Episode 116

Making a Career Move to Start 2021Candace Carr Strauss

About Our Guest

Candace Carr Strauss

Candace Carr Strauss, CEO of the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce, joins this episode of the Destination Marketing Podcast to talk about how Big Sky, Montana has focused on growth over the past several years, as well as how she will be making a career shift in the next couple of months. Listen to hear some of her highlights of working in Big Sky, as well as what she's looking forward to in her new career path.

"Don't shy away from planning; however, with that plan, don't be rigid. You have to be flexible and willing to listen because we don't operate in a vacuum. We're not a consumer product that's manufactured and sits on a shelf. Our destination and our communities are living and breathing entities and things change on a daily basis." -Candace Carr Strauss on the importance of flexibility in planning

Episode Highlights

  • Name: Adam Stoker
  • Position: Co-founder and CEO of Relic
  • Favorite Destination: Fiji
  • Dream Destination: New Zealand
  • Name: Candace Carr Strauss
  • Position: President & CEO - Big Sky Montana Tourism
  • Favorite Destination: Athens, Greece
  • Dream Destination: Croatia

“Making a Career Move to Start 2021” – Show Notes and Highlights


Show Highlights:

  • Big Sky was born a destination ski resort only back in 1973.
  • Big, meaning vast with majestic landscapes and limitless outdoor recreation. 
  • Their National Park Service does a stellar job in encouraging visitors and at the same time communicating how animals in Yellowstone Park can become very aggressive if provoked. 
  • There is a unique experience of seeing five bighorn sheep at the entrance our one highway up Montana into Big Sky.
  • Accomplishments in Big Sky: 
  1. Best skiing in America
  2. Opened Wilson Hotel
  3. First Montage Big Sky at Spanish Peaks for 2021
  4. Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s Mountain ideal accreditation for tourism management and destination management. 
  5. Community involvement
  • A positive approach to a pandemic is adapting to innovation and creativity to be able to continue to serve people. 
  • Film is an amazing contribution to the tourism ecosystem and economy.
  • Candace points out that a destination and a community is about convening everyone to the table by having conversations and creating a group vision. 
  • Candace advises to be flexible, nimble, and be willing to listen. Planning is critical in running a destination organization for long-term gain.


Resources Mentioned in the Podcast:

Destination Marketing Podcast

Adam Stoker


Candace Carr Strauss

Visit Big Sky

Yellowstone National Park

The First 90 Days by Michael D. Watkins

Big Sky Community Housing Trust

Let’s Go There Together campaign

Phase 3 with National Plan for Vacation Day

Episode Transcript

Candace Strauss: [00:00:00] Don’t shy away from planning. However, with that plan, don’t be rigid. You have to be flexible and willing to listen because we don’t operate in a vacuum. We’re not a consumer product that’s manufactured and go sits on a shelf. Our destination in our communities are living breathing entities and things change on a daily basis. 


Adam Stoker: [00:00:21] Hello, everyone. And welcome to another episode of the Destination Marketing podcast. I’m your host, Adam Stoker. Thank you for joining us today. We’ve got a great show, a friend of mine named Candace Carr Strauss. And she is the President and CEO of Big Sky Montana Tourism. Candace, welcome to the show. 


Candace Strauss: [00:00:38] Thanks so much. Adam. Happy to be here. 


Adam Stoker: [00:00:40] Oh, I’m excited to have you. We got a lot to talk about today. 


Candace Strauss: [00:00:43] Yes, we do. 


Adam Stoker: [00:00:46] Well before we get too far into it though I want to ask you our ice breaker questions we’d like to ask everybody at the beginning. So you’re not allowed to say your own destination. I’ve got to give you that rule up front because we’ve had some rule-breakers in the past. So Big Sky is not an option here. So tell me your dream destination. If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be? 


Candace Strauss: [00:01:08] Okay. And I self-opted out of places I’ve been. So this is my dream have yet to go-to destination. 


Adam Stoker: [00:01:17] Good. Perfect. 


Candace Strauss: [00:01:19] That would be Croatia. 


Adam Stoker: [00:01:20] Oh, Croatia. Ok, tell me why. 


Candace Strauss: [00:01:24] I am Croatian and I would love to be able to trace my ancestry back to the country and go visit. I’m also a huge Game of Thrones fan like million others who have descended upon Croatia recently. So would love to be able to explore the sites where the show was filmed from Dubrovnik and split pile. I actually went as the Mother of Dragons Scenarios to Halloween two weeks ago. So if that gives you any indication of my love of GOT. 


