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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Meeting Leaders: Debbie McCune

Executive Profile

Name: Debbie McCune

Title: Director of Sales/Vice President

Organization: Travel Salem

Location: Salem, Oregon

Birthplace: Van Nuys, California

Education: Oregon State University 1974–75

Career History:

Quality Inn: sales manager (1993–98)

Travel Salem: VP/director of sales (1998–present)

Debbie McCune spent her early years in the sprawl of Los Angeles, but when she was in sixth grade, her family decided to trade big city living for a 27-acre farm in Oregon’s Rogue River Valley.

“In the late 1960s, a lot of families were looking for a better life somewhere outside of Southern California,” said McCune. “The only thing I made my parents promise me was that I’d get a horse.” Her dad, a contractor, built a new house that included a pasture for horses, cows, chickens, and several ducks that her youngest brother’s kindergarten class in L.A. had hatched as a project. “We were just city kids thrown out in the middle of the country, and we loved every minute of it,” she said. “We loved growing up there.”

Eventually, life took McCune about three hours north of the farm to Salem, Oregon’s capital city. Situated between Portland and Eugene, Salem has just under 200,000 residents. In the heart of Willamette Valley, it’s known for its beautiful scenery, world-class wines and agriculture, and flowers whose blooming season rivals destinations abroad. She got a job selling advertising at a local newspaper, and while working on an ad for Salem’s Quality Inn, the hotel’s manager hired her to do sales.

“That was how I just kind of fell into the hospitality industry,” she said. “When she told me she wanted me to work there as a sales manager, I remember saying to her, ‘What do you sell? I don’t even know what you’re selling!’ I ended up working at that hotel for five years.”

Since McCune was new to the Salem community, she got busy learning all about her new hometown, from the best places to eat to the best places to spend time outdoors or have a cultural experience. Her role in hotel sales led her to get involved in the local Chamber of Commerce and what was, at the time, known as the Downtown Association. Before long, she took a sales role at Travel Salem, where she has now worked for the past 26 years.

“I jumped right in and got to know a lot of people,” she said. “It just felt like a natural fit — I’ve always been a good communicator, and that’s a big part of what I do. I’m a conduit between partners doing contracts and the people who have inventory. It’s been a good fit for me all these years.”

McCune sources meeting and event planners whose events would be a good fit for Salem. The city has the state’s fairgrounds and hosts a lot of sporting events including the only Iron Man in Oregon. There’s also a 29,000-foot convention space attached to The Grand Hotel. Another thing McCune loves promoting about the city is its accessibility to other things in the region — Willamette Valley’s wine country, Silver Falls State Park and agricultural tourism destinations.

McCune participates in numerous trade shows throughout the year to promote Salem and has noticed a shift in the industry since COVID —many new faces have joined the tourism business, and she has enjoyed getting to meet these newcomers.

“The reason I’ve been here for 26 years is because this has never, ever been boring to me,” she said. “I’ve forged so many great relationships over the years — there’s a camaraderie that I just love.”

Tips from Debbie McCune

Reach for the moon — even if you miss you’ll land in the stars.

Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same thing.

It’s going to be hard, but hard does not mean impossible.