Depending on who you ask, Spokane's reputation swings from vibrant and alive to bleak and downtrodden. But Visit Spokane, the region's premier tourism promotion nonprofit, has been working to universalize the former opinion, highlighting everything that makes the Lilac City so appealing for the people who live here. (The accessible outdoor recreation and the local craft beer scene are some frequently noted local jewels.) And Meg Winchester, a Southern California native and the organization's new CEO who started in January after leading the Galveston Island Convention and Visitors Bureau for over a decade, aims to double down on that mission.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
INLANDER: What drew you to Spokane?
WINCHESTER: I had a recruiter call me and she said that I'd be absolutely perfect for this job. I was fortunate enough to be picked for a round of interviews and I came for 24 hours. I just felt really good about it and it's just such a lovely destination. Everyone here is so warm and it's a genuine warm. People are excited about living here and being here.
The culinary scene is amazing here. There's such a diversity of it and there's just some amazing restaurants here. The symphony here is doing amazing things. For me, it's fabulous that we don't just have one area. We've got the Valley with their great parks and Liberty Lake and Airway Heights with the casinos. That just gives us so much more of a robust offering. For us, that's a dream come true, because it gives us such more to promote.
How does your experience in Galveston translate to Spokane?
Galveston kind of had a not a very good image. [But] the city has grown up a lot. Spokane has that, too. A lot of people don't know anything about it or remember it as it was 20 years ago. I think that's probably the similarity.
What's your vision for Visit Spokane under your leadership?
One big focus for us is the Convention Center in downtown Spokane and working on citywide conventions. Our marketing team was able to work with Public Relations Society of America and their travel writers division and to bring that conference here in June of 2020. That's just a home run for us. It's going to bring top-rated travel writers to our destination.
People are really looking for experiential travel. They love to get out into neighborhoods and go somewhere different. That plays very much into what we have. There's all kinds of opportunities for people to get out and experience everything and not just things in the downtown core. There's lots of smaller, community events that people are really interested in. We're trying to get that information out. We're always promoting all the different events that are going on [such as] Bloomsday, Hoopfest.
Why should we even care about attracting tourists? Don't they just clog the sidewalks?
I think a lot of people don't realize that tourism is many times the reason that we can have these types of restaurants or these wineries, because they're able to help support their businesses through the residents that come through. They may not be able to survive without that tourism base. It keeps people working and it keeps people in business and it keeps our economy thriving.
What's your favorite restaurant, bar and coffee shop in Spokane?
Wild Sage was amazing. I had an amazing dinner there. I loved the Safari Room. And Atticus [Coffee] is great. ♦