Working in the hospitality and tourism industry for her entire career, Heather Johnston has grown accustomed to marketing cool places. Although she enjoys her role as the new executive director for Visit Dana Point, she says some places just naturally market themselves.
While Dana Point is one of many coastal California towns, she notes that it’s the vibrant sea life that sets the city apart from the rest. Home to tons of awe-inspiring aquatic creatures, the city is the dolphin- and whale-watching capital of the world and is the first to become a certified Whale Watching Site in the Americas by the World Cetacean Alliance. Capitalizing on the desire to see these animals, she says the local attractions are continuously evolving to cater memorable experiences for meeting-goers and leisure guests—adding that some of the coolest additions have been whale-watching tours in canoes or on paddleboards.
“The hospitality industry is constantly reevaluating what they are doing and being super creative on new offerings to entice new business and make their hotel or destination stand out on their own,” she says.
And to keep up with this everchanging industry, you need an innovative mindset. Luckily for Johnston, that’s first nature—especially when it’s in a place that she treasures so dearly. “You can be so creative in tourism and marketing a destination that you absolutely love. … It is kind of like when you do what you love, then you will never work a day in your life,” she says. “It is a fun job.”
Her seasoned background in the California industry played a key role in her seamless transition into the position. Formerly the head of marketing for Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, she also worked as the executive director of Torrance Visitors Bureau and the marketing manager for Disneyland Resort. And this isn’t the first time she has promoted Dana Point, previously having served as the executive director at the Dana Point Chamber of Commerce from 2012 to 2017.
Beyond the draw of promoting this intriguing waterside city, she says being a part of the industry is the biggest appeal. “Overall, I think some of the best people work in tourism, and I have always felt like it is a family.”