Adam Stoker: [00:01:51] So we’re not screwing around here. But you are a fan. 


Candace Strauss: [00:01:55] I’m a fan. Yes. 


Adam Stoker: [00:01:59] Great. Okay. What else? 


Candace Strauss: [00:02:02] With respect to Croatia? 


Adam Stoker: [00:02:04] Yeah, What else draws you over there? 


Candace Strauss: [00:02:06] Plitvice Lakes National Park. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Being that I live right now, and I know I’m not allowed to choose my destination, but I am at the entrance of America’s first National Park of Yellowstone. And so I have kind of made it a bucket list to see as many national parks are possible. That’s definitely on the list. From a professional standpoint too Adam, for your listeners’ tourism dominates the Croatian economy. It’s a country with a population of only a little more than 4 million people, and it hosted a record 21 million visitors in 2019. 


Adam Stoker: [00:02:41] Wow, wow. 


Candace Strauss: [00:02:43] Unfortunately, with COVID, it has been impacted greatly with non-essential travel there. And the social media campaign that reran was “Dubrovnik is not going anywhere. It’s waiting for you.” So I saw that and it’s speaking to me. And so when I’m able, I’m going. 


Adam Stoker: [00:03:02] I like it. I like it. Okay, what do you think? Let’s say, let’s assume travel is safe in a year. How quickly do you think you’ll make it out there?


Candace Strauss: [00:03:10] Just as soon as I’m able, I mean, I do have a rather arduous job and I will be making a transition soon. So when I’m allowed 


Adam Stoker: [00:03:20] Okay, that sounds good. Alright. Well, there’s some foreshadowing for the remainder of our show. How about your favorite place you’ve ever been? What’s your favorite trip you’ve ever taken? 


Candace Strauss: [00:03:30] Well, I’m cheating a little bit. It’s not a trip. It’s Athens, Greece. And I actually got to live there for about a year. About five years ago. 


Adam Stoker: [00:03:37] Wow. Okay, you lived there for a year. What took you out there for a year?


Candace Strauss: [00:03:42] My husband took a job over there, and unfortunately, it was during the times of Gregist talks, and just a lot of mayhem in the world. And unfortunately, we had to leave. However, I should have been born Greek. I grew up in a little town in northeastern Ohio that had a large Greek immigrant population from the island of Kalymnos which is in the [Inaudible 00:04:08] Islands in the Aegean Sea. So I had folks like the Sarigianopoulos and the Paragopoulos. It’s like my big fat Greek wedding, Adam. A lot of loud people. So, as I said, I’m a talker and I’m a loud talker. I use my hands. You can’t see that but really came to love the Greek culture, even though I’m not Greek. 


We would celebrate Greek Easter every year, roasting a whole lamb. And then when my husband and I and our children got to live there actually celebrated Greek Easter on the island of Crete. We purchased our own authentic Greek spit and celebrate Greek Easter here back in America with my best friend Carrie [Inaudible 00:04:49] and her family. So we carried that tradition on, and I feel I should have been born Greek. And when you walk the streets in Athens, you can’t help but feel like you live back during the time of ancient civilization. It is just a mesmerizing and miraculous city. 


Adam Stoker: [00:05:08 ] Nice. Did you happen to embody the Greek culture of the man is the head and the woman is the neck who turns the head of the family? Is that – 


Candace Strauss: [00:05:18] Who controls the head, yes, indeed. 


Adam Stoker: [00:05:20] Who controls the head. That’s right, that’s right. That was one of my favorite quotes from that movie. It’s the first thing I think of when somebody mentions that. 


Candace Strauss: [00:05:27] It is. It’s a great line. 


Adam Stoker: [00:05:31] Well, okay, so let’s get out of movie quotes and back to Athens, Greece. When you lived there. I mean, obviously being in a different culture in a different place is a unique experience. I did it for two years in Brazil. It’s kind of hard to describe it to somebody that that hasn’t done that and how it differs from a trip. But what was the most interesting part of your experience living in Athens?


Candace Strauss: [00:05:59] Learning about Greek culture. I mean, my favorite place in the entire city was up on top of the Acropolis at the base of the five caryatids statues, which are the sculpted females that act as architectural support for the sacred Temple of Arachne. And the stories, you look at these stone sculptures and you’re like, “Okay, that’s just stone.” But they have a story. So there’s a fascinating myth that Lord Elgin and 1800 stole the sixth caryatid and took her back with him to Scotland. And it’s now in the British Museum. And there’s the saying that the other five statues could be heard actually weeping when she was taken. You can now see the originals in the Acropolis Museum, which is a relatively new museum that is just amazing at the base of the Acropolis itself. And replicas are up on the Acropolis so that no one can steal them anymore. 


