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Kitsap gets new tourism leader

With the hiring of a new director, the Kitsap County Visitors and Convention Bureau (KCVCB) vows to become more proactive and support local small businesses as a way to generate tourism.

“Kitsap County has so many advantages,” said Patricia Graf-Hoke, who stepped into the job of KCVCB executive general manager this week. “It’s a natural playground for low-impact recreation, and its 300 miles of accessible shoreline make it unique.”

Graf-Hoke takes over the leadership of the KCVCB from Grant Griffin, who resigned in July.

One of her priorities is to promote unique small businesses, which she said can provide the strongest motivation for tourists to visit a certain area. For instance, a bakery or home-made ice cream store with a regional reputation can bring in the tourists.

Her first task, aside from a series of organizational meetings, is to enrich the KCVCB Web site, www.visitkitsap.com, by adding a wider variety of links and information.

Although the site is visually exciting, she said, it could benefit from more depth and breadth.

Meanwhile, Graf-Hoke’s presence will bring Port Orchard back into the tourism support area. After contributing $30,000 to the KCVCB in 2008, the city declined to allocate any funds in 2009 due to what it perceived as a lack of attention.

In 2010 the city will most likely allocate funds to the KCVCB, although it won’t be as large a share as in 2008, according to Mayor Lary Coppola.

“We will decide what to give them after we see how much money will be generated by the lodging tax,” Coppola said. “But I suspect that we will support them next year.”

Coppola, who has known Graf-Hoke for 30 years, called her a “consummate marketing professional” and said she has the skills to promote tourism.

Part of Graf-Hoke’s mission is to establish a Kitsap “brand,” something that has eluded her predecessors at the KCVCB as well as local chambers of commerce.

Port Orchard, in fact, inadvertently began its own brand development with the recent Cedar Cove Days, which celebrated the work of author Debbie Macomber, and drew thousands of people to Port Orchard for the event without any official help from the KCVCB.

As a result, Port Orchard is “branded” by Macomber’s presence — by accident.

Graf-Hoke said she hopes Port Orchard will host another Cedar Cove Days, and this time the KCVCB will help. She also expressed the desire that Kitsap host more literary festivals and similar events.

While promoting Kitsap to tourists the KCVCB also plans to make locals more aware of what is going on in their own backyard, although attracting locals will not be done at the expense of attracting outside visitors.

“I want to build more partnerships with a lot of different organizations,” she said. “There are a lot of activities we can promote, and a tremendous potential. When it comes to tourism in Kitsap we have only scratched the tip of the iceberg.”

Graf-Hoke, 58, said she is looking forward to the job because it will allow her to use all the skills that she has acquired in her professional life. This includes strategic marketing, promotion and project planning.

She also has a range of political experience, and feels that her connections with elected officials will help her navigate the legislative process.

She will, however, forsake her political duties for the time she holds this new position.

She plans to resign her position as vice-chair of the Kitsap County Democratic Party, and resolves to not become involved in any campaigns during the 2010 election season (she previously served as campaign chairman for Rep. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island).

In addition to shelving her political activities she is also putting her involvement in the consultant firm she runs with her husband on ice.

“My work with the VCB is my full-time, 110-percent job right now,” she said.

Graf-Hoke will make around $60,000 a year, which represents a cut in pay from her consultant activities.

“This is a labor of love,” she said. “It’s a place where I can put all of my skills to work.”

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