Julie Coker: From Waitress to Leading the Way in Tourism and Hospitality

By Duchess Magazine

A Passion for Taking Care of People


If you ask Julie Coker, the president and CEO of the San Diego Tourism Authority, what inspired her to pursue a career in the hospitality and destination marketing industries, she’ll tell you about her high school waitressing job. This job taught her the importance of taking care of people and making their experiences memorable. She loved helping customers celebrate special occasions and create lasting memories.

Julie’s passion for hospitality led her to pursue a college degree in hospitality management at Johnson & Wales University. After graduating with top honors, she started her career at Hyatt, where she worked her way up for over two decades. Eventually, she transitioned into the world of destination marketing, becoming the president and CEO of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau. And now, she leads the San Diego Tourism Authority, promoting San Diego as a top destination for meetings, conventions, and tourism.

“I’ve always had this A-type personality, so…I was always focused on taking orders correctly, ensuring hot food was served hot and cold food cold, but I also enjoyed helping people make memories whether they came in for a special birthday, graduation, vacation or night away from the kids,” she explains. “I knew the customer service I delivered made a difference in that person’s experience.”

Setting the Standard for Destination Marketing

Under Julie Coker’s leadership, the San Diego Tourism Authority has become one of the best in the business. San Diego ranked as one of the top-performing U.S. destinations in 2022, with high hotel occupancy rates. With Julie at the helm, tourism jobs returned to pre-pandemic levels, generating employment opportunities for over 200,000 people. The organization’s sales and marketing programs have delivered exceptional results, with a $30 to $1 return on investment, the highest in its history. And the retention rate among SDTA members is an impressive 93%.

Julie Coker’s commitment to serving on boards gives her unique insight and influence in the tourism industry. She was appointed to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, where she provides advice on travel priorities. She also serves on the executive boards of the U.S. Travel Association and Visit California, among others.

Julie Coker’s contributions to the tourism and hospitality industry have not gone unnoticed. She has received numerous awards and recognition throughout her career. In 2023, she received the Fearless Award from the San Diego Black Chamber of Commerce and was inducted into the All-Time Hall of Fame by Smart Women in Meetings. She has been named a Phenomenal Woman in Business and recognized as one of the Network Journal’s 25 Most Influential Black Women in Business.

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