Anna Bentson is the Assistant Director of Economic Development & Tourism for the City of Lynchburg. In her role, Anna leads tourism and economic development marketing, entrepreneurship and business development for the City of Lynchburg and its Economic Development Authority.
Anna has a strong background in nonprofit management and cause marketing with a passion for urban revitalization and creative placemaking, having served as the marketing director for Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest and the director of the Downtown Lynchburg Association. In addition to supporting Lynchburg’s businesses to attract and retain jobs and capital investment, Anna has led place-based and entrepreneurial efforts for the City of Lynchburg including the development of Create Virginia, CO.STARTERS and Launched in Lynchburg.
She is a graduate of the South Carolina Honors College at the University of South Carolina and has earned a Certificate in Creatives Cities and Economic Development at NYU and a Masters in Nonprofit Leadership at the University of Lynchburg.
Caroline Beteta serves as President & CEO of the industry-led Visit California, a nonprofit organization created to market California as a premier travel destination and to increase the state’s share of tourism-related revenues.
Caroline simultaneously serves as the Director of Tourism in California’s Governor’s Office of Business & Economic Development (GO-Biz). In her dual capacity, she is responsible for implementing Visit California’s $126 million global marketing program and serves as the lead spokesperson for California’s $132.4 billion travel industry. Caroline has shepherded the growth of Visit California into a global marketing franchise whose brand advertising alone generated incremental visitor spending of more than $13.1 billion in fiscal year 2017-18.
Caroline has served as Chair of the Board and Vice Chair of Operations for Brand USA, where she provided strategic direction for the $200 million global program. During a two-year term as National Chair of the U.S. Travel Association, she guided the successful merger of the Travel Industry Association with the Travel Business Roundtable. Caroline serves on the Executive Committee of the World Travel and Tourism Council — Visit California was the first destination marketing organization invited to join the WTTC.
Caroline has received numerous awards for her creative work and leadership in the travel industry, including induction into the U.S. Travel Association’s Hall of Leaders.
Caroline holds a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from the University of California, Los Angeles and a master’s degree in Public Administration/Intergovernmental Affairs from the University of Southern California. She also completed the Stanford Graduate School of Business Executive Marketing Management Program.
For more about Visit California, visit industry.visitcalifornia.com
Aaron Bolzle is Executive Director of Tulsa Remote, a unique talent recruitment initiative of George Kaiser Family Foundation which has seen 10,000+ applications from over 150 countries and all 50 states. A Tulsa native, Aaron attended public school in Tulsa and graduated from Booker T. Washington High School. He attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston and graduated with honors. Aaron worked in digital marketing and production for Universal Music Group in NYC during one of the most transformative times in the digital music revolution and then spent eight years in California working for Apple at iTunes. After nearly 15 years away, Aaron returned to his hometown of Tulsa with a desire to make a positive impact in the city he was born. A year after returning, he launched Tulsa Remote.
Sage first visited China in 1987, and has been studying and speaking the language and culture ever since. He has worked in China as a researcher, investor, entrepreneur, journalist and advisor, with a specialization in travel, digital, mobile and strategy. Sage co-founded China Luxury Advisors to assist luxury brands and retailers in developing China-related strategies, ranging from market entry, to social media, to attracting, converting, and retaining Chinese tourists. Sage contributed the weekly “Sage Brennan’s This Week in China” column to Dow Jones’ MarketWatch for two years, and remains a frequent commentator on China-related media and technology issues in print media and on programs such as CNBC’s Asia Squawk Box, Wall Street Journal, Women’s Wear Daily and others. Sage is a founder and curator of the Shanghai chapter of MobileMonday, with over 3,000 participants, and co-founded the TEDxShanghai chapter. He is also a regular speaker on China at conferences such as SouthXSouthwest, AdTech and others. A native of Boston, Sage holds both an MBA and an undergraduate degree in International Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and harbors a lifelong passion for Mandarin and China.
