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Selling the city for 27 years, Deb Archer retires

CEO of Destination Madison reflects on her impact on the Madison area and her hope for the future
Published: Jan. 4, 2021 at 9:00 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - It was the first weekend in almost 27 years that Deb Archer wasn’t selling the city.

Archer started at Destination Madison (then the Greater Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau) in February of 1994 after moving to Madison from Kansas City.

Deb Archer old headshot for Destination Madison.
Deb Archer old headshot for Destination Madison.(GMCVB)

“It’s an amazing way to get to know a community, because you have to dive in head first,” recalls Archer of the start of her career here.

Just as the Monona Terrace was being built, Archer was tasked with growing Madison’s visitor economy. And that she did with a lot of heart and passion for the next 26 years.

“We played a pivotal role in saving WIAA basketball for the state, and Bucky on Parade and bringing Ironman here and bringing CrossFit here. There were milestones along the way that I am so proud of,“ explains Archer, as she reflects on those big moments, “I think the first year of Ironman and Bucky on Parade, those were magic. I will always remember the first time watching the swim start for Ironman that first year, and I’ll never forget the ramp up to Bucky on Parade and all the preparation and crazy work and just... the joy.”

CrossFit Games 2017
CrossFit Games 2017(Destination Madison)

She also pushed for and oversaw a change to the funding formula for her organization.

“That was frustrating, because the Dells or Milwaukee’s budgets were twice as big, and yet we were bidding on the same kind of business,” recalls Archer, “So that was really hard.”

But Archer says Madison was fairly easy to sell.

“We always say we punch above our weight class,” she says with a smile.

But the pandemic has changed everything.

“Urban areas are hurting so badly and particularly urban areas like ours that depend on big events,” explains Archer.

She says hotels in downtown Madison area running at less than 10% occupancy, when they’d normally be at 70-80%.

“I hope people appreciate what visitors mean to our city. Our population could never support the places that we love,” says Archer.

She says in 2019 alone, visitors spent $1.4 billion dollars in Dane County.

“All the restaurants and attractions and the events that we love, if visitors didn’t come here, we wouldn’t have the joy and excitement that we have,” adds Archer, “Going forward is really, how do we, how does the industry and the public and private come together and do everything we can to keep these great businesses in our community open?”

A community that through the years became home to Archer.

“It’s been an amazing career,” says Archer with a smile, “I can’t fathom that I would have been as satisfied or fulfilled or felt as joyful about something, even though as you said, there were hard times, and times I was ready to throw in the towel. But I always said 85% of it was... it was a lot of magic.”

Archer says it will be a building process to recover from the pandemic, adding forecasts show it may take until 2024 for group business to be back to pre-pandemic levels.

As for her replacement, Archer says the search committee is down to two candidates, both of whom are from out of town, like she was. She is not on that committee but says they’re hoping to make an offer this month and get the new CEO here by March.

NBC15 was honored to partner with Destination Madison for Bucky on Parade, and we all wish Deb Archer a happy, healthy retirement.

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