Diana Stirling, the new vice-chair of the Tourism Penticton Society, said it is time for a fresh start for the organization.
Stirling’s comments follow in the wake of Tourism Penticton CEO Jessie Campbell’s resignation Tuesday, giving notice she would be stepping down on March 26. This is the third high profile resignation for the organization this year, after chair Miranda Halladay and vice-chair Sally Pierce stepped down in January, both citing frustration in talks with the Penticton Hospitality Association as part of their reasons.
“We’ve lost our chair, our vice-chair and our CEO in way too short a period of time and without a doubt we have had a lot of frustration in dealing with the PHA,” said Stirling. “But I can’t be clear enough in that is behind us now. It is imperative that we treat this as a fresh start. We need to put the best approach moving forward.”
That includes, Stirling continued, putting aside working on the concept of creating a unified tourism marketing organization with the PHA.
“It’s not our focus. We need to move forward and do our best job within what we can control at this point,” she said, pointing out that the society board represents a full spectrum of tourism stakeholders, including the accommodation sector.
“Our board has representatives from some of the city’s largest hoteliers, like the Ramada, the Coast, Sandman. We understand the needs of accommodators and how best to fill rooms,” said Stirling. “When I say the PHA is behind us and we are moving forward, I am completely accurate. Now we are looking to fill out the remaining role of chair and executive director.”
That decision sits well with Mayor Garry Litke, who said the best thing is to move on while the decision over the PHA and hotel room tax funds is made.
“The whole PHA mess, the division within the tourism marketing community, I can only speculate would have an effect on people trying to do good things in that area.” said Litke. “After a while people, especially volunteers, are saying ‘I have better things to do; I didn’t sign up for this kind of conflict.’”
Litke, who told the Western News he wasn’t aware of Campbell’s resignation only an hour before a press release was issued late Wednesday afternoon, admitted concern he wasn’t informed in a more timely fashion, and is addressing the issue.
But he also congratulated Campbell on the job she has done for tourism in Penticton, along with publicly apologizing to her for comments made at council Monday criticizing Tourism Penticton.
“I am upset by comments that are made by members of the community and council about Tourism Penticton in general, whether it was during the budget process or as late as last Monday night,” said Litke. “Somebody with Jesse’s skill set doesn’t need to hang around and be criticized like that. It is not good for her professional reputation and those criticisms are without merit and ill-founded.”
Campbell said neither the public criticism nor the dispute with the PHA had anything to do with her leaving. She admits to mixed emotions turning in her resignation after four years marketing Penticton, but it was her personal decision to pursue other opportunities, though she wouldn’t specify what those were.
“My decision is to do with my own career ambitions and I am ready for the next chapter in what will hopefully be a great read someday. That is the reason for my decision,” she said. “I have some really exciting options on the horizon, but at this point I can’t say anymore in detail about that.”
Stirling said Campbell’s resignation was entirely voluntary and the board regrets her loss.
“She presented her resignation to the board yesterday, so it came as a surprise,” she said. “Jesse has been a tremendous asset. We wish her all the success. I can’t say enough positive things about Jesse on behalf of the board.”
Though Stirling was announced as vice-chair this week, the society is still searching for someone to take on the chair position. Stirling, who owns LocoLanding, explains that her main priorities are her family and business and working as a volunteer director for the Tourism Penticton Society comes after. Stirling added that the additional time commitment was a concern for other board members as well.
“We understand the big task at hand and the requirements and qualities that an effective chairperson for our organization needs to have,” she said. “One of those pillars is time, and without a doubt, around the table, that is what it came back to.
“It is not that there is any sort of lack of commitment on the board, but we are all volunteering our time.”