Catherine’s role in initiating Ottawa Tourism’s destination development department has placed her among Canada’s trailblazers for destination development within DMOs.She has a Master’s degree in Communications and Media Studies from ConcordiaUniversity in Montreal, and accreditation through the Canadian Public Relations Society. She serves on the Ottawa Markets Board of Directors and as Chair of the Ottawa Film Office Board of Directors. Catherine has been a speaker on destination development topics at the Ontario Tourism Summit, at the Destinations International Annual Congress, the International IndigenousTourism Conference, and the IMPACT Conference
Chuck Davison serves as President & CEO of Visit SLO CAL and brings 27 years of travel and tourism experience to San Luis Obispo County. Chuck led the research, groundwork, approval and implementation process for San Luis Obispo County’s first countywide Tourism Marketing District. Under Chuck’s leadership, the organization has developed and launched the new SLO CAL® brand, expanded into international markets and increased air service development, and launched the development of SLO CAL’s first countywide destination management strategy, positioning the organization for success in the years to come.
Brent DeRaad has served for seven years as President & CEO of Visit Tucson.
DeRaad and the 40-member Visit Tucson staff are charged with marketing, promoting and selling metro Tucson and southern Arizona as a leisure and meetings destination. Visitors spent $2.3 billion in the region in 2017.
Major initiatives undertaken during his tenure at Visit Tucson include: a destination branding initiative; taking Tucson through Destination International’s DestinationNEXT process; creating and implementing an organizational strategic plan; and working with Resonance Consultancy to develop a tourism master plan for Tucson and southern Arizona, which will be completed in spring 2019.
DeRaad, who serves currently as chairman of the Arizona Lodging & Tourism Association, came to Tucson from the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. He spent 10 years there, including the final six as the organization’s executive vice president.
In her role as Travel & Economic Development sector leader, Sara Garibaldi brings 15 years’ experience gathered at the top PR agencies leading integrated marketing communications campaigns across diverse industries including travel & hospitality (destinations, airlines & hotels), spirits & beverages, financial services, retail & apparel, consumer packaged goods and home & lifestyle clients.
She’s a brand marketer at heart with rich experience in travel & hospitality. She currently oversees a group of talented travel & economic development communications specialists who provide support to Discover Puerto Rico, Invest Puerto Rico, Hertz/dollar/Thrifty, Outdoorsy, San Francisco Travel, Sandals & Beaches Resorts and Choice Hotels, among other leading travel brands. Her former client roster is expansive, spanning airlines and tourism boards. She led the team that drove the successful #CoverTheProgress campaign for Puerto Rico as the destination approached the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria.
Sara completed her MBA from NYU's Stern School of Business in Marketing & Finance. In addition to receiving numerous Adrian Awards from the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI) for her tourism campaigns, in 2014, she was named one of PR Week's "Top 40 under 40" and won PR Week's 2013 Campaign of the Year. Sara is originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina and is fluent in Spanish.
Donna Gillespie, Artsci’95
Chief Executive Officer, Kingston Economic Development Corporation
Donna is an experienced leader who has managed a variety of small and medium enterprises in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. She has overseen significant community economic development initiatives in investment attraction, strategic planning, brand development and corporate restructuring. Under her leadership as CEO, Kingston realized the highest levels of new foreign direct investment in the city’s history with the establishment of Portuguese fruit processer Frulact and Chinese infant formula manufacturer Feihe.
Laura Guimond manages international public relations for Travel Portland in Europe, Oceania, Canada and Mexico. She grew up on the East Coast with stints in Brazil, Spain and Italy before settling in Washington, DC and working for a variety of progressive nonprofits. When she moved to Portland in 1993 the city was viewed as the ends of the earth by all but craft beer cognoscenti. Laura spent 13 years with the humanitarian aid agency Mercy Corps as program manager for Latin America and as communications director. She joined Travel Portland in 2009. She is delighted to help shine a light on Portland's expansive natural wonders, diverse community of makers, exuberant dining scene – and its craft beer!
