get tourism back on track."

Robin A. McClain, Chief Marketing Officer

McClain leads the marketing and communications team of 25, responsible for advertising, communications, content, creative, research and events. She joined DDC in May 2011 as director of communications, began leading the department in November 2012 and was promoted to senior vice president in 2017. Under her leadership, DDC brought creative in-house and debuted the DC Cool brand and consumer marketing campaigns to reinforce the unexpected side of DC. In 2022, an independent return on investment study of the spring and summer Experience DC advertising resulted in $3.08 in taxes generated for Washington, DC for every $1 spent on advertising - the highest ROI to date.

"As a city and destination marketing organization, we have an incredible opportunity to close the gap with other top-tier destinations when it comes to promotional funding," said McClain. "I always tell my team that this is the best job I've ever had because of DDC's commitment to its people. Matching the data-driven marketing strategy with a team of incredibly talented professionals and leveraging the TRD to win more visitors to the District translates to real economic benefit for the city."

Prior to DDC, McClain worked for the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board for several years, and started her career as a broadcast journalist in several markets including DC's local FOX 5. She lives in Washington, DC and grew up in Gaithersburg, MD.

Theresa Belpulsi, Senior Vice President, Tourism, Sports, Visitor Services

A 20-year veteran of DDC, Belpulsi joined DDC in 2002 and soon after began leading tourism sales for the organization. Her department is responsible for attracting more international visitors, group leisure and student travelers, and professional, amateur and collegiate sporting events. Her team also provides robust visitor services.

Under her leadership, Washington, DC's international focus has expanded, which is important because of the visitor spending potential. DDC's representation has grown to include the UK, China, India and Australia, as well as continued regional partnership with Capital Region USA, a collaboration between Maryland, Virginia, Washington, DC and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Belpulsi led the effort to host U.S. Travel Association's influential IPW travel trade show in 2017, geared towards international travel buyers.

She's also supported many special events and new attractions and landmarks in DC, including the World War II Memorial in 2004, opening of Nationals Park in 2008, the centennial celebration of the gift of cherry trees from Tokyo to DC in 2012 with the National Cherry Blossom Festival and MLB All-Star Week in 2018. Most recently, her team hosted the Student Youth Travel Association's annual meeting in August 2022.

"This promotion is reflective of my team making me a better leader, as they inspire me to be the best I can be," said Belpulsi. "Over the course of my career, I have been part of some incredibly special events in Washington, DC, and we have the privilege of traveling the globe and hosting the world in Washington, DC, sharing some of those experiences with potential visitors."

Prior to DDC, Belpulsi worked for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau among other roles. She hails from Ohio and is a District resident.

Melissa A. Riley, Senior Vice President, Convention Sales and Services

Riley's tenure at DDC spans over 20 years. She leads a team of 25 convention sales and services professionals, responsible for generating positive economic impact for the District through room night generation and visitor spending. A 25-year veteran of the industry, she became department head in 2014 after several promotions taking her from national sales manager to senior national sales manager and director of convention sales in January 2003.

Riley sparked DDC's Connected project. The strategic positioning aligns DDC with the city's priorities to drive meetings and events business within growth sectors. The overall positioning includes three pillars: Connected Capital, focused on DC's strong industries and assets that benefit customers; Connected Campus, focused on unique venues and event space to extend a meeting's footprint; and Connected Community, a platform for customers to leave a lasting positive impact on Washington, DC.

She has fostered a strong relationship between DDC and the hotel community, as well Events DC, to yield the maximum number of events for the city. Additionally, she positions DDC as a leading industry voice in meetings-related initiatives around the world, serving as deputy chairperson for the International Congress and Convention Association North America Chapter and Destinations International's Chair of the Large Market Round Table. She is a resident of the District and was born and raised in Reston, VA.

"As we grow as an organization, I'm excited for the opportunity and challenge of continuing to position Washington, DC differently," said Riley. "As a team, we'll collectively utilize the city's assets that set it apart to attract meetings and events of all sizes and set the city up for success in the short and long term," said Riley.

Rico Ashab, Chief of Staff

Rico Ashab has been appointed chief of staff to Ferguson. His tenure began in 2017 as part of a temporary staffing group with convention services, became the convention services coordinator and has served as executive assistant to the president and CEO since 2019. Through his role, he works closely with DDC's board of directors and city partners to advance the organization's mission. Born in Washington, DC and growing up in the region, Ashab has been in the travel and hospitality industry for six years and lives in Mount Rainier, MD.

"I appreciate that I play a direct role in supporting Elliott's critical work for DDC, and also collaborating with our board of directors, partners, members and internal staff," said Ashab. "Whether it's preparing Elliott for an important sales mission or interfacing with a new member business, I enjoy supporting so many aspects of DC's tourism and hospitality industry."

About Destination DC:
Destination DC, the official destination marketing organization for the nation's capital, is a private, non-profit membership organization committed to marketing the area as a premier global convention, tourism and special events destination with a special emphasis on the arts, cultural and historic communities.

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