By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor
GREAT FALLS – It was a big night for Big Sky in Great Falls. The Montana Office of Tourism awarded Big Sky two tourism awards at the 2012 annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism and Recreation, April 11-13.
Meg O’Leary, Big Sky Resort’s marketing and sales director, was named Montana Tourism Person of the Year for her contributions to Montana tourism at both Big Sky Resort and in the community. Big Sky as a whole was named Tourism Community of the Year for its work hosting the Asia Pacific Economic Conference in May of 2011.
Ronda Fitzgerald, chair of the Tourism Advisory Council, spoke at the Thursday night tourism banquet, honoring both O’Leary and the Big Sky community.
“The annual awards recognize people and organizations across the state that go the extra mile to enhance the tourism and hospitality industry in Montana,” Fitzgerald said.
You could call them the “Montana tourism industry’s version of the Oscars,” said Sarah Lawlor, from the promotions division for the Office of Tourism. “It’s an opportunity for us to recognize [individuals and communities], and give credit where credit is due.”
Fitzgerald described O’Leary’s holistic approach to tourism, her ability to look at the big picture, spirit of cooperation, enthusiasm, leadership skills and laugh.
A native of Helena, O’Leary has dedicated much of her career to promoting Montana tourism, promoting her home state through her work at the resort, as an inaugural board member of the Big Sky Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, a founding member of the Big Sky Transportation District, the chairperson of the Big Sky Lodging Association, and her work helping to secure new direct flights to the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport. When she stood to receive her award, she received a standing ovation.
The Tourism Office has been awarding Tourism Person of the Year since 1989. Mike Schultz, owner of Bucks T-4 in Big Sky, received the award in 2007.
Bringing the Asia Pacific Economic Conference last May, Big Sky partnered with Montana businesses, community organizations and government offices to bring more than 2,000 national and international visitors to the region. The conference promoted Montana as an international destination and gave local businesses an opportunity to promote their products to foreign economies.
The tourism conference hosted nearly 400 people from across the state, and from many different aspects of tourism in Montana, said Greer Schott, the resort’s public relations coordinator. “From the bigger tourism companies, to smaller mom and pop joints, the national parks, the office of tourism, and the governor,” she said.
Schott attended seminars about “how to build your tourism brand and how to utilize stories to tell about your brand.” She also learned more about the state of Montana tourism, “how we’ve had a lot of growth in the last couple years, and how we have places to go.”