Eastern Iowa Tourism Association ends run

DYERSVLLE, Iowa — After 22 years of leading Eastern Iowa Tourism Association, Executive Director Carrie Koelker said goodbye during a recent event as the association ends a 36-year run of promoting tourism in the area.

The event at the Field of Dreams was the culmination of a strategic plan that called for uniting Iowa tourism under a central location.

Instead of several tourism offices across Iowa, each promoting its county or area, Iowa Tourism Industry Partners will operate as a statewide tourism association. In addition, the Iowa Department of Economic Development Iowa Tourism Office will have two people working in-house, doing what regional tourism officials have done in the field for years.

“Our industry is changing, evolving and growing,” said Koelker, who is also a Republican state senator. “Models change, and this is a perfect example of that. We have seen a duplication of efforts with websites and tourism publications. Technology is growing and changing our industry. Now, we will be uniting instead of just having regional boundaries.”

Koelker said visitors to the state will benefit from the change.

“Wherever you may travel, you may not know what county you are in, but you know what you want to see,” she said. “This is tearing down borders, encouraging collaboration and encouraging partnerships. The traveler doesn’t see those borders and shouldn’t find it cumbersome to go to tourism websites. We need to condense it and make it user-friendly.”

Koelker advocated for the changes, even at the expense of her position.

“At the end of the day, we did some strong strategic planning and research,” she said. “Change is hard, and comfort is a trap.”

Koelker said she stayed in her position for 22 years for one simple reason: her love of Iowa.

“I love promoting our state,” she said. “It’s a great place to live, work, travel and raise a family. I liked going nationally to help promote Iowa. It’s been the people and the places definitely.”

Koelker’s colleagues sent her out with a gift — a $2,200 check to University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital in Iowa City for pediatric cancer research. Koelker’s son Easton was diagnosed with cancer and has been treated at the hospital.

“That hit me right in my heart,” Koelker said of the gift. “They all know family is my life, my prize and my world. My four children are the reason for my smile.”

Koelker said she is now focused on the final weeks of her reelection campaign to the Iowa Senate.

“I will see where that brings me, but God has brought me through many paths, hurdles and journeys, and it’s always been a blessing in the end,” she said. “I thank everyone for making Dyersville and the Dubuque area tourism shine. I’ll always have tourism in my heart and will continue to be a champion for it down at the Capitol.”