Kevin Lewis started out in broadcast journalism.
But in that field, “there was a lot of negativity, and I like to celebrate good things. Even though I loved the work of journalism, I didn’t like that focus – I wanted to shift into something more positive,” he said.
So, he did exactly that, ending up in destination marketing and tourism – and eventually landing in the Tri-Cities. For the last year, Lewis has been president and chief executive officer of Visit Tri-Cities.
He’s guided the organization through a period of transformation, including staff changes and a new strategic vision. He’s also helped secure some major events that could have a lasting impact locally.
Overall, it’s been a good first year on the job, Lewis told the Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business.
“People have been kind and welcoming and have embraced us. We found a great home here,” he said.
Before their move, Lewis and his wife, Kayron, were living in St. George, Utah, near the Arizona border, while Lewis worked as director of the Greater Zion Tourism and Convention Office.
The couple, who have three adult children and two grandchildren, weren’t planning on a move to the Pacific Northwest, but then Lewis was contacted by a recruiter who was working to fill the Visit Tri-Cities post after former President and CEO Michael Novakovich left to lead Columbia Industries.
“It felt like a chance to experience something new,” Lewis said.
That first winter in the Tri-Cities was cold, but “everyone promised me that 300 days of sunshine were coming, and I took them at their word,” Lewis said with a laugh. Those sunny days did come, and with them the chance for Lewis to ride his mountain bike and enjoy time on the Columbia River.
“I’ve been like a kid again, exploring everything – the trails, restaurants, activities and the river,” he said, noting that he and Kayron, a retired teacher, also have enjoyed the local arts scene.
As the leader of Visit Tri-Cities, it’s part of Lewis’ job to know what the area has to offer – and to determine the unique and special characteristics that attract visitors.
In the last year, he and his Visit Tri-Cities team have determined four main experience categories that will be key to the agency’s messaging moving forward. Those drivers are winery and vineyard experiences, river recreation, history and science, and events and entertainment experiences.
“And all of them are wrapped in this envelope of sunshine and open spaces. That is (key) to what this destination is all about,” Lewis said. “The Tri-Cities area is different than other places in the Pacific Northwest. It offers a unique experience and the chance to do things you can’t do elsewhere, like ride your mountain bike year-round or golf year-round.”
The “sunshine and open spaces” helped the agency land a major event – one that will bring thousands of visitors and millions of dollars in visitor spending. Ironman announced this fall that it would hold the new Ironman 70.3 Washington Tri-Cities triathlon in 2024, 2025 and 2026.
Visit Tri-Cities will take the lead in facilitating the races, with help from the cities of Richland and West Richland and other regional communities and agencies. The races are expected to bring in 2,500 athletes a year, plus 7,500 visitors, crews and support staff, leading to $6 million to $8 million in visitor spending.
Lewis worked with Ironman officials back in Utah, and when he moved to the Tri-Cities and took in the terrain, he knew that his new hometown also could be a good place for a race.
Bringing in that kind of event can have a long-term impact on the community, he said.
“People look at your community differently when you’re working with a brand like Ironman. Your community gets some street cred. And events like this build a unique connection with the competitors. If they cross the finish line, they’ll have a connection to this community that they’ve never had in other parts of their life. The effects of that go on and on and on,” Lewis said.
Other major events also have been enticed to the Tri-Cities under Lewis’ leadership, including the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association world tournament in 2024 and 2027.
Lewis said his agency will continue to work on securing signature events, on promoting the four experience categories, and on making sure visitors and community members alike know about all the positive things the Tri-Cities has to offer. He’s proud of the work done so far and excited for the future.
“I appreciate the welcoming attitude we’ve felt. I think we have so much good in this community. I hope the community recognizes that – that we really do have a great place here,” Lewis said.
“I want to encourage people to celebrate the good that’s out there. It’s easy in today’s world to look at the negative side of things. But that’s not solution oriented. If we continue to have what I’ve seen in this community – a solution-oriented attitude – we’ll be very successful,” he said.
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