But it just the fascination of early civilization and the people and the stories of the gods. And looking at that architecture, it just makes you feel really small as a human today. 


Adam Stoker: Yeah, the thing about going on a trip somewhere is that you get to just kind of skim the surface of everything you want to do, right? Whereas you spent a year in Greek culture and learning about Greek culture and so, you can say, “You know what? I’m going to dig deeper on that next Tuesday,” whereas, on a trip, it’s like, “I’m leaving in three days,” So I bet that had to be great to be able to dive a little deeper than you normally would on a trip. 


Candace Strauss: [00:07:33] It was. 


Adam Stoker: [00:07:34] good stuff. Okay, well, it’s great to learn a little bit more about you. Thanks for sharing that. I want to dive into your background. I’d love for you to have you tell us a little bit about kind of what are your roots? And how did you get into tourism? 


Candace Strauss: [00:07:48] Sure. Well, I’ve always had a love for different cultures. As I just described, I grew up in an extremely ethnic community, and there were not only Greeks but a lot of Hispanics and African Americans. And so a real melting pot just like America. When I got to high school, I just whether or not to study Spanish or French was like a wrenching decision for me, because at that time I thought I wanted to pursue a career with the State Department. 


Now, just for a point of reference, this is back in the mid-eighties, just so everybody is aware. And at that time, there was talk of that the United States, by this time, present-day are US population would be more than half Spanish speaking. So, I used intellect and logic, and I wound up going with Spanish. Not to mention that we’re on the same continent as South America. We’re Spanish. In addition to Portuguese is perhaps you studied when you’re in Brazil. So I chose Spanish and then I immediately took my first trip abroad with that class to Madrid, Spain, and that was my first exposure to the world outside of America and began my love affair with travel. 


I graduated from Miami University of Ohio with a degree in business, but I also had additional minors in both Spanish and Western European studies. And I had acquired those through summer classes at Arizona State University and also a year study abroad in Barcelona, Spain. And so following graduation in America. I return to Barcelona when I was in love with a Spaniard, so there was. But I also wanted to try to work over there and this was pre and post-1992 Olympic Games. So I got to see the total transformation of a European city with all the investment that comes with the games. 


However, the global recession of the early nineties soon forced me to move back to the United States, and I landed in Washington, D. C. There, I worked for about a decade in the fields of sports and entertainment. One of my first roles was with ProServe, a ProServe affiliated company, which is one of the largest sports, marketing and athlete management and event production companies founded by Donald Dell and Jerry Solomon, who again many of your audience may not know. Jerry Solomon is former agent and now husband to Nancy Kerrigan. So I actually had gone to work for him right before they got married and just immediately after she got clubbed by Tonya Harding. So my little claim to fame. 


Adam Stoker: [00:10:21] Yeah. You had an interesting view into that experience, I guess. 


Candace Strauss: [00:10:32] Why me? Why me? Exactly. But from that, I also held roles with Feld Entertainment, which is the private company that owned Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. Was the second largest licensee of Disney outside of Euro Disneyland with the Disney on Ice Worldwide franchise and Siegfried and Roy in Las Vegas. And then, in addition, I was with the Washington Redskins NFL franchise, which is now the Washington football team. 


And all of these roles kind of brought me to the doorstep of the tourism industry because while I was working for the Redskins and Dan Snyder, who also happened to own FedEx Field, 9-11 happened. And I along with a handful of others were laid off from the Redskins. As a result, we went from being the single highest attended NFL franchise at 87,000 people per game, to less than 60,000 when people were afraid to gather in our nation’s capital. And so it was devastating time to be out of work. 


However, I always believe in adversity comes opportunity, and I found myself three weeks later working for destination DC, which is the official destination marketing arm for Washington, D. C. in our nation’s capital to help bring visitors back following these terrorist attacks and coupled with the DC sniper incident and anthrax cases in the US Capitol. So never did I imagine that I’d love to see something so negatively impact the hospitality and tourism industry again, but I believe this experience has really prepared me for the leadership role that I’m in now to be able to help my team and my community and destination with what we’re experiencing as a result of COVID. 


