When the head of Nevada’s tourism initiative took the job of president and CEO of Sonoma County Tourism, there was no talk of fires, heartbreak or rebuilding.
Now, Claudia Vecchio will lead the monumental task of drawing visitors back to Northern California Wine Country in post-disaster circumstances.
Vecchio, the first director of the state Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, which consists of the Commission on Tourism, Division of Museums and History, Nevada Arts Council and the Nevada Indian Commission, has resigned her position to take the California post.
She took the new position before the disastrous wildfires that broke out earlier this month.
Came in 2011
Vecchio, former president of Destination Integration in Dallas and the head of the Ohio’s tourism office, began working in Nevada in mid-November 2011.
Her last day is Thursday. She begins her new job Nov. 1 in Sonoma County.
David Peterson has been named interim director and Gov. Brian Sandoval indicated a replacement process could begin later this year.
Vecchio said she made the decision to accept the job on Sept. 29. The subsequent Sunday night, the shootings at the Route 91 Harvest Festival occurred and a week after that, the fires in California broke out.
“It’s really been an incident-filled couple of weeks,” Vecchio said in a telephone interview Monday. “It kind of delayed having anything appropriate in terms of an announcement. There were more important things to deal with than this move.”
Vecchio said she has dealt with crisis management in tourism before, from tornados in Texas to water quality issues in Ohio.
“These kinds of things can always happen and one needs to be prepared for them,” she said. “So it is a different environment from when I said yes, but I’ll go in and do what I need to do for the organization, help rebuild and get the marketing message out as appropriate.”
Acting Sonoma County Tourism CEO Tim Zahner said Vecchio will have plenty on her plate when she arrives.
“Claudia is stepping into a situation where the community of Sonoma County and the board and staff of Sonoma County Tourism have come together to not only support one another in our time of need, but also to rally around and get the word out that we are open for business and ready to welcome visitors to the Northern California they love,” Zahner said in an email.
A series of swiftly moving fires that began Oct. 9 engulfed 6,800 buildings, including an estimated 2,907 homes over several days, killing at least 23 people. Entire neighborhoods in Santa Rosa on the fringe of wine country were lost in the blazes.
“Our farmers, restaurants, winemakers, tour guides and hoteliers are all ready to continue providing the world-class experiences for which Sonoma County is famous,” Zahner said. “We look forward to her leadership and experience as we build on that momentum.”
Summit coming up
Vecchio also transitioned the annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism to a more internationally based Governor’s Global Tourism Summit.
The 2017 edition of the summit is scheduled Dec. 4-5 at the Flamingo. Most of the preparation for the event has been completed.
“I feel very proud of what this team has accomplished and what the industry has helped convey in it’s own marketing messages,” she said.
What will she miss most?
“I’m going to miss the team tremendously, it’s just an incredible group that is here,” she said. “I’ll miss Nevada, but thankfully, I’m right next door. Nevada has a unique personality and I’ll miss that.”
State leaders haven’t discussed a timetable for a permanent replacement for Vecchio. Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, who couldn’t be reached Monday, chairs the Commission on Tourism, which is required to submit three names to Sandoval for consideration to fill the Cabinet-level position.
The 11-member commission is next scheduled to meet Dec. 4 prior to the opening of the summit, but it hasn’t been determined whether recruiting for a replacement would be discussed.
‘A World Within, A State Apart’
In her time in Nevada, Claudia Vecchio helped launch Travel Nevada’s “A World Within, A State Apart” branding campaign that received mixed reviews.
The campaign reintroduced the Silver State to domestic and international travelers. While the campaign didn’t score many creativity points, it’s been applauded for its high return on investment for tourist engagements per dollar spent.
Vecchio considers her contribution to that campaign her most significant achievement while here. She also enjoyed her role in the state’s celebration of its sesquicentennial in 2014.
The state’s most recent marketing campaign, built around “Don’t Fence Me In,” performed by the Las Vegas rock band The Killers, has received positive response while keeping the high return-on-investment figures.