Travel, sports booster organizations merge

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South Sound Sports Commission President and CEO Dean Burke
South Sound Sports Commission President and CEO Dean Burke

Travel Tacoma + Pierce County and Tacoma South Sound Sports Commission have merged under a yet-to-be-renamed nonprofit. South Sound Sports Commission President and CEO Dean Burke has been chosen to also serve as the new organization’s president and CEO.

“The connections Dean has built and the respect he has garnered throughout the community will be an asset as he leads Travel Tacoma + Pierce County into this exciting new phase,” said Evan Marques, chair of Travel Tacoma + Pierce County’s board of directors in the merger announcement. “The board and I have seen first-hand his talent as an executive and as an advocate of this destination, and we have full confidence that he is the right person to guide the organization into a new era of destination marketing in the South Puget Sound.”

Travel Tacoma and the commission had been separate economic-development organizations that promoted Pierce County as a destination, with one concentrating on tourism and events while the other focused on sports activities and tournaments. Their merger now allows the two organizations to improve efficiency by sharing operating expenses as well as jointly marketing Pierce County as a growing destination for leisure tourism, meetings and sporting events. Tourism in all of its forms is a major economic engine in Pierce County, bringing in some $1.2 billion a year to the local economy.

Talks about a potential merger started informally about six months ago, Burke said, when former Travel Tacoma CEO Bennish Brown announced in an e-mail that he was leaving for a tourism post in Georgia.

“It had been off and on in my head for years,” Burke said. “When I finished that e-mail, the campaigning began.”

Burke has headed the Sports Commission for the last seven years and helped develop a regional vision for a collective sporting-event strategy. Its efforts naturally dovetail into Travel Tacoma’s mission of tourism boosterism.

“We were not strangers by any means,” Burke said. “For us, it is the right time.”

The two organizations already occupied shared offices in the Greater Tacoma Convention Center. The merger calls for both organizations to operate under both names through 2019 to avoid confusion on projects and contracts already in place, and then operate under a new name in 2020.

“We have to rebrand and rename, and we have a new story to tell,” Burke said. “This isn’t just a wordsmithing campaign. This is of equal benefit to both sides of the house.”

One effort that could benefit from sports and tourism promotions operating under one umbrella organization is the planning and execution of a signature event in the region – one that could only happen in Pierce County.

“The state fair is cool,” Burke said, “but everyone has a state fair.”

The county has a lot of attractions, from hiking to sailing to visiting world-class museums that range from classic cars at America’s Car Museum or art exhibits at Tacoma Art Museum and Museum of Glass and viewing performances at local theaters. What is unique to Pierce is that the attractions range within a short drive from each other, if not right next door or down the street.

“When we talk about Tacoma and Pierce County, we’re talking about a region made up of mountain, city and sea,” Burke said in the merger announcement. “From the summit of Mount Rainier to the Foss Waterway, in a straight line it’s only 42 miles. From alpine glacier to salt water, that is a lot of diversity in such a short distance. And we have such a robust social setting that fills in the space between such wild geographic density. When you look across the United States, a place like this stands out among the rest. The very platform we were built on is truly unique, and that is what excites me …Through leisure, sports, events, festivals, conventions, meetings and more, Pierce County is a special place like no other.”

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