After a decade in the ski industry, Doug LaPlaca came to Bend two years ago from Steamboat Springs to take over the local tourism bureau, Visit Bend, which was embroiled in controversy over alleged mismanagement of funds. Since that time, LaPlaca has reformed the agency's image, begun to tap private funding (Bend now has an official shoe sponsor - Merrill) and laid down a track record of bringing top-notch events to Bend, including last year's Cyclocross Nationals.
But what differentiates LaPlaca from some of his counterparts in the tourism promotion industry is that he's not just a pitchman; he's actually a participant. He broke his collarbone while racing in the amateur category of the Cyclocross finals in December, but crossed the finish line anyway. At the same time that he was prepping the town for cyclocross, LaPlaca was locking horns with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission over allegations that its regional manager was running roughshod over local bars, restaurants and events.
It was uncharted territory for the VCB, but it showed the agency could do more than write press releases and hand out flyers.
It's not all serious business, though. LaPlaca also has a sense of humor, as evidenced by his aggressive recruitment of an event like the National Beard and Moustache finals (yes, it's real) which will be held in Bend this year thanks in large part to LaPlaca's lobbying.
We sat down with LaPlaca over a beer, one of his other favorite local pastimes, to discuss his work with VCB, why tourism gets a bad rap, Steven Seagal's films and how LaPlaca juggles career, family and a passion for the outdoors.
What drew you to Bend?
We were living in South Lake Tahoe and one of the ladies I worked with and her husband were from the Pacific Northwest. And at the same time we left Lake Tahoe to go to Steamboat they left Lake Tahoe to come to Bend and we discovered Bend through them. The more I learned about it the more it sounded like my kind of town and by the time I got here it took me 30 minutes to realize this is where I was going to spend the rest of my life.
Tourism and Bend's service-based economy often gets dissed and dismissed as, but it's what you do five days a week.
I think that the importance of tourism can't be overstated in our region. At the end of the day, tourism is going to be here and what we've discovered over the last couple of years is that now that the development boom is largely behind us, tourism is here and it's more important now than it ever has been. We need to have a vibrant tourism economy to have a viable economy.
To address the concern 'Does tourism industry create living wage jobs?' There is solid data that supports the fact that it does. Tourism is a gateway into our region.
I would argue that it is very difficult to find a segment of our economy in Bend that is not linked to tourism in any way, shape, or form. In defending tourism, I'd also say there are very few downsides to tourism. It is a clean industry, it promotes a healthy, active lifestyle and infuses our local economy with dollars from outside the region and then the visitors go home.
What's your favorite part about the job?
I wake up every day grateful for where I live and what I have and who I am - having the opportunity to work with Visit Bend where I can have a direct and daily impact on the economy, and in doing so the lives of people who live in my community, is something that I cherish.
I've been motivated by other things before and, for me, what I've found is (that) I've never had such strong motivation in my life than when the motivation is community and that's something that I've discovered since I moved to Bend.
You've taken Visit Bend into some uncharted waters with your advocacy around the OLCC controversy. I imagine you wouldn't be able to do this without a very supportive board.
We are very careful. Anything that Visit Bend does has to be related to the cultivation of the tourism industry. If an issue is not related to (tourism) than we will not take it on and when Visit Bend got engaged with the OLCC issue it was a very conscious decision and one that we did not take lightly. And we put a lot of time into discussing whether it was appropriate for Visit Bend to engage in the OLCC issue, but ultimately, as a board, we decided that the problems that local licensees had at the hands of the OLCC had a very real and direct impact on the industry because our tourism product is made up of to a large degree of (those) licensees.
How did you get turned onto the whole outdoor lifestyle?
It's something that I grew up with. I have been addicted to outdoor recreation since I was a small child and that's what first intrigued me about Bend... I think people who are truly passionate about the outdoors - its not something that individuals find - it's something that finds individuals; it's a passion that you're born with. If you need the outdoors and outdoor recreation to feel (alive), then it's kind of in your soul.
Do you have any early memories about the outdoors?
I do. While I had already been fishing since a young age, in second grade a friend brought over a fly rod that I think he had gotten from his grandfather that wasn't worth anything at all, but it had a line on it. We tied on some monofilament and went to a farm that was right outside of our subdivision and I caught a croppy on a fly rod and from that day on I was completely addicted to fly fishing and that passion for fly fishing is something that has had a large impact on my life. I've moved to places to fly fish. I've chosen schools based on whether it was close to fly fishing. I've certainly chosen jobs that were close to fly fishing.
Desert Island question. What are the three things you would take with you from Central Oregon on a desert island?
I have to say family... otherwise (laughs)... Does that count as one of the three? I'm going to say I'd take my family and beyond that I'd take the abundant backcountry skiing opportunities and beyond that I would take all seven breweries.
Chuck Norris or Steven Seagal and why?
Absolutely Steven Seagal. A hundred times over. There has always been something that has eluded me about Chuck Norris' appeal. I think he is half the man of Steven Seagal and the infomercials he got into at the end of his career did not help.... Chuck Norris always kind of had the cheesy moustache. Steven Seagal is my choice for one more important reason: gun play. Few guys have the gun play that Steven Seagal has and Chuck Norris just doesn't have that.
Steven Seagal is just a more well-rounded killing machine.
The Lebowski Question: Creedence or the Eagles?
Again, for me, not even a close decision. Creedence. They have more music in their soul. They've got more of a bluegrass foundation. I think they're cool. I don't think the Eagles are cool. I think the Eagles are uncool (laughs).