Adam Stoker: [00:12:07] Wow, that that is quite the experience to lead you to where you are today. I want to go back to a couple of the things that you mentioned. I mean, a lot of us were wondering when you were at the Washington Redskins, what was your role? 


Candace Strauss: [00:12:22] Yeah, so I was sponsorship in and promotions salesperson. So I was looking for Fortune 500 companies to partner with the Washington Redskins franchise. 


Adam Stoker: [00:12:34] Okay, awesome. So you may not have intentionally gotten into the convention and visitors bureau side of travel and tourism. But man, you had a foot in that industry kind of throughout your career, didn’t you? 


Candace Strauss: [00:12:49] Yes. The thread that kind of holds my background together is really I’m in one of making memories for people, be it through attending an NFL football game or meeting an athlete, attending a live entertainment show. I’ve also worked for the Houston Symphony and the Museum of the Rockies here in Montana, which is home of Jurassic Park fame Dr. Jack Horner. And so everything for me goes back to providing people with experiences and lifelong memories that they’ll cherish.


Adam Stoker: [00:13:20] I love it. Okay. Well, you’ve been creating memories now for people in Big Sky Montana for a while. Tell us about your role in big sky and kind of the uniqueness of that destination. 


Candace Strauss: [00:13:34] Absolutely well, yeah. February marks four years for me of being CEO of the Big Sky Chamber and Visit Big Sky. And it has just been a once in a lifetime opportunity. Our community is it’s this tiny little census designated place. We don’t have a city or a city government and were less than 3000 people. And we were literally born a destination ski resort only back in 1973. So we’re really young. And when I say by birth, a destination, I mean, like most of the things that people think about when they’re considering, “Oh, maybe I’ll move here.” Didn’t exist. So many other mountain resort communities were something else first a mining town, for example, and then became a destination. And we were born a destination on our slowly trying to evolve to become a year-round sustainable community. 


We’re literally building our town one block at a time. Our hospital just turned four years old in December. Isn’t that crazy? Our [Inaudible 00:14:35] is only 12 years old. And so how often does someone really have this type of opportunity? I mean, growth has been exponential, and Big Sky lives up to its name. It’s big, meaning vast with majestic landscapes and limitless outdoor recreation in both, winter is home to the biggest king in America and summer we’re a gateway community to America’s first National Park. But we also have blue ribbon trout streams and where river runs through it was where our tourism industry as a state started finds its roots and its foundation. 


So no day is ever the same. I get to talk one day about tourism, but the next day I’m learning about wastewater and sewage and transportation issues, and I meet the most incredibly interesting people. And I get to have an impact on the formation of this young community as it is trying to make a future for itself. 


Adam Stoker: [00:15:31] Really cool. And, Big Sky is a unique place for all the reasons you mentioned, but one of the things that stands out to me is your proximity to Yellowstone National Park. I remember when you and I were talking last year, you mentioned that sometimes you have issues with people getting a little too close to the animals, which are the attractions but also could be very dangerous and so tell me when you guys had situations like that, how do you encourage people to come visit but not to touch the bears? 


Candace Strauss: [00:16:06] Yeah, exactly. I mean, we have a lot of wildlife and it’s not only bears but moose and elk, deer, bison. And a lot of these animals can become very aggressive if provoked. So it’s really about messaging and expectations for our visitors. I think the National Park Service does a stellar job in communicating this out to folks who are looking to come to the national parks as well. And they’ve actually — I’m proud of them because typically a government entity is pretty conservative, and they’ve actually gotten somewhat tongue in cheek and creating videos that talk about safe social distancing from the animals, not taking selfies in close proximity, to try to make light of it, so that people will actually engage with the communication and understand the message. 


So we take the opportunity to share forward their information, but then also in all of our communications let people know that we’re totally encapsulated by public lands in Big Sky. And that means you are going to see wildlife. Our local residents, some of our favorites are the five bighorn sheep at the entrance our one highway that you turn off of US Highway 191 up Montana Highway 64 into Big Sky and many times during the winter right now, they’re there on the corner, licking the salt off the road. And they greet you as you arrived to our destination. But they are wild animals and so it’s a fine line to walk to say yes, be mesmerized by them, but at the same time recognized that this is still a place where wildlife live in roam freely but you need to be cautious. 


Adam Stoker: [00:17:44] Yeah. Yeah. What a cool customer experience to have the first thing you see is your pull into town is those bighorn sheep that’s a unique customer experience, to say the least. 


