Aug. 27 marks Stephanie Pace Brown's first official day as Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association's new president and CEO. That event also marks the next step in a 14-year career devoted to the tourism industry that has focused on historic preservation and its dual role of intertwining travel with American history.
For the past six years Brown has been director of marketing and public affairs for Mount Vernon Estate. Prior to that she served four years as Colonial Williamsburg's first director of customer research, which included conducting advertising effectiveness studies, tracking return on investment and forecasting tourism trends, as well as managing a $1 million budget.
"I hadn't thought about leaving Mount Vernon. As a member of ACVA's Board of Directors, I was on the search committee for the new president and CEO when the search consultants asked me if I would be interested in the job," Brown said sitting in her present office at Mount Vernon Estate.
"The more I thought about it, the more it intrigued me. This is a very crucial time for Alexandria tourism. There are both a lot of challenges and opportunities," she said.
"ACVA is a strong organization. But, we are at a time period when collaboration is very important. ACVA's mission is to bring new money into the city through tourism. However, that has to be balanced with the desires of the residents," Brown said.
"We have a responsibility to communicate our plans and objectives with the overall community. My first 90 days on the job I intend to reach out to the community by meeting with the various civic organizations as well as learning our plan, the people involved in tourism and the overall goals of the organization's leaders," she said.
That learning curve is enhanced by Brown being an active ACVA member for the past five years representing the interests of Mount Vernon Estate and how those interests are interrelated with those of Alexandria. "What I love to do most is solve problems. I want to hear from everyone concerned — residents, merchants and business owners," Brown emphasized.
THAT ASSESSMENT of problem solving was buttressed by two people she has worked closely with at Mount Vernon — Executive Director James C. Rees and Ann Bay, Mount Vernon's associate director of education. "Stephanie has served with distinction as our guru for marketing and public affairs," said Rees.
"We will miss her leadership and expertise on many fronts. Her impact on Mount Vernon's status within the greater tourism community will be felt for years to come. The good news is that her new job includes a continuing relationship with Mount Vernon," he said.
"Stephanie is not only a dynamic, energetic and enthusiastic person, she also has great leadership qualities. And, she is fun to work with," said Bay.
"I am looking forward to being able to continue working with her in her new role. It will enable us to strengthen our ties with the city to tell the city's side of the George Washington legacy," she said.
Her appointment also drew praise from members of ACVA's Board of Directors. "I'm delighted she was chosen. Her experience at both Williamsburg and Mount Vernon will be a great asset in providing ACVA with an enhanced historic and preservation perspective in marketing Alexandria," said Ellen Stanton, chair, Historic Alexandria Resources Commission.
"She is going to offer a fresh perspective. She's got the knack to pull people together. It's going to be a delight to have her here," said Charlotte Hall, vice chair, ACVA Board, and vice president, Potomac Riverboat Company.
"She wants to be part of the community — to bring together all the various factions of this community. She's well aware of the differences within the community concerning tourism. But, she's always up for a challenge and that's what I like," Hall said.
A native of Ohio, Brown graduated from Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio, in 1989. After a short venture in a family business she joined the Ohio Department of Travel and Tourism for five years, specializing in marketing and research. During that time she also served on the Board of the Columbus Ohio Landmark Foundation which deals with historic preservation.
While with Ohio government she met her husband Mark, who at the time was the research director for Virginia tourism. He is now with the U.S. Department of Commerce dealing with international tourism. "We are a tourism family," Brown said.
"Alexandria's history is its primary selling point. It is what sets the city apart from its competition. How can Alexandria be different in marketing its assets from others is the main question to be answered," Brown said.
"When that is answered we can then decide if the slogan ‘Fun Side of The Potomac’ fits in with our branding. ‘Fun Side’ is not a brand — it is a slogan. The slogan needs to be something that supports the brand," she said.
"We will be beginning that process by interviewing all the various city stakeholders. This will include interviewing both visitors and past visitors," Brown explained.
"And, we will be inviting any interested person, residents as well visitors, to take an online survey to find out what they think about a wide range of things impacting Alexandria's tourism. That should be ready in about two months. All of this information will form the foundation for our future marketing," she said.
When it comes to the impact of National Harbor on Alexandria tourism, Brown believes, "People coming to National Harbor will want to experience real history by visiting Alexandria. Mount Vernon has been reaching out to National Harbor as well," Brown said.
"Alexandria's quality of life and what it offers to both residents and visitors is incredible. That is what we need to emphasize and build upon," she said.
Presently a resident of the Springfield area, Brown, her husband and their young daughter, Olivia, hope to eventually move to Alexandria to become part of that "quality of life" atmosphere. "I plan to be totally involved with the city in every way. I will be shopping in the stores and eating in the restaurants. Alexandria will be my city," Brown said.