Kris Watkins, the upbeat cheerleader for the Tri-Cities visitors and convention industry, will retire in 2018 after more than two decades on the job.
Watkins, who has led Visit Tri-Cities as president and CEO for more than two decades, announced her plans at the annual meeting and tourism showcase Monday evening at the Three Rivers Convention center.
She did not give a date but indicated it will likely be in the first quarter. Watkins said she’s looking forward to spending more time with her husband, Clark, and their grown children.
In an earlier career, Watkins was project manager for the Canyon Lakes development. Monday, she said watching how visiting golfers engaged with the community turned her into a tourism supporter and she never looked back.
The bureau, funded in part by visitor taxes levied on hotel rooms and in part on membership fees, plays a key role in promoting the Tri-Cities to tourists, as well as business and sports groups.
It works with travel writers to place stories about the area in magazines and newspapers. It publishes visitor guides, markets the region’s athletic complex and is an active supporter of both wine and golf-related tourism.
In her final annual report to more than 600 members, Watkins said the tourism industry supports more than 6,000 local jobs and $444.3 million economic activity.
The hotel industry has been a particular bright spot. She notes that new hotels have added hundreds of new rooms to the market, hotel occupancy rates rose 8.1 percent in the past year and revenue rose nearly 14 percent.
Steve Simmons, chair of Visit Tri-Cities board, credited Watkins with leading dozens of tourism-related initiatives, including development of the Three Rivers Convention Center, the visitor center, the Sacajawea Heritage Trail, and legislation that supports tourism promotion.
In other business, Visit Tri-Cities honored Red Mountain Trails with its “Excellence in Service Award and Dave Bryant with its Tourism Champion of the Year Award.