Go Back

Show Us Missouri

In Focus
NAME:Stephen Foutes
COMPANY:Missouri Division of Tourism
LOCATION:Jefferson City, US
Travelers often visit the coast on trips to the United States, but Missouri Division of Tourism Director Stephen Foutes is encouraging them to experience the ‘real America’ instead.

The state of Missouri is often not top of mind for those traveling to the United States. With many visitors choosing to focus on the east or west coast, the center of the country is often dismissed and referred to as ‘flyover country’.

“We think that is very far from the truth,” Stephen Foutes, head of the Missouri Division of Tourism, says of the term.

Foutes believes that by promoting Missouri’s cultural, culinary and geographic richness, travelers will soon realize how much the state and its neighbors have to offer.

“If we can get folks to stop here and visit us, they’ll fall in love with some aspect of what we have.”

“If we can get folks to stop here and visit us, they’ll fall in love with some aspect of what we have,” he tells The CEO Magazine.

There’s a lot to love about Missouri, which unfolds over fertile plains and rolling hills as it expands over the middle of the North American continent to the west of the Mississippi River. Its most iconic attraction, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis – which opened to commemorate United States’ westward expansion – welcomes visitors to the state with the tallest monument in the country.

The Show-Me State

Beyond the Gateway Arch, the ‘Show-Me State’, as Missouri is often called, offers tourists a wealth of experiences and attractions. These include the family-friendly fun of Branson in the Ozark Mountains, which is famed for its theaters and live shows.

There are the signature barbecue styles of St. Louis and Kansas City – along with those cities’ renowned jazz and blues music. The Super Bowl champions Kansas City Chiefs and baseball’s perpetually competitive St. Louis Cardinals attract legions of sports fans to the state. Missouri’s scenic outdoors, meanwhile, offer unrivaled opportunities for camping, fishing and hiking.

“We offer the opportunity to explore the real America and to enjoy the outdoors, enjoy road trips, enjoy family fun.”

“We offer the opportunity to explore the real America and to enjoy the outdoors, enjoy road trips, enjoy family fun,” Foutes says. “We have large cities, we have very small towns, and so there’s just a great variety of opportunities for visitors when they come to Missouri.”

Foutes has led the Missouri Division of Tourism for the past four years. A native Missourian, he speaks proudly of his home state, which he describes as having a combination of Midwestern charm and southern hospitality.

“Working with the Missouri Division of Tourism (MDT) is one of our most valued partnerships. MDT has allowed us to expand and enhance our marketing and sales activities through cooperative advertising funding, conventions and meetings support, and domestic and international trade show sponsorships. The MDT team makes it easy to get things done to better the state and St. Louis.” – Brian Hall, Chief Marketing Officer, Explore St. Louis


He took the reins in March 2020 – just as the COVID-19 pandemic upended the global tourism industry.

“There wasn’t a playbook for how to deal with this and in the overall scheme of things, people’s health was the top priority,” Foutes recalls. “Leisure travel has been a key driver of our comeback, but there’s still probably some room for business travel to rebound.”

Tourism provides an economic impact of US$17.6 billion annually in Missouri and accounts for more than 300,000 jobs. Foutes has worked to expand that impact by promoting Missouri in markets near and far, in often innovative ways.

Promoting Near and Far

An example of this outside-the-box thinking saw the division of tourism take a calculated risk by advertising in the Denver market – some 1,000 kilometers west of Kansas City, which sits on Missouri’s western edge.

Website traffic from Colorado surged 300 percent year on year, Foutes says, while Division of Tourism research suggests the US$3 million marketing campaign attracted 115,000 visitors and US$42 million in spending.

“That was a little bit of a risk because we had never been there from a marketing perspective,” Foutes says. “But that’s been a risk, I think, that has paid off for us.”

The division of tourism is now focusing on 2026. The year marks the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, along with the centennial of Route 66 – the iconic highway stretching from Chicago to California, which also passes through the historic Missouri town of Joplin.

“We’ll put on a great show and be great hosts for the World Cup.”

There’s also the 2026 FIFA World Cup, where Kansas City will host six matches of the world’s biggest sporting competition.

“Kansas City, we know, will put on a great show,” Foutes says. “We’ll put on a great show and be great hosts for the World Cup.”

The Power of Collaboration

The Missouri Division of Tourism has the objective of attracting visitors to the state. But Foutes emphasizes the importance of partnerships. He points to the Destination Marketing Organization partners – such as Explore St. Louis – which the division of tourism supports with grant funding.

He’s also embraced the concept of cooperative competition, or ‘coopertition’, with other divisions of tourism. “Travelers don’t see borders and state lines like we do,” he notes.

Foutes holds up Travel South USA, a regional partnership of 12 southern states that Missouri joined a decade ago, as an example of rivals working together and sharing best practices to grow the United States and the South as a tourism destination.

“It’s important to have those relationships and to be able to build each other up and support one another’s efforts,” he says. “It’s really opened our eyes to the power of collaboration.”

Back to top