Kerrie Walters, a longtime leader in Oregon tourism marketing, has been named interim executive director of Travel Southern Oregon. She assumed her new duties this month.

Walters now guides the regional destination marketing organization while its board of directors searches for a permanent replacement for Executive Director Carolyn S. Hill, who retired effective Dec. 31, 2016, after 13 years in that position.

Travel Southern Oregon, also known as the Southern Oregon Visitors Association, is the regional group closely working with the statewide Travel Oregon organization to promote and extend visitor stays in the area. Travel Southern Oregon represents seven counties from the Oregon Coast east to Lake County.

“I’m honored to work with and support our board of directors as they pursue the next direction for Travel Southern Oregon through strategic planning and collaboration with industry partners,” Walters said.

A seven-person search committee is beginning the hiring process for a new executive director. An outside human resources professional will review the organization’s process and candidates.

“We are looking to have a new executive director by May 1 or perhaps sooner,” said Dani Raines, Travel Southern Oregon board president and group sales manager at Seven Feathers Casino Resort. “We're fortunate to have Kerrie and a talented group of board members, strong succession planning in our leadership model, and a talented, committed team of contractors to fulfill the remainder of the year's programs."

Walters, a Grants Pass resident, most recently served as the group’s wine industry liaison and regional specialist. Previously, she was the longtime director of the visitors and convention organization for the city of Grants Pass. She also was involved with tour and travel alliance groups and served as president of the Oregon Destination Marketing Organizations.

“Kerrie was one of the first (Travel Southern Oregon) presidents I served with on the board. She is a conscientious, intuitive, self-assured, mature and team-oriented leader,” said Bob Hackett, a former board president himself and marketing manager for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. “Her collaborative nature actively encourages other points of view for calibrated risks and more collegial benefit.”

Walters’ leadership comes at a pivotal time for the organization, Hackett said, which includes a tourism branding overhaul project initiated before Hill’s retirement.

“We are determined more than ever to put Southern Oregon on the map and on people’s dream lists,” he said. “Our new branding will help stand apart from other destinations.

“Our desire to serve the travel industry will drive us into stakeholder circles around our region to find out what matters most to our tourism partners and constituents,” Hackett added. “The investments of our time, people, money and other resources will have a profound affect. The tremendous experiences of Kerrie and our board will push us through boisterous changes into a proficient transition benefiting our tourism and hospitality industry.”

Also joining the organization in a larger role is Bonnie Glidewell, a current travel writer for the group and a program specialist at Rogue Community College. Glidewell is assisting Walters and the board in a planning and support role during the transition period.

Carolyn Hill announced her retirement in December 2016. Under Hill's tenure the organization grew from a small regional media buying and brokering company to a powerhouse hospitality and tourism association, frequently cited as the best among the regional destination marketing organizations in the state.

During Hill’s tenure, visitor spending in the seven-county region rose from $944.9 million in 2003 to $1.3 billion in 2015 – a 35.4 percent increase, according to the Oregon Travel Impacts report compiled by Dean Runyan Associates.