Scott McCrea, director of tourism and convention sales for Explore Fairbanks, has been named president and CEO of the organization. The longtime Fairbanks resident and University of Alaska Fairbanks graduate will be taking over the role that Deb Hickok has held since 1999.
Buzzy Chiu, chair of the Explore Fairbanks board of directors, said McCrea’s “passion and enthusiasm” for tourism and bringing visitors to Interior Alaska is contagious. “We could not ask for a better person to continue to move Explore Fairbanks from the throes of the pandemic back to a brighter, more robust future,” Chiu said in a news release.
McCrea said Hickok’s shoes will be hard to fill. In her 20-plus years with Explore Fairbanks, Hickok is credited with creating Fairbanks as a year-round tourism destination, with visitors coming from all over the globe.
“That’s just helped us out in so many ways to be able to diversify our local visitor industry economy beyond those summer months that many parts of Alaska rely on,” McCrea said. “Here in Fairbanks, we have an opportunity to have months like February and March, which have been amazingly strong winter months for us for visitation from both domestic and international markets.”
McCrea had previously worked for what was then called the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau in the late 1990s. He rejoined the organization, renamed as Explore Fairbanks, in 2014, developing the organization’s first direct marketing efforts in mainland China.
“It was just stepping into a career that I just fell back in love with immediately,” he said. “It was just something I saw as a logical next step for what I wanted to do. It was an opportunity to be able to continue telling our story to visitors around the world, helping promote Fairbanks as the vibrant, year-round destination that we are. It’s just something that was very near and dear to my heart.”
In between stints in the visitor industry, McCrea spent 15 years working in leadership roles in marketing and public relations in Fairbanks, including six years as the executive director of marketing and communications for UAF. He is a previous recipient of the Alaska Journal of Commerce Top 40 Under 40 Award, the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce Award for Community Support, and the UAF Alumni Achievement Award for University Support.
After his return to Explore Fairbanks in 2014, McCrea began traveling to China and other Asian destinations to promote Fairbanks as a tourist destination.
The Covid-19 pandemic put a stop to those visits, McCrea said. However, Explore Fairbanks continued its marketing efforts in both Asia and Europe, despite having to lay off nearly half its staff.
“I think that’s really worth noting that during the pandemic, a lot of destination organizations kind of stopped marketing — whether they didn’t have funds for it or they felt that the timing wasn’t right,” he said. “But we kept that up. We kept putting out that Fairbanks, in terms of being an inspirational or aspirational destination, that we’re here when you’re ready to travel.”
In 2020, the focus was first on encouraging Fairbanks residents to explore their community, he said. “And then, of course, a big push in the state. And then we’re going to get into the domestic market as well. So we just kept doing what we did very well and we’re coming into the recovery process.”
He said he’s seeing signs of optimism for an uptick in tourism this year.
March 2021 was a relatively strong month, McCrea said, noting that many of Explore Fairbanks’ partners reported seeing more people in their hotels and local tours. And while the lack of cruise ships and Canada’s continuing border closure is concerning, Fairbanks International Airport is reporting a 33% increase in passenger capacity this summer.
“We have more flights coming to Fairbanks from the Lower 48 than we ever have,” he said. “That’s a sign of promise there with the leisure independent market and small group travel. We’re cautiously optimistic for this summer season and looking ahead to 2022, even more so as we see international travel picking up and in 2022, the return of the cruise market as well.”
Contact staff writer Julie Stricker at 459-7532.