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creative:impact - For Mary Kerr, it’s Destination Ann Arbor or bust!

Destination Ann Arbor President/CEO Mary Kerr
Destination Ann Arbor
Destination Ann Arbor President/CEO Mary Kerr

Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. In the weeks and months to come, 89.1 WEMU's David Fair and co-host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, explore the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.

Deb Polich
David Fair
89.1 WEMU
Deb Polich, President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, at the WEMU studio.


Destination Ann Arbor is a 501(c)6 not-for-profit organization whose mission is to enhance the economy of the Ann Arbor area, and Washtenaw County in general, through the promotion of the area as a destination for day and overnight visitors.


To be the leading force in promoting the Ann Arbor region as a vibrant destination that inspires people to think and dream bigger.


To promote sustainable tourism to elevate economic vitality and quality of life.

Destination Ann Arbor will accomplish this mission through the following objectives:

  • Generate positive awareness of the Ann Arbor area as a destination of choice for travelers
  • Stimulate interest and desire on the part of consumers to take action and visit
  • Maximize the length and frequency of stays
  • Increase the business volume of the area’s tourism business partners
  • Proactively support development of additional tourism products
  • Maintain a research base for the area’s tourism industry
  • Create positive awareness, support and participation in Destination Ann Arbor and its marketing programs
  • Empower members of the local hospitality industry to address workforce challenges

Our staff is here to assist you with planning your next meeting or with helpful tips for your next trip. Contact us at a2info@annarbor.org or call 734-995-7281.


It is a journey, not just a destination. Diversity in our communities fuels our enthusiasm of our Mission. Our commitment to inclusion across race, gender, age, religion, identity and experience moves us forward every day. Destination Ann Arbor will continue to strive for these to be more than just words:

  • Leadership commitment and accountability in setting goals for diversity in staffing and board and committee recruitment
  • Strategic goal setting in our operational, sales and marketing plans including website and social media branding
  • Staff educational, communication and mentoring opportunities
  • Community engagement: philanthropy, external board representation, diverse-owned businesses, external employee resource groups


Visitor spending in Washtenaw County continues to thrive. A study of 2018 data was conducted by Anderson Economic Group, a consulting firm focusing on public policy, business valuation, and market and industry analysis. Key takeaways from the study of 2018 data highlight the enormous value of a thriving tourism industry within and around Ann Arbor. Visitor spending is essential to growing the local economy and workforce.

In 2018, Washtenaw County saw 3.9 million visitors, generating $832 million in visitor spending for the local economy. Learn more about the economic impact study.

Destination Ann Arbor
Destination Ann Arbor logo


Dear Friends, Colleagues and Stakeholders,

It is with mixed emotions that we announce the retirement of Mary Kerr, President and CEO of Destination Ann Arbor. Her last day will be July 31, 2022.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to sum up her achievements throughout these past 27 years of dedicated service. During her tenure, Mary was instrumental in growing our local non-profit from an $800k budget to over $7M in 2019.

During her earlier years, Mary partnered with the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters to bring their national training program to Washtenaw Community College, which continues to this day. In addition, the Electrical Training Alliance and Ironworkers International have each held their training programs in Washtenaw County for over a decade, contributing over $20M in estimated economic impact for our County.

More recently, Mary’s leadership saw the successful merger of the Ann Arbor CVB and Ypsilanti CVB into a unified countywide entity. Shortly thereafter, she oversaw the creation of the new Destination Ann Arbor brand name and identity, which further cemented the Ann Arbor area as a destination of choice for visiting, living, working, and building a business.

Working with a devoted board of directors and staff, Mary also oversaw the launch of the Ann Arbor Sports Commission, a 10-year destination master plan for the County, the creation of a strategic recovery plan to rebuild the local economy in response to the pandemic, and countless other key initiatives during her time with the organization. 

