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Loving Cape Cod
Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce CEO Wendy K. Northcross, CCE, retires in summer 2021 after a distinguished career in travel and tourism and in building the Cape Cod economy. We spoke to Wendy about tourism, the blue economy and what retirement looks like.
Tell us about your background and career, and how you came to lead the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce.
I came to the Cape Cod Chamber with a background in a variety of businesses including radio, insurance and banking, both on and off-Cape. In 1988 I became executive director of the Hyannis Area Chamber of Commerce, where we initiated major projects, such as securing the land for the Walkway to the Sea from Main Street to Hyannis Harbor, creating festivals like the Father’s Day Car Show and establishing the JFK Hyannis Museum as a destination for the town.
In 1996, I left the Hyannis Chamber to help start what today is known as Coastal Community Capital, a small business lending and technical assistance organization, now affiliated with the Cape Cod Chamber. A short time later, I served as interim executive director for the Cape Cod Chamber, while they reorganized and merged with the county’s economic development team. Once the merger took place, I stayed on, running the tourism division for five years. In 2002, I was chosen to succeed John O’Brien as the Chamber CEO. All in all, I’ve been in destination marketing and economic development for 33 years!
During your tenure leading the Chamber, Cape Cod has become one of the most iconic vacation spots in the world. What is it about the Cape that keeps vacationers coming back, year after year, decade after decade, generation after generation?
One hundred years ago, Cape Cod was in need of a transition, as farming and fishing were no longer sustaining Cape Cod families. The state of Massachusetts did a study, and recommended a “big idea” to establish a travel and tourism industry on the Cape. And it recommended a county-wide agency to help develop and promote the industry. On March 17, 1921, the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce was organized to do just that, and we have been at it ever since. I truly believe our success has been consistent and sustained storytelling about a corner of the world which, while not easy to reach, offers respite among a beautiful landscape of sweeping beaches, walkable villages, scented pine barrens and the most beautiful light that has inspired creative types for centuries. Families tend to vacation here, making very strong, lasting memories which instills the desire to return, again and again.
How does the tourism industry impact other key sectors on the Cape?
Everything is connected. Cape Cod has very strong tourism industry, which has led to strong second-homeownership, which has led to a large retirement industry, which has led to our excellent healthcare system with two highly-acclaimed hospitals. We now generate a larger share of our gross regional product in the construction trades and healthcare sector than tourism!
Today, we are leveraging our outstanding way of life to lure a new type of resident to the Cape – a well-educated, younger demographic of people who may earn a living connected to the water. Jobs in aquaculture, marine mechanics, off-shore wind development, wastewater technologies, and the study of sharks, whales and all marine creatures are now possible, thanks to our access to over 1,000 miles of coastline shared with the islands and southeastern Plymouth.
Together our regions have been developing “the next big thing” for Cape Cod, our blue economy. This spring, we unveil our new Expedition Blue Trail across the Cape and islands, showcasing the cultural and economic aspects of the blue economy beyond tourism. We are very grateful to the Commonwealth’s Seaport Economic Council for supporting this work the last five years.
What lessons did the Chamber and its tourism partners learn during the pandemic that will make Cape Cod a better visitor destination going forward?
We learned that the Cape Cod brand is strong, and trusted, and visitors would still travel to the Cape, while other destinations around the globe were severely impacted by the pandemic. Cape Cod’s visitor industry was able to successfully host and care for thousands of visitors last summer. Our abundance of outdoor recreation, plentiful unique accommodations and restaurants were able to adapt quickly and creatively, and to do what it takes to keep people safe. We feel we have that playbook now, ready to greet the return of warm weather and our valued visitors.
Congratulations on your pending retirement! What are your plans going forward?
Last year my husband and I had to cancel our late spring Caribbean trip. In July, we took a getaway to Edgartown, on Martha’s Vineyard instead. It was so beautiful and we felt so far away. It reminded us that we have many treasures so nearby. I am truly looking forward to spending more time with my husband, Van, exploring more of the local haunts, and spending time with our granddaughters in Maine. When the time is right, we would love to get a few more passport stamps!
Thank you, Wendy and best wishes.