If you ask Arica Sears how she ended up at the Oregon Coast, the answer is likely to include some mention of the Peruvian Amazon, Ecuadorian sea turtles, the Spanish island of Majorca and the streets of Paris.
The avid world traveler never expected her path to lead her to serve as Destination Management Coordinator for the Oregon Coast Visitors Association, a job she has held for about a year and a half, but that’s what happened. After visiting as many as 20 foreign countries and living in several, Sears was forwarded the OCVA job description. She says her first response was, “Oh no. This is not for me. I’m not interested in tourism.” But Sears soon realized that the position offered the perfect opportunity for her to use her skills to protect one of her favorite places on earth: home.
Raised in the small community of Tierra Del Mar just north of Pacific City, Sears is a sixth generation Oregonian. She graduated from Nestucca High School and went to college at the University of Oregon, where she completed a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies with a focus on rural communities making decisions around natural resources. During her junior year, she did research on bycatch and sea turtles in Ecuador, and in Peru she studied the effects of oil industry exploration on the lives of local indigenous people — work that had some unexpected drama.
“I had to meet with tribal elders to convince them I was not a spy,” she says, laughing.
After graduating, she lived in Majorca and Paris where she saw firsthand the impacts of over-tourism.
“I thought, I hope this never happens to the Oregon Coast,” she says.
So when the job offer came along, she came to see how it intersected with her expertise and her personal values.
“What would happen if I had the opportunity to help make decisions on the Oregon Coast? It would be exactly what I studied but where I came from.”
As OCVA’s Destination Management Coordinator, Sears’s main concerns include the Strategic Investment Fund, People’s Coast Summit, Strategic Advisory Group, Public Art Trail, stakeholder communications and generally helping communicate the value of tourism to visitors, stakeholders and media.
“This position is responsible for convening dialogs, sometimes around contentious issues, and it’s important we as an agency don’t walk into them blind,” says OCVA Executive Director Marcus Hinz. “During the interviews Arica demonstrated she’d read through all our key strategic documents and was able to explain to us in detail why our agency had made the choices we did. This was the caliber of rigor, motivation and inquisitiveness we were looking for in a person to manage our strategic relationships.”
Sears just wrapped up her second People’s Coast Summit, which she says was a great success. Nearly 100 people attended the 12 workshop sessions and multiple networking events for a series of meaningful conversations.
“My favorite thing about it is that every detail of it is ‘coastalized’ — from the flowers and the food to the keynote speakers. We have so much talent and great things going on out here. I get to showcase all that,” she says.
For the coming year, Sears is particularly excited about a partnership with various land management agencies to articulate how visitors can have a lighter impact on the Coast. The agencies, which include the likes of the Bureau of Land Management, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, Oregon Department of Transportation, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the U.S. Forest Service, have identified various key concerns. Topics range from the danger of turning your back on the ocean and selfie-related perils to the importance of not disturbing baby seals and staying on established trails.
Once created, Sears says the messaging will be available for use by DMOs, businesses, agencies, media and fam tours.
“If we give them a format they can use they will be more likely to use it,” she says.
Of visitors who might not understand local customs, she says, “Everyone is so excited to be here. We need to help instruct them how to behave while they are here.”
Sears is also thrilled about a current effort to develop a Coast-wide mountain biking initiative. With some good trail infrastructure already in place and more under development, the aim is to make the entire Coast a year-round mountain biking destination.
Sears says the concept is desirable because it uses existing trails and also because it would bring an appropriate demographic to the Coast; mountain bikers bring their families, enjoy the beauty of the trails, spend their money in restaurants and lodging and don’t stay up late creating a nuisance.
“It’s an example of a product that will bring the right kind of visitation to the Coast,” she says.
Sears counts family back four generations in Tierra del Mar and five in Coos County. Raised here and now returning, you might think she finds a kind of sameness in this landscape. Instead she has keyed into the constant change — the weather, the tides, new businesses, fresh ideas and building on past traditions — and her abiding affection for it all.
“My whole heart is for the Oregon Coast.”