The Sedona Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau announced today that Candace Carr Strauss, the Chief Executive Officer of the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce & Visit Big Sky, in Big Sky, Montana, has accepted the position of President/Chief Executive Officer. Her hiring to lead Arizona’s first sustainable tourism destination comes after a two-month national search following the departure of Jennifer Wesselhoff, who left for a similar role in Park City, Utah. Strauss’s first day on the job will be February 22, 2021.
“Candace brings an outstanding combination of executive experience, business relations, and a profound understanding of the delicate balance between a thriving visitor economy and resident quality of life,” said Sedona Chamber & Tourism Bureau Board of Directors Chairman Lonnie Lillie. “The Board was deeply impressed with her leadership ability, vision and commitment to community engagement. She is ready to lead as we adapt to the evolving COVID landscape while prioritizing focus on a balanced, sustainable future.”
“I am honored and very excited to lead one of America’s premiere Chambers of Commerce and destination management organizations,” Strauss said. “People around the world know Sedona as a place of unparalleled natural and spiritual beauty as well as a forward-looking community focused on environmental sustainability and inclusive tourism management.”
Strauss has led the Big Sky Chamber & Visit Big Sky, located in an area growing exponentially in popularity as a ski destination and a gateway community to Yellowstone National Park, since 2017. As CEO, she initiated a community-wide 10-year strategic plan and successfully advocated for a local Resort Tax hike to fund vital wastewater infrastructure upgrades. She helped start and currently serves as Vice Chair of the Big Sky Community Housing Trust addressing affordable workforce housing, and was instrumental in securing a $10.3 million federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant to transform the community’s major arterial state highway, augment public transit and boost pedestrian and wildlife safety in the area.
“These issues resonate with many of Sedona’s priorities,” Lillie said. “Candace’s work in support of public-school funding and local leadership development will also be an asset.”
“Sedonans are passionate people and I look forward to working with the Board, City Council, Chamber staff, business partners, community organizations and my fellow residents,” Strauss said. “I plan to invite residents to join me for “Walk and Talk” hikes along Sedona’s trails so we can get to know each other, with appropriate COVID precautions, of course.”
Strauss’s professional background includes positions with Wonderful Copenhagen, the destination marketing and management organization for Denmark’s Capital region, and the Houston Symphony, where she was Director of Corporate Relations. She served for six years as Director of Development for the Museum of the Rockies at Montana State University in Bozeman and was Director of Marketing and Development with the Billings Symphony Orchestra & Chorale.
Her career in the tourism industry began at Destination DC, the destination marketing organization for the nation’s capital following the events of 9/11, with stints at the Washington Redskins NFL franchise, now known as the Washington Football Team, and Feld Entertainment, producers of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey and Disney on Ice. She presently serves as an at-large Director of the U.S. Travel Association Board, Vice-Chair of the Montana Association of Chamber Executives, and was recently elected to the Montana Infrastructure Coalition Board of Directors.
Strauss holds a bachelor’s degree in business from Miami University of Ohio with minors in European Studies and Spanish. Her academic pursuits also include undergraduate Spanish courses at Arizona State University and a year abroad in Barcelona, Spain, with Portland State University.