Mary’s support of Washtenaw County went far beyond her duties at Destination Ann Arbor. Over the years she has served on various boards for many local organizations such as Food Gatherers, Ann Arbor Summer Festival, Creative Washtenaw, Michigan Works! SE, Michigan Association of CVBs, and others that aim to improve the quality of life for area residents, support the business and arts community, and advocate for the hospitality industry.

“Words cannot express my deep gratitude for the many people whom I have been blessed to work bedside over the years. From our dedicated board members and talented staff to the many elected officials I have been honored to know, I offer each of you a heartfelt thank you for the many years of support. And to my friends at Pure Michigan and Under the Radar Michigan, I appreciate the countless ways you have championed Washtenaw County. I will miss working with each of you.,” shared Mary.

From Destination Ann Arbor’s Board Chair, Michael Weber: “Mary’s impact on this organization and our community cannot be overstated. Her presence and leadership will be greatly missed, but we wish her all the happiness and joy in her much-deserved retirement.”

Effective August 1, current COO of Destination Ann Arbor, Sarah Miller, will assume Mary's duties as the Interim President & CEO. A search committee will be placed to move forward in naming a permanent successor.

In lieu of a retirement party, we will honor Mary by creating a farewell video. We invite each of you to share your sentiments by participating in the video. Stay tuned for more details that will be sent in a separate email invitation.

Mary has been a true inspiration for all of us. We wish her the very best in her retirement.


Destination Ann Arbor

About Destination Ann Arbor

Destination Ann Arbor on Facebook

Destination Ann Arbor on Twitter

Destination Ann Arbor on Instagram

Destination Ann Arbor on Pinterest


Deb Polich: Welcome to creative:impact on 89 one WEMU. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your host for creative:impact. Thanks for tuning in on Tuesdays to hear our conversation with creative guests rooted in Washtenaw County and explore how their businesses, products, programs, and services impact and add to our local life, place, and economy. It's summer in Michigan, and that means vacation and getaways. Tourism is big business in Michigan, and the arts and creative industry is one of those key reasons. Mary Kerr is Washtenaw County's doyen of destination marketing and tourism. That's all about to change as she steps down as the president and CEO of Destination Ann Arbor after a stellar 27 years. Mary, welcome to creative:impact. It's an honor to have you here.

Mary Kerr: Oh, it's wonderful to be here.

Deb Polich: So, you know, Mary, you know this community and all it has to offer residents and how it attracts visitors. I'm curious, though. What attracted you and brought you to greater Ann Arbor in the first place?

Mary Kerr: Well, actually, I've been here most of my adult life. My father's company moved to Ann Arbor, and so, I went to school here and Eastern and I've stayed and raised a family. So, I love the area, and I'm very committed to the community.

Deb Polich: So, that's great. I actually don't know if I knew that you'd been here that long. But how did you eventually find yourself working in travel and tourism?

Mary Kerr: You know, I started my career working as a manager in a local restaurant, and it was a natural fit for me to move over to the Convention and Visitors Bureau in Ypsilanti. I was there for five years, and, of course, then I moved to Ann Arbor and took the position as president and CEO of, at that time, of course, we had a different name, but today, of course, Destination and Arbor.

Deb Polich: And what's the charge of a destination marketing or travel and tourism bureau?

Mary Kerr: We're a destination marketing organization, and our role in the community is to promote tourism, to tell our story--to tell our local story-- to the media and the traveling public and attract conventions, meetings, and, again, leisure travelers to the area.

Deb Polich: And what would you say are the key draws to people for coming to the greater Ann Arbor area?

Mary Kerr: Oh, that's a very good question. We know that people come here. Number one reason is to visit. The number one reason is to visit family and friends. Number two reason is, of course, the Ann Arbor Art Fair. And so, that makes it really a great opportunity for people to enjoy the community and to learn more about it. And, of course, we do have major draws in our local colleges and universities---University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University.

