After a quarter century pitching Central Oregon’s attributes to visitors, the head of the Central Oregon Visitors Association, Alana Hughson, has announced she will retire.

Tourism, which generates more than $1 billion in economic impact to the region and employs 10,000 people, is one of the key industries for Central Oregon.

But promoting tourism is more than the numbers for Hughson, who moved to Central Oregon in the 1970s with her family. It’s about connections and passion for showcasing the community to visitors and helping the industry grow. There is hardly a fact, figure or contact that Hughson doesn’t have at her fingertips.

“This region, this destination is such a part of me,” Hughson said. “I can’t help but be passionate and excited about it. For those of us who get to live here, we’re among the luckiest people.”

The Central Oregon tourism industry as we know it was in its youth in 1993 when Hughson took the reins the Central Oregon Visitors Association as its CEO.

At that time the area was mostly known as a winter ski resort. Today winter is considered an off-season and spring and summer are the busiest times, she said.

“(Hughson’s) vision and astute management of the Central Oregon Visitors Association has created an organization that is an asset for our community and leaves a legacy that will serve us well into the future,” said John McLeod, president and general manager of Mt. Bachelor.

Under Hughson’s leadership the association earned awards for Outstanding International Sales & Development in 2017 and Outstanding Overall Marketing Program in 2016. Hughson said one thing that stands out in her career is the recruiting of the five-day conference of the International Association of Golf Tour Operators, which is expected to draw 500 people to Sunriver in June. Half of those are people who will learn about the area and be in the position to book meetings, conventions and trips here, she said.

Another accomplishment of Hughson’s is increasing the number of flights at the Redmond Airport. When Hughson started, she said, there were 12 daily flights at the tiny airport. Today there are 23 departures a day from Redmond, going up to 25 this summer, and 800,000 travelers a year come through the airport. Many of those travelers will book business here in the future.

The 55-year-old Hughson said her tenure will end in June in coordination with the organization’s fiscal year, but she will help with the search, the succession and the transition process for her replacement. The visitors association is a nonprofit marketing association that was formed in 1971. It has an annual budget of $3.5 million and supports 500 member businesses.

“The job Alana stepped into was like driving a 20-mule team without a harness,” said Bill Smith, president of William Smith Properties Inc. and the developer of the Old Mill District. “And she did it with the force of her own personality to get them all to go in the same direction and work together.”

Hughson was appointed in 2010 to serve a four-year term on the Oregon Tourism Commission and was reappointed to a second term in 2014, which will end in June. She served as chairwoman for two terms from 2015-2017.

“Alana Hughson has been a powerful force for Central Oregon tourism,” said Valerie Warren, Visit Bend vice president of policy and operations. “She’s been a tremendous advocate for our region at the state level. Her leadership has had an enormous impact on the livelihoods of local families who depend on tourism dollars. She will be deeply missed.”

This summer, Hughson said, she will take a travel sabbatical to an as-yet-unknown location. She plans to hone her golf game and perfect her ski skills. She will launch a consulting business specializing in strategic planning, communications and marketing in Bend, she said.

“Alana is a passionate advocate for Oregon’s travel and tourism industry,” said Todd Davidson, CEO for Travel Oregon, the state’s tourism marketing agency. “Her groundbreaking innovations and selfless service have positioned Central Oregon and the entire state as a premier global destination. Today, Oregon’s travel and tourism industry is experiencing amplified economic impacts and growing respect as a direct result of Alana’s exemplary leadership, collaborative spirit and strategic vision.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2117, sroig@bendbulletin.com

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