Candace Strauss: [00:17:56] They’re incredible. We call them the Bachelor party because it’s these five male with thorns. So, yeah. 


Adam Stoker: [00:18:03] I like it. Well, I want to talk more about some of the highlights of your time and Big Sky when we come back. We’re going to take a little break and we’ll dive back in. 


Okay, guys. Since we started the Destination Marketing Podcast a little over a year ago, I’ve had several destinations reach out and say, “Hey, could you help me start a podcast?” And at first, we were like, “No, that’s not really what we do.” But after enough requests, we said, “You know what, let’s explore this.” And we’ve created a turnkey program for destinations where we will produce, we will host, we will edit, and we will publish your podcast for your destination on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis. And all you have to do is show up and answer some questions. We’re really excited about this program. We’ve got a few destinations that have been doing really, really well with their podcast. 


If you’ve ever thought about creating a podcast for your destination but you don’t have all the equipment or you don’t have the expertise or any of that type of stuff, let us take that off your hands. Let Relic handle your podcast creation and production, and all you have to do is show up and answer questions about all the amazing things there are to do within your destination. So let me know if you’re interested. Email me at adam@relicagency.com, and we’ll get you set up on this podcast program. 


[00:19:34] So, like you mentioned Candace, you’ve been in Big Sky a long time or for four years, and it’s been a great experience for you. Give me some of the highlights of your time in Big Sky. Maybe some of your major accomplishments. 


Candace Strauss: [00:19:47] Absolutely., I think from four years ago, when I arrived to today Big Sky is a destination has really made the big time. You know, before I think we were one of the best kept secrets of all time, the biggest skiing in America does have a very loyal following. However, we joined the icon pass two years ago, and that really put us on a map. In addition, we opened our first branded property our Wilson Hotel, which is a residence inn by Marriott last summer and that also provided significant access to those blonde boy loyalty partners in a way that we had not had visibility before. We’ve broken ground on the State of Montana’s first montage, which will open been hopefully in 2021 the Montage Big Sky at Spanish Peaks, which is incredible feat and we’ve become the first and largest bed tax collector in the state of Montana as a small community of less than 3,000 people. And I say that humbly and with the recognition that with that economic impact also comes a responsibility to balance between that economic development and our quality of life for our residents. 


And so we have taken steps and initiated efforts to seek the Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s Mountain ideal accreditation, which is really about tourism management and destination management and striking that balance between our visitors and our local residents and the actual place itself because place consumers of our natural assets who represents the natural beauty and wildlife of Big Sky. Well, I feel that visit Big Sky does the official destination marketing organization. We intentionally, in doing a strategic plan when I came on board, inserted the management word in there, so we’re a DMMO, destination marketing and management organization because it’s not just about bringing more people, it’s about bringing the right visitor who’s going to respect the place, who will perhaps spend a bit more and stay a bit longer as opposed to using the place and then leaving and not really thinking about it. 


So I’m really proud of our steps that we’ve taken to start that process. It is a significant process, which entails community involvement at all levels. And as we were marching towards that this spring, obviously COVID hit and so put a put a little pause on that. But as we’ve seen from COVID now more than ever people’s consciousness in travel and respecting place has really allowed us to reframe how we message to people and the expectations when they come visit our destination. So I definitely see that as one of the positives of the of the COVID pandemic. 


Adam Stoker: [00:22:41] Interesting. Yeah, it’s always it’s good to hear when people talk about positives from the pandemic as odd as that sounds, I am really of the opinion that when something like this happens, you have no choice but to look for the opportunity. And it sounds like that’s what you did. 


Candace Strauss: [00:23:01] For sure. The innovation and creativity of so many sectors, not just the tourism sector, but of how people have adapted to be able to continue to serve people through the pandemic. It’s incredible. Everything from contact lists, pick up at your favorite restaurant, to all of these calls that we’re all doing on be it Zoom or Go To Meeting or Microsoft Teams whatever platform, we’ve really had to make significant changes in our lifestyle, and I applaud that creativity. It’s been really fun to watch. 


Adam Stoker: [00:23:35] Well, it sounds like you’ve accomplished a lot at Big Sky, but I know you also had some challenges along the way. First of all, I’d love to hear the unique challenge that comes along with having your destination depicted on a TV show and in some cases, maybe not in the best light. 


Candace Strauss: [00:23:52] So are you referring to Big Sky? The Kelly series that’s running right now? 


Adam Stoker: [00:23:57] Yes, so my wife and I watched the first season, and when I saw it, I thought of you and said, “Oh.” 


