Walaszek accepts role with tourism council

Posted: Monday, March 10, 2003

The Kenai Chamber or Commerce's loss is the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council's gain.

Chamber Executive Director Audrey Walaszek has been named the new director of the peninsula's visitor industry marketing arm.

Walaszek announced her decision to take the KPTMC position last week, saying she wanted a role in helping to shape a bigger part of the economy on the peninsula.

"What I'm looking forward to the most is being able to impact tourism for the entire peninsula," she said. "That's important to our commerce here in Kenai and in other towns."

After nearly two years with the Kenai chamber, Walaszek will be missed, said chamber president Cherie Brewer. She said Walaszek brought enthusiasm to the position that spawned successful campaigns like "Hooked on Kenai," a strategy to boost the awareness of Kenai small businesses.

"Of course, we hate to see Aud leave," Brewer said. "She kind of kick-started us and brought just a whole new image to the chamber."

KPTMC board vice president Ricky Gease said the council is counting on Walaszek's image building to repair credibility damaged two years ago.

KPTMC has been without an executive director since April 2001, when Faron Owen resigned after making a disparaging remark about Alaska Natives at the Pratt Museum in Homer.

"The organization found itself in a hole, reputation-wise ... that it's just digging itself out of," Gease said. "I have confidence she'll be able to re-establish relationships with everybody."

After Owen's resignation, Dru Garson worked with KPTMC as a VISTA volunteer for 10 months in a leadership capacity; he has left to take a tourism development position in Juneau with the state Division of Community and Economic Development.

KPTMC board member Chris Degernes, who was involved in hiring Walaszek, commented on the qualities the new director brings to the table.

"Energy and enthusiasm were two of the qualities that were evident," Degernes said. "And it helps that she has creativity. Especially being that the organization needs to reinvent itself."

Walaszek said she hopes to move toward building a cohesive network within the peninsula's travel industry.

"One of the roles I see for myself is to regionalize efforts," she said. "We have all these organizations out there striving to make a difference, but we could really increase if we harness the power of everyone and all the fabulous things that they are doing. That's how we're going to get (visitors) to the peninsula.

"Right now we have all these separate slices. If we put it together, we increase the pie."

The chamber will begin interviewing applicants for the new director Monday and is accepting applications until Wednesday.

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