Travel has always been a part of Sandy Ward’s life. In college she got her first job in the travel and tourism industry as a pure coincidence. “I was hired because I had been to Hawaii and could speak German, that’s what qualified me,” she says. Today, with more than 30 years of professional travel and tourism experience behind her, Ward now has her “dream job” as the president and CEO of Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism. For her, the role incorporates everything she knows how to do and loves to do in her very favorite place—Whatcom County. Ward oversees the four Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism visitor centers and 33 staff and volunteers, and 300 supporting members of the nonprofit.
Ward wasn’t always this excited about Bellingham or Washington in general. In the 1990s, her husband at the time was a fighter pilot and was transferred to McChord Air Force Base. When they were originally transplanted from Utah, she came kicking and screaming, she said. Utah held her friends and family, she recalls, while Washington was foreign and wet. But it didn’t take long for her mind to change, “It was just beautiful,” she says. She once again found her place in the tourism industry, developing the tourism bureau on the Kitsap Peninsula and in Snohomish County. When an opportunity to start the Future of Flight Aviation Center and Boeing Tour in Everett from the ground up, she jumped at the role. Ward served as the sales and marketing director for 12 years before finding her way to Bellingham.
Now, after two years in her role, her goals are big. Ward and her team have been working with all of Whatcom County to develop a county-wide way-finding plan. The plan will incorporate directional signage throughout Whatcom County to help move tourists throughout the county, rather than just within cities.
Ward’s years in the tourism industry has given her an appreciation for the importance of travel. “We are not the center of the universe,” Ward says. Travel teaches people to broaden their horizons, learn and explore. Her work has taken her all over the world on what are referred to in the industry as “fam tours,” or “familiarization tours,” which allow tourism professionals to get to know places and experiences. “It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it,” she says with a laugh. If you are looking for an unusual trip, Ward highly recommends Fairbanks, Alaska in the winter—yes, in the winter—to see the northern lights illuminate the sky every night. Wherever you do go, you’re likely to find nice people; yet another lesson of travel. People are just generally kind, she says.
Whatcom County is no different and full of experiences every tourist and local should have a chance to try. Her top recommendations include Mount Baker Theater, the Amtrak train, and taking advantage of the convenient flights out of Bellingham International Airport. Ward’s favorite destination from Bellingham International Airport: Maui.
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