U-M Graduate at Michigan Stadium
Destination Ann Arbor
U-M Graduate at Michigan Stadium

Deb Polich: Absolutely. You mentioned arts and culture. Of course, that's a key interest here at creative:impact. You mentioned the Ann Arbor Art Fair. That's huge. But there's also a lot of smaller things, you know, outside of the city of Ann Arbor. Can you mention a few of those that that you find is, you know, are draws?

Mary Kerr: Absolutely. And we're very involved with many of those events as well. We mentioned the Ann Arbor Art Fair, Chelsea Sounds and Sights, Dexter Days, all of Washtenaw County, Saline Summer Fest in Milan, Let's Chill Winter Festival, Manchester Chicken Broil, the John E. Lawrence Summer Jazz Series this summer and Thunder Over Michigan, and, of course, ypsiGlow. Also, all of the wonderful arts and cultural attractions, museums, and so on. So, we have a pretty rich, culturally rich community.

Deb Polich: And your connection to arts and culture is both professional and personal. Steven, your late husband, was an inspiring art teacher and artist in his own right. Did he help you discover any artistic destinations to promote?

Mary Kerr: Oh, absolutely. My husband was very--Steven was--committed to the arts community and very locally tied into it. And so, he introduced me to so many things in our communities. That's where I also I gained my attraction and my passion for arts and culture in Washtenaw County.

Deb Polich: Such a team the two of you make. And made. 89 one WEMU's creative:impact continues. I'm Deb Polich, and my guest is Mary Kerr, who is retiring after 27 years leading Destination Ann Arbor, our local travel and tourism bureau. Mary, lots of communities want to be a travel or a tourism destination. Some even develop or pick themes or try to mimic other destinations. How important do you think it is that a destination actually be very authentic to who they really are?

Mary Kerr: I think that people--and especially today with the changes in a little bit in travel and tourism--people are traveling closer to home and enjoying local attractions. So, it's really important as to who the destination is. And we're very well-known, obviously, as I mentioned, the University of Michigan, but also a rich arts and cultural community.

Deb Polich: Most certainly. And, you know, in your almost three decades in this business, what have you seen change over that time?

Mary Kerr: Specifically, here in Washtenaw County, when I first started, as you mentioned several, several years ago, we had a number of natural attractions here. And the community has grown also as a dining destination. And the number of events that happen here each year, it's really important that we maintain the integrity of that community and those wonderful attractions.

Downtown Ann Arbor
Destination Ann Arbor
Downtown Ann Arbor

Deb Polich: And as we maintain and we look to the future, what are you looking forward to doing with what I might consider more unstructured time?

Mary Kerr: That's a very good question. But I assure you and I assure everyone that I'm going to be very busy with family and friends and maintain my commitment to the community and stay involved as well. That's some of my immediate plans, and I'm sure that will keep me very busy.

Deb Polich: I expect so. And, surely, the community wants to thank you for your outstanding leadership. Is there a big retirement celebration being planned?

Mary Kerr: There is. I will have one first with my board of directors and our team--our wonderful, wonderful team at Destination Ann Arbor. And followed by later in August, it's a virtual retirement and going away celebration.

Deb Polich: The modern way to celebrate retirements is by virtual Zooms, right?

Mary Kerr: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

Deb Polich: Well, listen, Mary. I want to thank you and Destination Ann Arbor for being a great partner for the arts and creative industries, especially throughout your career. And I would have to say it's been great working with you personally. I know this isn't goodbye, and we'll be seeing you enjoying all that our community has to answer. But I want to wish you the absolute best and thank you for being on the show.

Mary Kerr: Oh, it's my pleasure, as always.

Deb Polich: That's Mary Kerr, who is retiring after 27 years of stellar leadership at Destination Ann Arbor, our local travel and tourism bureau. Find out more about Mary and Destination Ann Arbor at WEMU dot org. This is creative:impact. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, and your host. Mat Hopson is our producer. Please tune in next Tuesday when we welcome another creative watch our guest and this, your community NPR radio station, 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.

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Polich hosts the weekly segment creative:impact, which features creative people, jobs and businesses in the greater Ann Arbor area.
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