November 12, 2013 | 04:08 PMDarien Schaefer, the new head of the Lake Geneva Area Chamber of Commerce, will start his job at the end of the month.
The Regional News decided to ask him a few questions — the most important, is he a Packers or Bears fan? (It’s a trick answer, as it turns out).
Schaefer is coming from the Wausau/Central Wisconsin Convention and Visitors Bureau, where he served as executive director since 2000. During his tenure there, the bureau took over the Badger State Games, and he became the games’ executive director.
Schaefer grew up in Wisconsin Dells and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Hotel and Restaurant Management. He was executive director of the Janesville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) from 1998-2000.
RN: What attracted you to Lake Geneva and specifically to the chamber job?
DS: Lake Geneva has name recognition, and I was familiar with the area having worked in Janesville. It’s a great career opportunity to represent, promote, and further develop one of the premier resort destinations in the Midwest.
RN: How familiar are you with the area?
DS: Working for the Janesville CVB, I attended a lot of meetings in the Lake Geneva area including the Governor’s Conference on Tourism. My wife ran in a half marathon a year ago around Geneva Lake, and it was a great experience for both of us. During my research of the destination I was very impressed to find much more than I expected. The area has so much to offer leisure and business travelers.
RN: I was especially interested in your involvement with Badger State Games. Did that prove to be a big attraction for the Wausau area?
DS: The sports market is a great fit for the Wausau Area and can contribute to the economic health of any destination.
Badger State Winter Games has been held in the Wausau area for 25 years. It’s a part of the community’s identity. In 2011 when the future of the Badger State Games was in question, we saw an opportunity to purchase this iconic Olympic style sports festival and rebuild it. The Badger State Games really showcases the community and introduces visitors to areas that you can’t see from the interstate. There’s 25 sports events and over 3,000 athletes that compete in the games from all over Wisconsin and it generates a $1.5 million economic impact. Participation numbers are expected to grow to over 5,000 athletes in two years.
RN: One of the qualities that attracted the search committee, was your marketing ability. How has marketing changed with the addition of new media in the last few years?
DS: It’s become more immediate and referrals from family, friends and even strangers via social media are held in high regard over traditional marketing messages. While the Internet and social media should be our focus, the best plan will include a mix of new and traditional marketing vehicles.
RN: Obviously, most of your experience has been with CVBs. A chamber has broader responsibilities than just the tourist community — industry, retail, etc. Does that make your job as chamber head more challenging?
DS: Yes, challenging and rewarding. In Janesville, the CVB shared an office with the Chamber (called Forward Janesville) and I’ve worked on several levels with the Wausau Region Chamber so I understand the multiple roles that the Chamber of Commerce plays. I’m looking forward to building the relationships important to developing some diversity in the economic base for the Lake Geneva area.
RN: Defining healthy growth is a question for all tourist areas. The Dells and Door County have had to go through that process. Can a tourist area grow too much or in the wrong way?
DS: I think it’s important to protect what makes a tourism destination special. I’ve seen what happens when the proper zoning and ordinances aren’t in place to protect the look and feel of a destination. Growth that supports the brand of the destination, that builds upon what has been attracting visitors is almost always beneficial growth. It’s important to have a master plan for growth that emphasizes the unique attributes of a destination while addressing logistical issues like traffic flow and parking that are important to residents (as well as visitors).
RN: The city government has an impact on the tourism profile of the community through its views on parking, zoning and overall development. What has your experience been with government agencies?
DS: I worked with seven municipalities in the Wausau area to promote them together as one destination. I’ve attended a lot of municipality committee meetings and board meetings. It’s important for the business and tourism community to be involved in the discussion. For the Chamber/CVB, it’s about communicating, educating and building consensus with municipal leaders to help move the community and the entire area forward.
RN: And, finally, the most challenging question: Are you a Packers fan or a Bears fan … or maybe a Vikings fan?
DS: While I don’t look good in purple, I’ve been loyal to the Vikings since I was 10 years old and the days of Fran Tarkenton and Chuck Foreman. My wife, Karen, is a Bears fan.