Top promoter of Tacoma bids farewell as interim chief starts next chapter for tourism

Bennish Brown is moving on after six years in the South Sound as president and CEO of Travel Tacoma + Pierce County.

He is moving to Augusta, Georgia, to lead the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Asked what he'll miss most about our metro, Brown replied: “The unmatched beauty of this destination, which so many people take for granted. ... We are truly a melting pot of peoples and cultures, and that isn’t the case in all communities.

"I’ll miss flying back in to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and know that I am close to landing when I see the majestic Mount Rainier from the plane’s window.”

Chelene Potvin-Bird, the organization's vice president of sales and servicing, will be interim president and CEO.

Her team earned the Smart Meetings magazine 2017 Platinum Award. She's also been a key contributor to the planning of the $85 million Convention Center Hotel project with Tacoma's Community and Economic Development Department, according to the tourism organization.

Before joining Travel Tacoma, Potvin-Bird worked 15 years in the hotel industry, focusing on business travel, tour and travel and meetings.

“Bennish is leaving a legacy of success and the organization is in a good place," she said. "Pierce County tourism is a growing billion-dollar industry. Our sales efforts have given us a pipeline of meetings that will be filling up hotel rooms into 2023, and we’re still booking more."

Brown came to the organization in 2012, chosen from 165 applicants for the top Tacoma-Pierce County tourism post. Before Tacoma, he served for 12 years as the head of the the Rock Hill, South Carolina/York County Convention & Visitor Bureau.

For some perspective, in 2012, the local organization logged 37 meetings and events; in 2017: 223. Its budget has grown to $2.6 million in 2017 from $1.6 million in 2012.

Among Brown's other accomplishments is the key role he played in the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay as part of Tacoma’s destination-readiness committee.

“Being on the world stage during the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay was an eye-opener for a lot of people here, but keeping that momentum going since has been the real challenge. But it worked," he told The News Tribune via email.

"I think now there’s a sense of self-confidence in Tacoma and Pierce County that yes, people want to visit here, and they’re coming by the millions."

News Tribune archives contributed to this report.

Debbie Cockrell: 253-597-8364, @Debbie_Cockrell