Candace Strauss: [00:24:03] Well, Adam, as I said, I am a student of PT. Barnum, having worked for Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey. And he is credited with having said there’s no such thing as bad publicity and so I will share this novel. It was written by a Wyoming author and it’s being filmed in Canada, actually, with only a small amount of panoramic flyover shots of Montana and Montana’s landscape. So it’s actually not even being held in Montana. I wasn’t sure if you meant this show are also Yellowstone, which is Kevin Costner’s show. It’s in its fourth season. 


Adam Stoker: [00:24:45] Yes. 


Candace Strauss: [00:24:46] Also depicts our area, the Greater Yellowstone region, Bozeman. There is a reference about Big Sky in the ski hill up there and if the airport can service it and there’s a lot of drama that takes place in that show as well but I definitely think between the two of them it’s adding Big Sky to their vernacular of people today. Again, it’s put us on this map that before was only of being seen by the true enthusiast who was looking really hard and now we’re becoming more mainstream. So I think it could only be positive. Hopefully, folks know that that’s a made for TV drama. Both of them, actually. 


Adam Stoker: [00:25:28] Yeah, absolutely. And the interesting thing about it is now awareness is not the problem that you have to solve. Instead, it’s making sure that people, now that they know about Big Sky okay, what is it really? It kind of cuts a corner for you a little bit. 


Candace Strauss: [00:25:45] And I will say too I just want to throw shout out to Yellowstone and Kevin Costner and his team. They have moved full production of season 4 to Montana. So film is an amazing contribution to our tourism ecosystem and economy. And so we’re super happy to be able to host them for the filming of that 4th season here in Montana. 


Adam Stoker: [00:26:06] Awesome. Awesome. And I got to ask, have you had a chance to meet the cast and crew? 


Candace Strauss: [00:26:11] No, unfortunately, they’re, filming, they have a soundstage up in Missoula. And so that’s about four hours from Big Sky. So haven’t had the chance to bump into the boys yet. 


Adam Stoker: [00:26:22] Got it. Okay. Well, you know what? I think it’s been nice to learn about your experience at Big Sky and clearly you accomplished a lot. And you made a unique decision in this time to make a change, a career change. And I’d love to hear kind of what led to that and a little bit more about where you’re going. 


Candace Strauss: [00:26:43] Yes. So in early December, I announced that I am becoming the new CEO of the Sedona Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau in Sedona, Arizona. So I’m a big believer in karma, Adam and my father passed away about 25 years ago, and he had always wanted our family to move to Arizona. His uncle lived in Scottsdale, and that’s who I lived with when I attended Arizona State for a summer, and we’d go visit him and we’d actually make trips to Sedona, which is in a very special place, and I feel it’s calling to me right now. This opportunity came to me. It wasn’t something I sought. I received a phone call, and I think right now somebody in the universe is telling me it’s time for me to go to Sedona. So I’m going. I begin February 22nd and so, as of then, I will transition. 


In addition, in 2020 which has been a horrific year for so many, didn’t start out well for me, either. I unexpectedly two days before New Years of 2019, going into 2020 had to move my mom from Ohio to Tempe, Arizona, to live with my sister due to health reasons. And thankfully, she’s doing much better. However was not definitely the way I wanted to usher in 2020 but I will have family close and I think my ability to be there to help to see my mom and be a closer to my sister and her family is yet just another reason and telling me that this is the right opportunity at the right time for me. 


Adam Stoker: [00:28:22] Well, congratulations first of all. Sedona is an incredible destination. It’s one of those destinations that, once again, awareness, especially in the western part of the United States, is not near as much of a challenge as it is in some other smaller destinations because Sedona has so much to offer. So even though there was some different circumstances that led to you getting there, it sounds like you get to be very close to family, which is great. And you also get to be in charge of a wonderful destination. 


Candace Strauss: [00:28:53] Yes, I feel very blessed. And honored to have been chosen, and I’m really excited. 


Adam Stoker: [00:29:01] So tell me what you’re most excited about. With Sedona as a destination, I want to be clear none of this is in comparison to Big Sky. I don’t want to sound like, “Oh, if this is a pro in Sedona, that means it’s a negative in Big Sky.” I just want to focus on Sedona and say okay, what is it about the destination that you’re most excited to promote and manage? 


