After more than three years as president and CEO of Visit Spokane, Meg Winchester is retiring, the region’s destination marketing organization announced Friday.
“I didn’t make this decision lightly. Working with the Visit Spokane team through a pandemic was difficult yet inspiring. I’m proud of the entire team,” Winchester said in a statement. “It’s been a wild ride and one I’m thankful to have been on.”
Winchester’s career in the tourism industry spans more than 30 years.
She got her start as a national sales manager in 1996 for the San Diego Convention Center’s citywide sales team.
She also served as director of the Galveston Island Visitors & Convention Bureau in Texas prior to taking the helm as CEO of Visit Spokane in 2019.
“I came to Spokane not knowing what to expect. Imagine my delight when I realized what a welcoming place this is,” Winchester said. “I’ll forever love this beautiful city and am so sorry to say goodbye, but it’s time to move on and enjoy my retirement.”
Winchester’s last day with Visit Spokane will be Jan. 1, 2023. A nationwide search is underway for a new Visit Spokane President and CEO.
After retiring in January, Winchester will be relocating to Texas where she’ll spend time with family. She also has plans to travel.
“While I am happy Meg will be able to travel and enjoy more time with her family and friends after a long and very successful career, her leaving Visit Spokane is a loss,” Meg Miller, Visit Spokane board chair, said in a statement.
Stephanie Curran, CEO of the Spokane Public Facilities District, was part of a nationwide search committee that hired Winchester in 2019.
“She came to Spokane and I was really impressed right away with how many people she knew,” Curran said. “She really just dove in, made friends and got to know everybody.”
Winchester was a “good partner” to the Spokane Public Facilities District, ensuring that Visit Spokane was working in tandem with the organization to spur tourism and events in Spokane, Curran said.
“Meg really just built that bridge,” Curran said. “She’s really going to be missed.”
Under Winchester’s leadership, Visit Spokane’s team launched the Room to Roam campaign in 2020 that emphasized the Lilac City’s outdoor activities to the Seattle and Portland markets. The campaign was funded via a portion of $2.5 million in CARES Act dollars.
The campaign was successful, generating more than $5 million in hotel bookings in 2020, according to a Visit Spokane news release.
“We were so fortunate to have that funding and do that during a time when tourism was at its all-time low,” Winchester said.
A report conducted by Tourism Economics for Visit Spokane shows 9.5 million people visited Spokane County in 2021, generating a total economic impact of $1.9 billion.
Visitors to the Spokane area last year spent $1.2 billion compared with $2.1 billion of spending in 2019, which was the county’s busiest year on record for tourism and conventions.
When Visit Spokane held its annual meeting in December, it was a “wonderful moment” as people were finally able to gather and celebrate the hospitality and tourism industries, Winchester said.
“I believe in always trying to look at the good. We learned a lot of lessons, but we also cared for one another and lifted one another up across all industries,” she said. “I’m really proud of that.
“I’m proud of our community, our team and how everybody has come together to make this destination better.”
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