It’s a familiar tale. Bright-eyed youngsters come here to ski and end up staying in Utah. But not every ski bum who found their way West grows up to become the head cheerleader for Salt Lake City. Kaitlin Eskelson, the new CEO of Visit Salt Lake, came to Utah from Wisconsin when she was 22 and parlayed her love of the mountains above the city into a career inspiring the world to discover SLC.
And, in another familiar story, she took the job in March of 2020—yes, that March—starting a new job whose main purpose is to bring conventions and visitors to Salt Lake en masse.
“The pandemic forced us to pivot on behalf of the business community and really focus on providing support services for the small business who depend on the visitor economy,” she says.
To that end, Visit Salt Lake became a resource helping members in navigating the red tape to find assistance for weathering the lockdown, providing webinars and advice for the local business community.
“We went from being 100% outward facing to looking inward, finding ways to dig in and assist the community,” Eskelson says.
“We have a rich history combined with a forward-thinking future.” -Kaitlin Eskelson
Eskelson is a make-lemonade-from-lemons type of leader. She had been honing her craft, educating and preparing herself for the top spot at Visit Salt Lake for the bulk of her career. She earned a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Utah. Passionate about Utah and the people who call it home, she is a tireless advocate who has dedicated her years of study to the promotion of Salt Lake and the state of Utah as a collective gem of a travel destination.
“I think what happened was about 10 years ahead of schedule,” she says. “Meetings and conventions were already moving toward hybrid configurations with in-person and virtual components.”
To speed that transition, VSL took advantage of the downtime to build a media center in the Salt Palace to facilitate virtual meetings. Projects that were in the works continued full speed, including the construction on the much-discussed convention hotel near the Salt Palace and a full rebranding of the city’s image. The new slogan “West of Conventional” leans into Utah’s contradictions.
“We are a community of juxtapositions,” she says. “We have a rich history combined with a forward-thinking future. A lot of times in the past we’ve been apologetic about who we really are. We’re celebrating these intersections and honoring our diverse culture and history.”
As Eskelson continues to navigate the ever-changing waters ahead she likes to remind people that she can handle a challenge. Why?
“I have twins. I’m not scared of anything.”
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