Renee has been focused on the China market since 2000, with a specialty in understanding and selling to the Chinese consumer. She has worked as a brand owner, retail operator, consumer researcher, public relations specialist and market entry strategist in China
Renee Hartmann is co-founder of China Luxury Advisors, a boutique consultancy that helps brands develop China-related strategies, ranging from market entry to social media to attracting, converting, and retaining Chinese tourists. CLA has advised brands such as Bergdorf Goodman, El Corte Ingles, Taubman Centers, Ermenegildo Zegna, TUMI and others on their global Chinese consumer strategy to attract, retain and convert Chinese tourists.
Renee holds a BBA from Emory University’s Goizueta School of Business, and an MBA from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and sits on Fuqua’s East Asia Advisory Board. She holds the Chartered Financial Analyst designation, and was named one of CNN’s “Top 20 People to Watch in Shanghai” in 2010. Renee has operated and lived in China for more than twelve years and speaks Mandarin.
Jessica Herrera was born and raised in El Paso, Texas and earned her Bachelor's degree in Government from the University of Texas at Austin and her Master's degree in Business Administration with a concentration in International Business from the University of Texas at El Paso. Jessica has more than ten years of economic development experience including expertise on business recruitment, retention and expansion efforts, small business development, real estate and retail recruitment strategies, and successful marketing and communication initiatives. As the Director for the City of El Paso’s Economic & International Development Department, she works to build and strengthen public private partnerships to rebuild key assets of the city and help create an environment that supports a vibrant regional economy.
Victor Hoskins became the Arlington Economic Development (AED) Director in 2015 and is most known for leading the team that successfully attracted Amazon HQ2 to Arlington County, VA, a deal that will bring 25,000 jobs and more than $2.5 billion investment. Under Mr. Hoskins’ leadership, the County has successfully implemented an Innovation Strategy that has moved it toward technology and private sector commercialization. Other recent successes include Nestlé, Applied Predictive Technologies, Deloitte, and Phone2Action. Previously, Mr. Hoskins worked in private real estate investment on Wall Street. Moreover, he served as Deputy Mayor of Economic Development for the District of Columbia, during which time he turned around the economy of the District with projects like The Wharf and City Center. During his career his work has resulted in almost 280,000 jobs, and he has lead the teams that negotiated more than 700 major business deals resulting in billions in private investment. He holds a Master’s degree in City Planning from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a BA with Honors from Dartmouth College.
Guðrið Højgaard is the Director of Visit Faroe Islands, the official tourist board of the Faroe Islands. With an MBA in International Marketing and Communication from Copenhagen Business School, Guðrið Højgaard has vast experience in the tourism industry, having worked as marketing director for Visit Stockholm and marketing manager for Visit Denmark in Sweden.
In 2012 she moved back to her native islands after 20 years abroad and took up the position of Director of Visit Faroe Islands where her main task is, quite simply, to put the Faroe Islands on the world map as a must-see tourist destination. In recognition of her achievements so far in leading her small team to develop a successful new marketing strategy for Faroese tourism, Guðrið Højgaard received the 2016 Public Leader of the Year award. Also
Visit Faroe Islands has won several international marketing awards like Golden Lions in Cannes, Clio Awards, Epica Awards and World Media Awards.
In 2019 Guðrið is on the Politico 28 list over people likely to be “shaping, shaking and stirring Europe in 2019”, the first ever tourism director on the list.
From 2018 Guðrið is also director for the internal tourism development on the islands.
Mr. Hunden and his Chicago-based firm offer extensive experience in the economics of placemaking, primarily via transformative real estate projects. He has provided economic development, market and financial feasibility, impact, developer selection and planning expertise for more than 600 projects and studies over the past 20+ years, totaling more than $4 billion in developed real estate. The firm completes approximately 60 assignments per year with its 12-person professional staff. Hunden’s background in economic, real estate and tourism development combine to make him a unique resource for communities looking to develop their destinations and projects in a viable, transformative and sustainable way.
