15th Annual Van Ness Butler Jr. Hospitality Award Winner: Tracy Louthain
Days after she was announced as the Van Ness Butler Jr. Hospitality Award winner during Visit South Walton’s Annual Meeting on May 6, Tracy Louthain was still in shock.
“I was so surprised,” she says. “I am rarely speechless, and I can honestly say I was absolutely speechless.”
For Louthain, a veteran in the tourism and hospitality industry, being honored amongst the likes of the award’s namesake, Van Ness Butler Jr., as well as other tourism visionaries like Robert Davis, Malcom Patterson and Keith Howard was a humbling experience.
The Van Ness Butler Jr. Hospitality Award honors and recognizes excellence in the hospitality, service, travel/tourism, advertising, promotion, and contributions to the local community.
As the number one industry in Walton County, Louthain knows the importance of tourism in the community.
“Our way of life is funded in large part through visitor spending, which translates into paychecks that are reinvested in our community and revenue from sales tax that helps fund education and infrastructure needs in Walton County,” she said. “From master planned communities to the businesses that have opened providing conveniences for residents and visitors alike, tourism shapes our community and provides us an improved quality of life.”
Looking back at her career, which began after graduating from Florida State University with a degree in marketing, Louthain says a “lucky” break led her to where she is now. While working at the Florida Department of Agriculture, she had heard that the state of Florida was launching a tourism bureau. She immediately applied to her “dream job.”
Although she didn’t land the job as a newcomer to the industry, her resume landed on a desk with a public relations firm that represented the Tallahassee Convention and Visitors Bureau where Louthain spent time promoting the capital city. While working in Atlanta for Edelman PR, Louthain worked with Visit South Walton, before ultimately moving to South Walton and working for the TDC as its public relations manager.
“Living the brand that I promoted everyday was the ultimate career highlight and I’ve been blessed to be able to stay in the industry and continue to live in Walton County and promote South Walton,” says Louthain, who is the director of marketing and communications for Newman Dailey Resort Properties and owner of Tracy Louthain Communications.
So how has the tourism industry changed in South Walton over the years? Well, when Louthain first began representing South Walton, Highway 98 was still a two-lane road. Seaside was already well established, but other notable beach neighborhoods like WaterColor and Rosemary Beach were growing rapidly. Alys Beach was in its visioning stages, as they broke ground on their first 16 houses in 2004. At the time, Visit South Walton “was excited to announce the economic impact of tourism in Walton County had exceeded $684.9 million.”
Times have definitely changed.
“Today, we are blessed to live, work and play in a thriving destination where tourism generates more than $4.7 billion in economic impact each year,” Louthain says. “Bed tax collections on short-term rentals continue to grow and as does the TDC budget, which is now at $23 million, and provides many local services including maintaining and cleaning our beaches, purchasing land for beach accesses, maintaining regional and neighborhood beach accesses, as well as funding the beach safety/lifeguard program, the beach code enforcement officers and the beach ambassador program.”
Never one to rest, Louthain likes to keep busy by giving back to the community by supporting organizations that help protect and enhance natural resources, serve area students and future generations and the thriving local art scene. She also aims to bring awareness to the “simple actions” vacationers can take to improve the destination for not only their fellow visitors, but the community as a whole through what she calls “Vacation Forward.”
When she’s not working, Louthain says she likes to spend time being a tourist. Whether that’s riding on a stand-up paddle board at the coastal dune lakes or on an e-bike through Grayton Beach, dining in local restaurants or spending the day out on the water, there’s always something exciting to do.