Candace Strauss: [00:29:22] Sure. Well, hopefully everyone is in a constant state of learning. I’m a lifelong learner myself having been in the museum world. One of my favorite books on leadership and taking new roles is “The First 90 Days” by Michael D. Watkins. He classifies broad types of business situations that new leaders go into as they take their position, and those four types are a startup environment, a turnaround, a realignment and a sustaining success. And so, as you say, with Big Sky and Sedona it’s not an either or one is better than the other. They were in two very different situations. 


In Big Sky like I said, it’s extremely entrepreneurial environment. It’s a start up. It’s a very young destination. It was born a destination and moving to become a community. And Sedona is actually it’s older and a more established community. It is world renowned. It’s the most beautiful place on earth. It has amazing reputation and really right now it’s about managing all of the impacts in the community of tourism. 


Adam Stoker: [00:30:32] Yeah, that that makes a lot of sense. And really another thing that I know you’re going to have to manage in Sedona, which you kind of started to have to manage in Big Sky is watching out for over tourism and impact on the environment so that you can sustain the destination like you said. So were there other ways that your role a big sky really helped to prepare you for this new role? 


Candace Strauss: [00:30:55] Absolutely. So as I mentioned, we’re building town one block at a time in Big Sky. So that’s a lot of the infrastructure related issues that we’re talking about. Transportation and public transit, waste water and sewage, telecommunications issues, foundational infrastructure of a community to be able to support its residents as well as visitors. And I’ve had daily interaction on so many of those topics. One of the largest issue in Big Sky is Affordable Workforce Housing and as vice chair of the Big Sky Community Housing Trust, who helped birth the organization, which just came into being this past July 1st, after about six years of work to get here, we just sold 52 units in our first deed restricted project in Big Sky, which is another accomplishment that I’m really proud to have been a part of. 


And so I think a lot of that skill set that has been acquired in Big Sky over the four years in those areas will translate really well to Sedona. The Sedona Chamber and Tourism Bureau has really been very more so tourism-focused. They have created the first in Arizona sustainable tourism plan in partnership with Arizona State University in the community at large. And so my predecessor did an amazing job to create a roadmap for the destination in the community to ensure the long term livelihood and sustainability of Sedona. So I get to take that document and hopefully breathe life into it and not just have it be a document that sits on a shelf but a living and breathing guide to how we steward Sedona’s future. 


So that’s really exciting to me. And like I said, I think a lot of that infrastructure experience from Big Sky is going to lend itself very well in that conversation as I moved to Arizona. 


Adam Stoker: [00:32:50] Great. You know, one of the things that you mentioned is that book “The First 90 Days”. Going in and gathering the information you need to make effective decisions as the CEO of that, is it a convention and visitors bureau? 


Candace Strauss: [00:33:07] It’s a joint Chamber and Tourism Bureau. 


Adam Stoker: [00:33:10] A joint Chamber and Tourism Bureau. Okay, great. So, like your approach to that, how do you prioritize and make sure that you’re doing the right things first as you acclimated to your new role? 


Candace Strauss: [00:33:22] Well, you lean heavily on your board chair and your staff. So I have had wonderful conversations with my board chair to be who’s been a terrific guide. It’s kind of like Yoda, getting Yoda’s guidance and assistance and in addition, talking to as many people as possible. There’s a dual need when you step into this type of role of being outwardly accessible and available to the greater public, who wants to understand who you are and what you bring to the community and what your vision is. But at the same time, you can’t overlook your internal stakeholders, your staff, your board, in this case with our chamber, our membership and listening to them a swell. 


So you kind of have to divide your time accordingly and start tackling that. Definitely not easy, because there are folks who want to pull you immediately into one direction or another. But you have to be diligent and focused and really look to your board chair and board who have been there and bring guidance. That’s their job. I serve at their pleasure and so really lean on them to help guide me in that process. 


Adam Stoker: [00:34:35] Yeah, I’m hearing humility that you’re not going to come in and say, Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to listen first and act second, which I think is a really good approach. 


Candace Strauss: [00:34:44] Absolutely. When I came in to Big Sky, I moved from Copenhagen, Denmark. I was working as a project manager and doing a funding study for Wonderful Copenhagen, which is the destination marketing arm for the capital region over there and before I had even landed, I had media reach out and say, “Well, what’s your vision?” And I’m like, “Well, I can’t say that I have a vision. There’s a lot of work to be done, but I need to get there and do some assessment before I can formulate a vision.” And it’s not about me and my vision, a destination and a community is about convening everyone to the table on having the conversation and creating that group vision. Otherwise it’s going to fail miserably. 


