Carlsbad, California CVB Director Heads Back Home to Virginia

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Sixteen years and more than 24,000 miles later, Kurt Burkhart will soon pack his bags and head back to where his journey first began. On December 15, the Executive Director for the Carlsbad Convention and Visitors Bureau will finish out his last day as tourism chief, five days shy of eight years of service to this coastal community.

Being in the presence of this awesome creature is truly humbling, especially when you realize where your spot is on the food chain.

Sixteen years and more than 24,000 miles later, Kurt Burkhart will soon pack his bags and head back to where his journey first began. On December 15, the Executive Director for the Carlsbad Convention and Visitors Bureau will finish out his last day as tourism chief, five days shy of eight years of service to this coastal community.

"When I stepped off the tractor ride at The Flower Fields in April 2002," Burkhart recalls, "this sassy, slightly sarcastic voice said something like, 'so, how long are you planning to be here?" That voice belonged to Joni Miringoff, group sales manager for Carltas, the parent company for Carlsbad's premier seasonal attraction. Miringoff had every right to be suspicious, for after learning of Burkhart's previous work assignments, she believed it was only a matter of time, short time, before he hitched his wagon to a more tantalizing career move elsewhere.

The truth was, Burkhart loved what he was seeing and experiencing in Carlsbad, which is only 30 miles north of San Diego, nestled between Oceanside and Encinitas. "I remember telling Joni that I had every intention of being a long-timer, but somehow the look she shot back at me said otherwise."

However, hours before revelers ring in the 2009 New Year, Burkhart and his family will be on the road heading east to Charlottesville, Virginia, where he will take up residency to become that city's new Director & CEO of the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau. He takes over where his longtime friend, Mark Shore, left off after leading that bureau for eight years.

Burkhart said that his return to Virginia is like, "a dream come true," and he looks forward to many personal reunions with lifetime friends. "Once a Virginian, always a Virginian," he said proudly. And, he says that despite some of the more exotic and wonderful places that he's been able to call home these last sixteen years.

It was back in 1992 when Burkhart packed up his house, put his things into storage and jetted off, site unseen, to the Northern Mariana Islands, a fourteen island archipelago in the Micronesian Western Pacific. He learned from a childhood friend who was living on Saipan about a job in this U.S. Commonwealth, located one hundred miles north of Guam, that was simply, "one of those once in a lifetime opportunities that don't come around twice." He was right.

As fate and a fair amount of good luck would have it, in late 1993 Burkhart found himself signed on as public information officer for the incoming governor-elect who had just defeated the incumbent in a bitter race for governor. At mid-term his assignment changed when he was appointed to a cabinet level position as special assistant for tourism and trade. It was during these last two years of a tumultuous gubernatorial term that he also created the Northern Mariana Islands Film Office, and devised a year-long campaign on CNN International to promote the Northern Marianas.

"Never in my wildest dreams could I have ever come up with a script like the one I lived while on the island of Saipan," Burkhart said. "Seventeen trips to Japan, trade missions to places like Korea, Taiwan, China and Hong Kong, meeting international leaders and celebrities. It was simply an unbelievable time that can never be replicated."

High on the list of memorable experiences was a VIP escorted trip to the yacht of former Philippine President Fidel Ramos, and a trip to Hiroshima, Japan as part of an island delegation observing the 50th anniversary of the atomic bomb on that city. In August 1945, the Enola Gay took off from the Mariana island of Tinian, five miles to the south of Saipan, ushering in the nuclear age.

"Even Hunter Thompson would scratch his head on those six and one-half years spent in the Marianas!" Burkhart has plans to write his memoirs without the fear and loathing.

As a practitioner of Shotokan karate, he studied for years in the traditional Japanese style before packing his Gi due to an injury. "Our conditions were Spartan, at best, and no one whined over lack of air conditioning, the humidity or mosquitoes."

It was also on Saipan where he achieved his professional Divemaster certification and seven specialty certifications. "Diving was the best part of living in Micronesia," he said, "as Palau, Indonesia and other world-class dive sites allowed for Discovery Channel type experiences." He remembers when he had his first, of what would become several, encounters with a Tiger Shark. "Being in the presence of this awesome creature is truly humbling, especially when you realize where your spot is on the food chain."

Diving is what introduced Burkhart to his Japanese-born wife, Harumi. "She was a dive instructor who frequented one of the best spots on island," he said. In fact, they would later marry at a sunset ceremony on that very spot where they first met nearly two years earlier. They now have a five year old daughter who is attending Kindergarten.

