Michele Starling is leaving what she calls the best job she ever had.
Starling is stepping down as executive director of the Pikes Peak Country Attractions Association, a trade group for 26 attractions in the Colorado Springs area. She’s moving to Florida, where her husband is taking a job with a medical startup company; her resignation is effective Feb. 28.
Starling became executive director of the association in late 1999. She previously had been vice president of marketing at Prime Outlets in Castle Rock, now called Outlets at Castle Rock. Before that, she was executive director of the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce.
Question: Last summer, the Waldo Canyon fire dealt a significant blow to the local tourism industry. How did the season wind up?
Answer: This was the worst season in my tenure as director. There have been several very challenging events that the industry had to deal with — the Hayman fire, September 11, the economic meltdown — but the impact of the Waldo Canyon fire was immediate and there was nothing we could do.
Q: As you mentioned, the Waldo Canyon fire is actually one of two devastating fires — Hayman being the other in 2002 — that you had to deal with during your time as executive director. Tourism over the years has also been impacted by rising gas prices, the recession and other issues. What’s been the biggest challenge or challenges?
A: One of our biggest challenges in the Pikes Peak region is competing with Colorado ski areas and resorts for summer business. Over the next few years that competition will intensify. Recently, the new Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act expanded the potential recreational uses of federal lands used by ski resorts. I am sure Vail and other ski areas will be adding ziplines, canopy walks, mountain bike terrain parks and more to grow their summer product.
Q: Let’s go from challenges to rewards: What’s been the best part of the job? What will you miss most?
A: The best part of the job is working with the members and being a partner in their success. I have an immense respect for these attraction owners. They range from small, family operated businesses to large entities like the Pikes Peak Cog Railway and the Royal Gorge Bridge, plus several nonprofits. I always wanted to exceed their expectations and they always appreciated my efforts.
I will miss the excitement of being in the tourism industry and all the bright, creative and clever people I know statewide who are part of tourism.
Q: Barring a disaster like the Waldo Canyon fire, what are the expectations for the upcoming summer season? Are local attractions adding anything new?
A: I expect an average tourism season. The tough thing about the Waldo Canyon fire was the fact that we were on track for a very good summer in 2012. I am not sure those numbers will be there again in 2013.
There is always something new, and that’s important. Attractions cannot remain static and expect to continue to compete. Encounter Africa at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is going to be a blockbuster. Look for more ziplines and outdoor adventures, too.
Q: Over the years, did you get a chance to regularly visit some or all of the attractions covered by Pikes Peak Country Attractions? Do you have any favorites, or is that like asking a parent which child is their favorite?
A: Yes, another benefit of my job was getting to spend time at all the attractions. I can honestly say I do not have a favorite because each one is unique.
Q: What advice would you offer your successor?
A: Never forget that you live in an area that other people choose for their vacations. Be an enthusiastic cheerleader for the Pikes Peak region and all the great members of Pikes Peak Country Attractions Association. Always take the higher ground and remember, if you can’t say it to them, don’t say it about them.
Questions and answers are edited
for brevity and clarity.