So I find myself in that same situation right now. I’ve had a couple of people invite me to their nonprofit board meetings, for example, via Zoom, and they want to hear my vision and so everybody wants to get right to that. But I have some homework to do and a lot of conversations to have first. So stay tuned. 


Adam Stoker: [00:35:46] Okay, I’m excited to see how it unfolds. There’s a lot of destinations listening right now that are dealing with different challenges, whether it’s related to COVID or related to other challenges that we’re all dealing with in the industry. So as you think about what you’ve done at Big Sky and where you’re headed to Sedona. What would you say is your biggest piece of advice for somebody that’s trying to figure out how to navigate their role in running a destination today? 


Candace Strauss: [00:36:15] Well, I say planning is critical. I was fortunate enough when I came into Big Sky to have boards that were both immediately ready to embark on strategic planning. And so I had that opportunity to bond with all of them about our future and what that looks like with those strategic priorities in mind, with all of their buy-in and then to execute based on that. And so I would say, don’t shy away from planning. 


However, with that plan, don’t be rigid. You have to be flexible and nimble and willing to listen because we don’t operate in a vacuum. We’re not a consumer product good that’s manufactured and go sits on a shelf. Our destination in our communities, air living and breathing entities and things change on a daily basis. There are so many things out of our control as we’ve seen this past year with the pandemic and economic downturn. And, so you have to be able to react and adjust and the more planning you do and that includes scenario planning, the better prepared you are when those different things happen. 


So planning is a big undertaking, and a lot of times folks roll their eyes and they’re like, “Oh, I don’t want to do that.” But it’s short-term pain for long-term gain. And so I would suggest if you don’t have a strategic plan, you need to get one in the works. 


Adam Stoker: [00:37:38] Great advice, I think planning and then the willingness to be flexible even though you went to all the work to put together that plan. You’ve got to be willing to change based on the at this point daily circumstances? 


Candace Strauss: [00:37:50] Exactly. 


Adam Stoker: [00:37:53] Well, I think you’ve given us some great information here, Candace, and I really appreciate you coming on and sharing your information with us. And the things that you’ve gone through that I’m sure other people are kind of weighing their options right now. Is there anything that I haven’t asked you that you feel would benefit our audience? 


Candace Strauss: [00:38:09] I don’t know as far as a question. You know, I guess I would just like to publicly thank the US Travel Association and our industry as a whole. We’re currently running the Let’s Go There Together campaign under the Let’s Go There Coalition, which is hundreds of industry stakeholders who have come together in support of our visitor economy here in the United States. And it’s just been amazing to watch everyone come together in this effort and work on our behalf as an industry and with other industry partners such as the American Hotel and Lodging Association and others to ensure that we come out on the other side more resilient than we were before COVID. 


So I would encourage everyone to participate in that. We’re getting ready to launch Phase 3 with National Plan for Vacation Day on Tuesday, January 26th. Adam, we talked about positives coming out of COVID, Americans leave how much of their vacation time that they either just lose completely and don’t get to take or can roll over and then eventually don’t ever get to take and COVID has shown with this work from vacation and companies going totally virtual that people are much more mobile and can travel now. 


So perhaps that seasonality and peaks and valleys that we’ve seen due to our American holiday schedule will change. And that is only a positive for destinations who experience pressure during peak seasons of that holiday travel. So I encourage everyone to become a part of that voice. It only gets amplified the more people who participate and so be sure to check it out at the US Travels website. There are all kinds of tool kits available that you could just take and use and cascade across your own platforms and be a part of the effort. 


Adam Stoker: [00:40:03] Great stuff, Candace. Thank you. How can people get ahold of you if they have questions for you individually? 


Candace Strauss: [00:40:09] Sure. So I can be reached at candace@visitbigskymt@com until February 10th. And after that, I can be reached at cstrauss@sedonachamber.com. 


Adam Stoker: [00:40:31] Awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming on and sharing your experience and expertise with us today. 


Candace Strauss: [00:40:36] You bet. Thank you very much for the opportunity, Adam. I’m also crazy on LinkedIn. So that is a tremendous platform to follow. 


Adam Stoker: [00:40:43] You’re a fun follow on LinkedIn. 


Candace Strauss: [00:40:45] Thanks. Connect with me there. 


Adam Stoker: [00:40:48] Great. Well, everybody, this has been another great episode of the destination marketing podcast. Thank you for listening. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please leave us a rating or review and otherwise we’ll see you next week.


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