A Legacy of Sustainable Tourism

After serving nine years as Explore Whitefish’s executive director, Dylan Boyle is moving on to Bellingham to continue promoting business collaboration and sustainable tourism in Washington state

By Maggie Dresser
Dylan Boyle, pictured Jan. 4, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Growing up in the tourism-heavy states of Colorado and Hawaii, Dylan Boyle embraced the industry and took jobs on golf courses and in food service as he entered the workforce.

“I lived in areas where tourism and recreation were always very much the economic drivers and the reason people visited and worked there,” Boyle said.

After earning an undergraduate degree in marketing and sustainable tourism from the University of Colorado and a master’s degree at the University of Montana, he eventually moved north to the Flathead Valley in 2010 and became the executive director of the Whitefish Convention and Visitors Bureau, also known as Explore Whitefish.

Boyle took over the bureau in December 2013 when the organization’s founding director, Jan Metzmaker, retired. But after nine years, Boyle is moving on to Washington where he will take over as the new president and CEO of Visit Bellingham in Whatcom County, Wash.

“It has truly been an honor to be an integral part of shaping what we’ve done, not only the tourism industry, but also everything we’ve done has really been community-minded,” Boyle said. “I’m just honored to have been able to stay steadfast in that decision-making throughout the uncertainty and challenges.”

In the past nine years, Boyle has navigated economic downturns, a pandemic that triggered unpredictable record tourism numbers and the evolution of the industry while promoting the shoulder season.

“We’ve always historically been a very busy place in the summer due to the proximity to Glacier, so how do we keep businesses thriving year-round?” Boyle said. “How do we keep employees with steady work year-round to be able to afford to live and work here? That is really why the organization got started and it’s still a core component of what we do now.”

Boyle describes tourism numbers as “peaks and valleys” over the years, with environmental, social and economic factors impacting business.

To promote the shoulder seasons, which include parts of fall, winter and spring, Explore Whitefish has collaborated heavily with Whitefish Mountain Resort in recent years to bridge the marketing gap between Big Mountain and the town of Whitefish. Boyle said the partnership has evolved into storytelling, with media collaborations with Teton Gravity Research, based out of Jackson Hole, Wyo., as well as the Ski Journal and Protect Our Winters, a nonprofit advocating for climate solutions for winter-dependent industries.

In the spring and fall, Explore Whitefish has worked to promote the area’s mountain biking, partnering with publications like Free Hub and Pink Bike.

Boyle also worked with Glacier Park International Airport to expand air service during the shoulder seasons.

Even before the pandemic brought a record volume of tourism, which the valley’s infrastructure had challenges supporting, Explore Whitefish was focused on pioneering solutions for sustainable tourism.

“That’s really what I’m most proud of in my work here,” Boyle said. “I’m proud of our ability to come together as a community to address challenges, one of those being the roadmap to sustainable tourism … while we don’t market the summer, how do we manage it?”

In collaboration with the city of Whitefish, Boyle helped develop the Sustainable Tourism Management Plan Committee, which ultimately led to the implementation of the “Friends of the Fish” campaign. The plan was approved in September 2020 and led to partnerships with nonprofits like Housing Whitefish and other organizations.

“That’s not something that a typical marketing organization would do, but it was something that came out of that sustainable tourism plan,” Boyle said.

Mariah Joos, the board chair of Explore Whitefish, says Boyle will be difficult to replace and his expertise helped grow the organization.

“Dylan has been great to work with,” Joos said. “His breadth of knowledge about Whitefish, the tourism industry as a whole and his past work experience made him a unique fit as a director … Dylan has provided a consistent professionalism to his role while working with the board to implement a complete re-focusing of the organization’s mission.”

Joos said Explore Whitefish board members are “moving very deliberately” to replace Boyle, adding that she’s confident they will find the right person in time.

As the new president and CEO of Visit Bellingham, Boyle is looking forward to growing his career, but he will miss Whitefish.

“It’s certainly an exciting opportunity for growth both personally and professionally, and it’s really bittersweet because I have lived here for 12 years,” Boyle said. “My family and I have developed such a love for Whitefish, and I certainly will always be an advocate wherever we are.”