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Wichita tourism chief takes job in Houston

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012, at 3:48 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, Feb. 17, 2012, at 7:04 a.m.

John Rolfe is leaving his post as the city’s tourism chief to take on an executive role with Houston’s tourism bureau.

Rolfe, 49, announced Thursday his departure as CEO of Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau. His last day at the agency will be March 15.

Shortly thereafter he will become chief operations officer for the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“This isn’t a decision I took lightly,” Rolfe said. “I have parents, siblings, a host of relatives here and certainly a host of friends and associates that makes it difficult (to leave).”

But he’s got the opportunity to be a senior executive for the tourism agency of the nation’s fourth-largest city.

“It’s a great opportunity … and we’ve had 11 great years,” Devin Hansen, president of Sunflower Travel Corp., said of Rolfe. “You can’t fault somebody for wanting to better themselves. (But) people like him aren’t that easy to replace.”

Stephen Stewart, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Wichita and Go Wichita chairman, said Rolfe “has been a true asset to Wichita” and echoed Hansen’s sentiments that finding Rolfe’s replacement will be difficult.

Hansen, who served as Go Wichita’s chairman in 2009 and 2010, said Rolfe has made strides improving the bureau’s marketing of the city. Rolfe also presents a good image of Wichita, he said.

“That’s a well-oiled machine over there,” Hansen said of Go Wichita.

In a news release, Go Wichita said Rolfe’s tenure has included major conventions such as the Women’s International Bowling Congress, which brought 40,000 bowlers to the city, and the National Square Dance Convention, which brought in 7,000 square-dance enthusiasts from across the country.

Rolfe said he will be leaving a bureau with 18 employees and a $2.6 million annual budget for one with 85 employees and a $16 million budget. As COO, Rolfe said he will be the organization’s No. 2 executive in “a key role that has a variety of responsibilities.”

Rolfe said he expects to begin his new job around March 26. He said his wife and children will join him in Houston sometime this summer.

Stewart said the process of finding a replacement for Rolfe will likely start in a week.

Reach Jerry Siebenmark at 316-268-6576 or jsiebenmark@wichitaeagle.com.

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