Tuesday, September 21, 2021
Sept. 21, 2021

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CEO of Visit Vancouver USA retiring in June

By , Columbian staff reporter

Kim Bennett, who led local tourism efforts for the past 20 years, will retire June 30.

Bennett, president and CEO of Visit Vancouver USA, became the organization’s first executive director in 1999 when it was called the Southwest Washington Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“It has been both an honor and a humbling experience to have guided this organization for the past two decades,” Bennett said in a statement.

“The accomplishments of our team and board of directors can be attributed to the collaborative nature of tourism, evidenced by our many community partners and hotel stakeholders. I have no doubt that the next leader to step into this position will carry forth the great work we’ve accomplished.”

A committee consisting of Visit Vancouver USA’s board members will coordinate a regional search for Bennett’s successor.

Mike McLeod, general manager of the Hilton Vancouver Washington and chair of Visit Vancouver USA board of directors, said Bennett has put the organization on solid footing for the future.

“I’m happy for her,” he said. “Why wouldn’t you be happy for someone retiring?”

Bennett joined the organization at a time when the city of Vancouver was working to build a publicly owned hotel and convention center in downtown Vancouver. She proved herself adept at bridging divisions, including with private hotel operators who saw the city’s project as unfair competition undercutting their businesses.

“I know she was right in the middle of that,” said McLeod, who has managed the city-owned Hilton and Vancouver Convention Center for the past 3.5 years. “Even at the board table, I’m with what you would call my competitor hotels. But we all work for the tourism cause, and she helped set that up.”

Mark Matthias, owner of Beaches Restaurant & Bar, was on the committee that hired Bennett nearly 20 years ago.

“It was clear that Kim had the strong community insight and business sense needed to construct a team, create a marketing plan, lead this organization, and benefit our community,” Matthias said in a statement.

Bennett coordinated tourism efforts during a period of rapid expansion, including development of the Vancouver waterfront. According to Visit Vancouver USA, visitor spending has increased by 86 percent, from $273.5 million in economic impact when Bennett was hired in 1999 to nearly $510 million in 2017.

“Obviously we are growing as far as tourism is concerned,” McLeod said, “with more hotels on the way and development of the waterfront. I think the organization is going to grow right along with that.”

Bennett also was involved in creating the Tourism Promotion Area to fund Visit Vancouver USA’s activities, in which hotel guests in Vancouver and unincorporated Clark County pay a charge of $2 a night. In 2018, this charge collected more than $1.19 million. Visit Vancouver USA received $314,500 in lodging tax revenues from the city of Vancouver last year for specific marketing projects.

Bennett represented Visit Vancouver USA in statewide marketing efforts and industry associations, boosting Vancouver as a destination. She also received multiple gubernatorial appointments, including serving as co-chair of the former Washington State Tourism Commission and board member for the Washington State Film Commission.

Prior to joining Visit Vancouver USA, Bennett spent five years as executive director of the Camas-Washougal Chamber of Commerce.

Columbian staff reporter