Putting Tacoma on the map: Two agencies double down on promoting area with merger

Dean Burke is the new CEO for the merged Travel Tacoma + Pierce County and Tacoma South Sound Sports Commission.
Dean Burke is the new CEO for the merged Travel Tacoma + Pierce County and Tacoma South Sound Sports Commission.

It’s a new year and new era for promoting Tacoma and Pierce County.

Travel Tacoma + Pierce County announced this week its merger with Tacoma South Sound Sports Commision.

The two organizations had worked both independently and in tandem through the years, with Travel Tacoma marketing the area for meetings and tourism, while the sports commission focused on sporting events and recreation. Tourism alone generates an estimated $1.2 billion annually for the local economy, according to Travel Tacoma.

The new CEO of the combined organization is Dean Burke, who’s been with the sports commission for seven years.

The current interim CEO of Travel Tacoma, Chelene Potvin-Bird, will return to her role as vice president of sales and service. Potvin-Bird was tapped to lead in an interim role after the departure of former Travel Tacoma President and CEO Bennish Brown, who now leads the Augusta, Georgia, Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Current staff for both organizations also are staying on to draw from the collective expertise. “We’re not diminishing either side of the fence,” Burke told The News Tribune in a phone interview Thursday. “So when we’re talking to sports stakeholders or discussing the convention center, every voice has to own that lane with authenticity.”

In its formal announcement, the newly formed group said the combination of the two entities will “allow the two organizations to improve efficiency and return-on-investment by sharing operating expenses while jointly marketing Pierce County as a destination for leisure tourism, meetings and sporting events.”

You’ll have to wait for the organization’s new name. “We’re not going to make that decision just yet,” Burke said. “For 2019, the organizations will run as is because we still have contracts in place,” for promotions, “so the full merger won’t happen until end of year.”

However, the two organizations are now in the same office at the convention center, 1516 Commerce St., Tacoma.

“I literally got here yesterday,” Burke noted. “I’m still learning where the coffee maker and light switches are. But, we have to start 2020 plans in 90 days for contracts, so in the next week we’ll start looking at the fine details of what we’ll do next and what falls into line with the county strategic plan for tourism.”

One challenge is to come up with a signature event for Tacoma. “We’ll be looking at how to solve that,” Burke said.

“We have such a massive opportunity. A lot of locals forget about where they live, and we have an unrepeatable platform ... you look at what we have in such a small concentrated space from Point Ruston to Mount Rainier.

“We’ve got something pretty cool that Midwestern markets can’t replicate. We’re catching up as a region to do something bigger with that story.”