Explore Sisters documents approved


Last updated 6/28/2022 at Noon

Sisters will soon have a new organization in charge of tourism.

The Sisters City Council voted last week to approve the organizational documents (articles of incorporation and bylaws) for Explore Sisters, a new destination management organization (DMO), that will strive to balance community needs with fostering the evolution of the local tourism economy.

Sisters is often referred to as the gateway to Central Oregon. However, Sisters is no longer a place to just stop for gas and food on the way to someplace else. In truth, Sisters has become the destination for many visitors who come for outdoor recreation, special events, shopping and dining, and family vacations.

Sisters is also home, and a very special one, for the residents who live here. Tourism is a big driver in Sisters, requiring coordination, planning, and collective action that could determine the course of the community’s future for decades to come.

A great deal of time has gone into researching DMOs, talking and meeting with representatives from cities like Bend and McMinnville that have established successful DMOs. A consultant, Crosscurrents, was hired to conduct resident and visitor surveys last summer to assess Sisters tourism.

The City Council identified as one of their goals for 2022-23, the creation of a destination management organization, whose purpose would be to manage sustainable tourism in Sisters while maintaining livability for the residents. That is a complex task requiring a road map to get stockholder buy-in and alignment.

Beginning in March 2022, the City started the process to form an independent

501(c)(6) nonprofit that would become Explore Sisters. The legal documents were drawn up, the name was selected by an ad hoc committee, and organizational meetings with the ad hoc committee and the consultant were held throughout the spring. At the June 22 City Council meeting, the formation documents were approved, and the initial board of directors was appointed (see “Board members announced for DMO,” page 23).

Between now and the end of the year, the board, with the assistance of the consultant, will hold regular meetings during which they will create a job description for the executive director, recruit and interview candidates, and hire an executive director by October. Stakeholders will have opportunities to weigh in on the executive director choice. The board will then work with the executive director to form a 90-day action plan.

The contract between the City and the Sisters Chamber of Commerce, which has served as the Visitors Bureau, expires as of June 30, 2022. Council approved an agreement between the City and the Chamber to provide tourism-related services through October 31, 2022.

Greg Willitts, who drew the straw for a three-year term on the initial Explore Sisters board, has previously served on the statewide Oregon Tourism Commission.

He told the Council, “I think Sisters is appropriately timed in establishing Explore Sisters.”

He believes the focus on livability for the residents is important, pointing to the state’s “Seven Wonders” campaign to encourage tourism in Oregon, which he said negatively impacted areas like Smith Rock and Crater Lake, which were over-marketed, creating “over and wrong consumption with parking issues and trampling of the areas.”

Willitts foresees that the DMO will be able to nimbly adjust marketing strategies to avoid such possibilities. Managed like a private-sector business, the DMO can respond rapidly to changes in the marketplace. If budgetary resources are available, a stand-alone DMO board can approve shifts in a destination marketing plan rapidly if an opportunity presents itself (total solar eclipse) or a threat appears on the horizon (wildfire).

He hopes to put across the message to Sisters tourists: “This is our living room. Please treat it that way.”

Tourism used to focus on the number of “heads in the beds.” Destination management is a growing trend that emphasizes connections, whether that be with the local people, businesses, culture, or food, and to leave places in a condition that maintains the locals’ quality of life and that future visitors can explore as well.

According to the articles of incorporation, the DMO’s primary purpose “is to increase livability and economic vitality through the development of intelligent management and stewardship of local (Sisters area) community natural and cultural resources, tourism, and outdoor recreation. The corporation will work to positively impact the City of Sisters community and surrounding areas through the advancement of tourism, and outdoor recreation, sustainability, and focusing on balanced four-season visitation and overnight stays.”

The board of directors will consist of no fewer than five and no more than nine voting members, including the chairman, vice-chairman, secretary, and treasurer. All the directors, except the initial directors, will be elected by the board of directors for two-year terms, not to exceed a total of six years. The initial board has staggered terms of one, two, and three years to provide for continuity. A City Council member will be appointed by the mayor and a City staff member will be appointed by the city manager. Both of those positions will serve annual terms until replacement.

The board of directors will employ an executive director who is charged with the general supervision and management of the office and business affairs of the DMO. The executive director will be a nonvoting member of the board and will report directly to them.

The DMO will be financed by the transient lodging tax (TLT), which is added on to the cost of every room that is rented out to visitors. Lodging providers recognized the importance of a coherent community-wide marketing effort to attract visitors and fill their rooms. The TLT provides a way to equip the DMO with the revenue needed to promote visitation to the region.


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