Dream job: Tourism promotion more than a trip to the beach

GEORGETOWN — Ever since Scott Thomas can remember his life has been peppered with passion for Delaware’s beaches, the ocean and salty air.

“I spent every summer of my life in Dewey Beach, Delaware, which was great,” he says.

At 47, Mr. Thomas has what he considers a dream job. He is the executive director for Southern Delaware Tourism, whose aim is to make Sussex County a visitation destination.

His dream came true in 2007.

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Scott Thomas

“I made it a lifelong goal for me to get back here, which I did. That was a big check on my checklist,” he said.

Mr. Thomas resides in Rehoboth with his wife Tammy.

He is a native of the Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C. He graduated from the University of Maryland at College Park, home of the Terps.

Let’s meet Scott Thomas.

How about your family?

“Aside from our cats we do spend an awful lot of time with our nieces and nephews that are local.”

After college, where did the employment trail take you?

“My first real job turned out to be a travel job. I had studied finance at Maryland and as time went by it really wasn’t the ideal fit for me. So a friend of mine with a telecommunication test equipment provider said they were hiring for a position for a trade show coordinator. I was at that age where I would love to see the country, see the world on the corporate dime. Long story short, I was in it about 15 years and it was just an amazing journey. I learned so much as you do with travel and the people that you work with and all different parts of the country. And being in my 20s I would not trade that for the world. What a learning experience. It was very enriching for me.”

There is a Dewey Beach connection?

“My mother early as 1962 was able to buy a beach house in Dewey Beach and that is kind of what led me to ultimately falling in love with the area here. It was engrained in me since I was born. My mother and father, now they are here. They are local. My wife Tammy is a Milford girl. Getting back here was good for her because now we are close to her family. It worked out really nice.”

You answered opportunity’s knock for a tourism job in 2003?

“When my wife and I came back here in 2003 technically I was unemployed. We were renting and getting ready to buy a house. It was very daunting and terrifying. She was working two jobs at the time. We were trying to find our dream home. Fortunately, I was able to go work right there in historic Lewes at the Inn at Canal Square. They rolled the dice on me. I am very thankful for that. That is what got me into local tourism, working there in Lewes from 2004 to 2007. I was able to transfer a lot of my marketing skills that I took in in the telecom world and kind of put a tourism hospitality spin on it. I learned a lot fast about hospitality there, about working with groups and having that guest mindset that comes with hospitality and many other industries now.”

“I started to meet a lot of great people in our local tourism community, everybody from chambers of commerce, hotels and the attractions.”

Southern Delaware Tourism was next?

“2007, that is when I started this office. And here it is 2016 and it has just been a great ride ever since. I am just as excited today as I was that first week I started in 2007; the diversity of Sussex county and the people that it attracts. It is a lot of fun and it’s a lot of work. I am lucky. We have got a great team here – an office of three including myself. We have wonderful people to work with. We feed off one another.”

“Living here is like a blessing in itself. And then to be able to promote it is like icing on the cake. It’s like a dream job for me, it really is. It is the best product to promote: travel to Sussex County as a destination. There is always something new to talk about. In the nine years I have been here it never gets stale. There is always something new.”

Delaware’s 5-Star beaches just one slice of the pie?

“We are not here promoting summertime weekends. Our primary mission here at this office is to increase overnight visitation to hotels in Sussex County. And once they are here, our second mission is to spread them out, maybe see other things on that third day or on a rainy day and make it more entertaining.”

“Sussex County is a big county. You look at that Lewes to Fenwick Island coastal corridor, to me it is almost like a proverbial cruise ship because it carries in all of those people – seven million visitors we get in each year. That is a pool to pull from. Getting them here is great, but it is even better if you spread them out and get new visitors into our small towns, which by the way is the No. 1 favorite thing that our visitors like, that small-town charm.”

“Our 5-Star beaches, that is our anchor, our cruise ship. But they love that small-town charm, and they tell us that, that is what defines Sussex County. It separates us from our neighbors to the south. We are like this nearby, faraway oasis from these metropolitan areas.”

Can we bury the myth that tourism here is just seasonal?

“Not too long ago, maybe 20 to 25 years, the season was Memorial Day to Labor Day as far the crowds coming in. Yeah, we still keep them. But now spring is kind of like a shoulder season. And the fall, it is almost like an extended season. It is not really a secret anymore. People are choosing to travel when school is back in session, and the weather is still beautiful here. So the fall almost becomes an extended season, especially with the weekend festival activity.”

How about some of tourism’s challenges?

“It can be challenging. We know we’re are like 90 percent leisure, and 10 percent business destination. We are trying to get more social groups and clubs involved from Philadelphia, D.C. and Baltimore.”

What does Scott Thomas do in his spare time?

“I like to go out and get that salt air and just get outside, ride a bike, ride a skim board, get wet in the ocean. That was part of my lineage growing up. That was my favorite pastime growing up, working on the beach in Dewey selling hotdogs, skim boarding at night, I mean life was good.”

Is there a Scott Thomas Fun Fact?

“One thing that was kind of funny was when I was a baby I was auditioned for a Downey soap ad, and later got rejected. I never made it, but maybe I was one of the finalists. I almost had my shot at Madison Avenue. It was for a Downey soap ad as I am told the story. I auditioned and later got rejected. But I had a shot.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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