Davidson to depart as Tourism Walla Walla chief

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WALLA WALLA -- Tourism Walla Walla's first chief executive is stepping down this month.

Michael Davidson, who's headed the nonprofit organization charged with leading promotions in the area since May 2005, announced his Dec. 16 departure at the November directors' meeting.

The board conduct a nationwide search for his successor.

Davidson, 56, said in an interview he's been contemplating a change and the time is right. A new marketing agency -- DVA Advertising & Public Relations, based in Bend, Ore. -- has been hired and, personally, Davidson said he wants to move back to his native New York to be close to family and the woman he loves.

Leading the agency's efforts to grow Walla Walla as a wine and tourist destination "is probably one of the best experiences I've ever had," said Davidson.

Tourism Walla Walla's hiring of DVA was announced in October.

On its website, DVA said it will be responsible for promoting Walla Walla as a year-round leisure destination to national audiences.

Davidson was quoted on the site as saying Tourism Walla Walla is "confident that this partnership will go a long way toward helping Walla Walla grow and evolve as a year-round, multi-faceted destination."

Some of DVA's current and recent tourism industry experience includes work ing for such marketing organizations such as the Central Oregon Visitors Association, Visit Bend, and the Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce.

Following the completion of a Walla Walla brand audit, DVA said it will develop a new strategic marketing plan to be implemented in 2012. It described an off-season marketing campaign that will focus on November through March, when occupancy at area hotels typically declines.

The campaign will carry over to a year-round marketing effort that uses traditional advertising, public relations, social media, electronic marketing, strategic partnerships, and events/promotions to build awareness and visitation, according to DVA.

Although Davidson has no new position to move to, he said it's time for him to take his skill and talents "to go and build another organization."

Davidson's current annual salary is $74,500, according to a release.

"He gave guidance and support to new events like Feast Walla Walla, the Walla Walla Chamber Music Festival and Shakespeare Walla Walla," the release said.

Tourism Walla Walla board chair Michele Rennie, said Davidson's decision to leave "came as a surprise to us."

But she complimented his contributions. "He's left us in tremendous shape to move forward," she said. "We are in an enviable position in large part due to Michael Davidson."

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