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PYSK: Stephen Foutes

Stephen Foutes

Director, Missouri Division of Tourism

Job description: Under the direction of the Missouri Tourism Commission, the director of tourism leads a dedicated team of marketers, communicators, researchers, program managers, and welcome center ambassadors, along with legislative, financial, and film-office specialists, focused on promoting and building awareness of Missouri as one of the country’s top travel destinations. Our division’s key priorities are increasing visitation to, and visitor spending within, Missouri.  

Professional background: I have a bachelor’s degree in communications from Central Methodist College (now University) in Fayette, Missouri. My career includes 10 years in the newspaper industry, first at the Centralia Fireside Guard and then the Jefferson City News-Tribune. I joined the Division of Tourism staff as the travel guide editor in 2009 and held varying roles until 2017, when I joined the staff at Missouri State Medical Association as its marketing director. I returned to the Division of Tourism as director in March 2020 — an instance of impeccable timing.  

Hometown: Bowling Green, Missouri.

Years lived in Central Missouri: 25 years in central Missouri.  

Favorite quote: It’s a quote that’s often attributed to Michael Jordan: “I can accept failure; everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” 

Why you are passionate about your job: It’s a blessing to be surrounded by the amazing staff at the Division of Tourism. Whether they’re at our office in Jefferson City or one of our Welcome Centers across the state, the energy and passion our team members bring to their work and this industry inspires me. And as a native Missourian, I’m proud of all the state offers travelers and am fortunate to be able to help showcase it to the world.  

If you weren’t doing this for a living, you would: Hopefully find a role somewhere in the travel, sports, marketing, or communications industry.  

What people should know about your profession: People think about the fun aspects of travel, as well they should. Travel is about exploring our world and making memories with families, friends, and loved ones. The industry, however, is extremely competitive. Every state, every destination, every attraction is working to compete for a share of visitors. While it’s prudent to make decisions backed by research and best practices, you sometimes need a little magic — which can be hard to find — to succeed. 

The big challenges facing your industry: Piggybacking on the statement above, people often think about the fun aspects of tourism and don’t consider the business side. In Missouri, about 301,000 people work in tourism/hospitality. As such, it’s vitally important that tourism professionals, including marketers, continue to highlight the value this industry has on state, local and national economies so a wide spectrum of audiences understand its importance.  

Your next professional goal: Thinking long term, the Division of Tourism has its eyes on 2026. Yes, it’s still two years away, but 2026 is going to be huge for Missouri. Kansas City will host FIFA World Cup matches. Several communities, including St. Louis, Springfield, Joplin, Lebanon, St. Robert, and others, will celebrate the centennial anniversary of Route 66. And it’s the 250th anniversary of the signing of Declaration of Independence — America’s 250th birthday! My goal is to spread the word about Missouri far and wide to help get as many people to visit as possible.  

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my field: Some of the finest, smartest, hardest working, and kindest people you’ll ever meet work in the tourism industry.  

How you want to impact your community or your state: I hope my decisions — and those of our team — have a positive impact on the state’s economy, inspire people to learn more about Missouri, and to travel here for a memorable vacation experience.  

Greatest strength: Knowing that it’s ok to not know everything.  

Greatest weakness: Sometimes missing the forest for the trees.  

What you do for fun: Travel, of course! Spending time with family and playing basketball as often as these old knees will allow.  

Who makes up your family: Brenda, my wife of 24 years; our two daughters, Lily and Sydney; my parents; my brother; my wife’s wonderful family; and our two feline friends, Gina and Tyler.  

Favorite places in Central Missouri: Asking the director of tourism to name a favorite place is inviting nothing but trouble, so I’ll say, “All of them!”  

Missouri getaways that might not be as well known: Missouri is blessed with a variety of getaway options for people to enjoy, including many that might be considered hidden gems.  

St. Louis is of course famous for the attractions like the Gateway Arch and St. Louis Zoo, but people may not know as much about places like The Moto Museum, the Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum, and the National Blues Museum. Kansas City has the renowned Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, but people sometimes miss the incredible American Jazz Museum and Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.  

Here in Central Missouri, people recognize the Capitol in Jefferson City, the Lake of the Ozarks, and outdoor gems like Rock Bridge State Park in Columbia. But they’re often surprised at something like America’s National Churchill Museum in Fulton.  

That’s what makes Missouri impressive. No matter where your travels take you, there’s a good chance you’ll be surprised by something.  

Accomplishment you are most proud of: Helping raise two amazing daughters.  

Most people don’t know that you: Take pickup basketball games waaaaay too seriously.

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