CARLSBAD — Sixteen years and more than 24,000 miles later, Kurt Burkhart will soon pack his bags and head back to where his journey first began. On Dec. 15, the executive director for the Carlsbad Convention and Visitors Bureau will finish out his last day as tourism chief, five days shy of eight years of service to this coastal community.
“When I stepped off the tractor ride at The Flower Fields in April 2002,” Burkhart said, “this sassy, slightly sarcastic voice said something like, ‘So, how long are you planning to be here?’”
That voice belonged to Joni Miringoff, group sales manager for Carltas. Miringoff had every right to be suspicious, for after learning of Burkhart’s previous work assignments, she believed it was only a matter of time, short time, before he hitched his wagon to a more tantalizing career move elsewhere.
The truth was, Burkhart loved what he was seeing and experiencing in Carlsbad. “I remember telling Joni that I had every intention of being a long-timer, but somehow the look she shot back at me said otherwise.”
However, hours before revelers ring in the 2009 New Year, Burkhart and his family will be on the road heading east to Charlottesville, Va., where he will become the city’s new director and chief executive officer of the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau.
It was back in 1992 when Burkhart learned from a friend about a job in this U.S. Commonwealth, the Northern Mariana Islands that was simply, “one of those once in a lifetime opportunities.”
“Seventeen trips to Japan, trade missions to places like Korea, Taiwan, China and Hong Kong, meeting international leaders and celebrities,” Burkhart said. “It was simply an unbelievable time that can never be replicated.”
It was on Saipan he achieved his professional Divemaster certification and diving is what introduced Burkhart to his Japanese-born wife, Harumi. In mid-1998, after the governor lost his bid for re-election, Burkhart and his wife moved stateside to promote the Grand Canyon, as the director for the Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau. But before long, it was time to move again.
“There were health issues with my folks that prompted me to start searching for a similar job in California, “ Burkhart said.
His search found him as head of the Carlsbad Convention and Visitors Bureau. Burkhart said he couldn’t believe that the bureau’s former director, Steve Link, showed up with new business cards in hand and politely commanded of his successor, “Get your suit ready, here’s your cards. We have a party to go to tonight.” And, it has been nonstop since Dec. 20, 2000.
Patrick Fearn, president of Certified Folder Display Services and two-term Carlsbad CVB board chairman, said Burkhart “brought the concept of a tourism business improvement district to our community, and Carlsbad was the first city in San Diego County to establish a tourism business improvement district. The Carlsbad Tourism BID now generates over $900,000 annually – money that is exclusively spent to market and promote Carlsbad.”
Burkhart has also been an active Rotarian and Paul Harris Fellow with the Carlsbad Hi-Noon Rotary Club.