In mid-1998, seven months after the governor lost his bid for re-election, Burkhart and his wife packed up to move stateside. He remembers that when asked by his neighbor, an island local, why he was moving back to the United States, Burkhart said there was so much of America he hadn't seen, including the Grand Canyon, and that this would be a "great opportunity to see what lies ahead."

Little did he know that his next assignment would be to promote the Grand Canyon, as the Director for the Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Flagstaff and Northern Arizona is so rich in history and culture, a lot of which is steeped in the Native American experience." And, just about the time he was feeling like he had found something nearly as special as Saipan, it was time to move again.

"It saddened me greatly when I realized that I would be leaving Flagstaff for somewhere in California," Burkhart recalls. "There were health issues with my folks that prompted me to start searching for a similar job in California. All that I cared about was being closer to them and to be of assistance, when needed."

His search landed him the job he now holds as head of the Carlsbad Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We rolled into town late one night, began unpacking the U-Haul truck the next day and somewhere in that mess walked in my predecessor." Burkhart said he couldn't believe that the bureau's former director, Steve Link, showed up with new business cards in hand and politely commanded of his successor, "Get your suit ready, here's your cards. We have a party to go to tonight."

And, it has been non-stop since December 20, 2000.

Former Carlsbad City Councilwoman, Norine Sigafoose, recalls her first impression of Burkhart when he first met his entire board. "He was confident, showed tremendous enthusiasm and seemed to be creating a vision for the bureau from day one of his coming on board."

It comes as no surprise to Sigafoose that Burkhart has decided to pack his bags and go. "I recognized long ago that his heart was in a place that shares the Blue Ridge Mountains, Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. He is a student of history and has spoken proudly of Virginia's place in the settlement of the New World."

Randy Chapin, general manager for the Carlsbad Inn Beach Resort, said that, "Kurt seems to truly be one of those people we sometimes refer to as an eternal optimist. He is also a visionary who never ceases to amaze me (and others) with his energy and commitment to both community and the organization he's tasked with leading."

And, with a number of bureaus throughout the country that have been beset with scandal and lapse of good judgment, Chapin said, "Kurt has maintained his integrity and has upheld high ethical standards." Robin Young, Executive Director for the Carlsbad Village Business Association agrees.

"Kurt is a leader who understands that leadership is not about power plays, but about setting an example of integrity and gaining the respect of his peers through hard work and dedication to his mission." Young goes on to say that, "He is a consensus builder who has a proven record of seeing the big picture and placing the needs of the community he serves in the forefront of his decision making."

A big part of that decision making came in August 2002 when Burkhart told his board of directors that the Carlsbad CVB needed to pursue the creation of a business improvement district to meet the ongoing call by the City of Carlsbad to find supplemental sources of funding. For years, the Carlsbad Convention and Visitors Bureau had been funded through an annual contractual agreement with the City to provide marketing and promotional services to attract potential visitors.

Patrick Fearn, President of Certified Folder Display Services, Incorporated, and former two-term Carlsbad CVB board chairman and current San Diego CVB board member, said that Burkhart "brought the concept of a tourism business improvement district to our community, and Carlsbad was the first city in San Diego County to establish a tourism BID. The Carlsbad Tourism BID now generates over $900,000 annually - money that is exclusively spent to market and promote Carlsbad."

In November 2005, the Carlsbad City Council approved the BID, making Carlsbad the 13th city in the State of California to approve an assessment district for tourism marketing.

A familiar face in Virginia politics, former two-term Lt. Governor, Donald S. Beyer, said that, "Shortly after I had made the decision to run for Lieutenant Governor in the late 80s, Kurt was one of the first of many whom I met with to discuss my ideas and plans for Virginia. I look forward to his family's return to Virginia."

Burkhart, long active in state and local politics prior to moving to Saipan, is also a former Spotsylvania County Planning Commissioner and was reappointed in the early 80s to a second term on the Fairfax County Tenant Landlord Commission.

He is also an active Rotarian and Paul Harris Fellow with the Carlsbad Hi-Noon Rotary Club. Burkhart has sponsored his daughter for her Paul Harris and hopes to have it awarded to before his departure in late December.

Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau Board Chairman, Bryan Elliott, said, "Kurt possesses the energy, drive, passion, professionalism, and skills to lead our organization to further success and recognition as a premier destination marketing organization. His leadership will enhance the role tourism has as an economic stimulus for our local community."

Earlier in the week, Miringoff congratulated Burkhart on his new appointment but quickly admitted, "I feel like crying." It was clear the two had grown close and that their professional association lasted far longer than either probably expected.

Burkhart will speak before the Carlsbad City Council on December 9 at 6:00 p.m. This will be his last public appearance before leaving for Charlottesville.

Media Contact: Nancy Nayudu, 760. 434-5995


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Frankie Laney
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