As Chief Advocacy Officer, Jack Johnson manages the overall public policy operations at Destinations International including member advocacy education and training, development of destination tools and best practices, coalition work with peer organizations, industry research and related public affairs activities.
Johnson brings unrivaled experience developing innovative strategies, policy solutions and civic consensus for government, not-for-profits and small businesses. During his previous tenure with Choose Chicago, Johnson oversaw the public policy, research, membership and strategic partnership efforts. He played a leading role in the extensive reforms of the McCormick Place Convention Center and the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau, resulting in a new convention center operating model with both a travel industry and a citywide civic perspective. Johnson was integrally involved in the merger of the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau and the Chicago Office of Tourism, resulting in maximizing their resources, unifying the message and embedding the organization into the city’s economic development strategy.
Kian Kamas serves as Chief of Economic Development for Mayor G.T. Bynum and the City of Tulsa. In this role she is responsible for directly managing a team of ten staff who focus on managing and developing tools and programs crucial to successful economic development, and supporting existing industry, new businesses, and developers seeking to invest in Tulsa. In addition to this, she is responsible for oversight of the Development Services Department and the Executive Directors of the Tulsa Parking Authority and Downtown Coordinating Council. Prior to joining the Mayor’s team in August 2017, Ms. Kamas served as Vice President of Economic Development for the Tulsa Regional Chamber where she led new business attraction efforts for the region. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from the University of Oklahoma, a Master’s Degree in Comparative Public Policy from the University of Edinburgh, and completed the University of Oklahoma’s Economic Development Institute. Ms. Kamas is a founding member of the Tulsa Honor Academy Board of Directors and served as Chair for two terms; she also serves on the Tulsa City County Board of Health and recently completed two terms as Chair. She is a self-admitted Tulsa fanatic and prides herself in cooking up crazy ideas and convincing other members of the Mayor’s team to join her in their implementation.
Kerri Verbeke Kapich is the COO for the San Diego Tourism Authority, one of the nation’s leading destination marketing organizations. The SDTA represents over 900 hospitality organizations and serves as the San Diego region’s tourism marketing engine.
Kapich is a frequent guest speaker at industry conferences nationwide as well as a guest lecturer at the San Diego State University School of Hospitality. In 2001, she was named as one of the “Top 100 Marketers” in the nation by Advertising Age magazine and is the recipient of numerous marketing, advertising and tourism awards including San Diego Business Journal Women Who Mean Business Finalist, San Diego Daily Transcript “Women of Influence” Recognition, San Diego County Hotel-Motel Association Gold Key “Allied Person of the Year” Award, and Multi-Cultural Conventions Services Network “Women In Tourism & Hospitality” Honors.
In 1997, Kapich joined the San Diego Tourism Authority where she has been responsible for strategic planning, brand management, community engagement and partnership development. She is the driving force behind the SDTA’s integrated marketing program including major initiatives such as the National Geographic “World’s Smart Cities” San Diego documentary.
Kapich currently serves on the Visit California Marketing Advisory Board. She is a member of the Travel Industry of America, Destination Marketing Association International. Kapich also is a board member of the Friends of Balboa Park and graduate of the LEAD Influence San Diego class of 2017.
A San Diego native, Kapich was featured as one of the “50 People to Watch” by San Diego Magazine. She is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Tom Kiely currently serves as President and CEO of the West Hollywood Travel + Tourism Board, the city’s official marketing organization, a position he has held since 2017. In this role, Tom oversees the organization’s efforts to promote West Hollywood, California as a first-choice visitor destination in the heart of Los Angeles. Previously, Tom spent six years as Executive Vice President, Tourism with the San Francisco Travel Association. In that role, Tom coordinated all sales efforts to attract leisure visitors to San Francisco from both the USA and international markets. His 30-year career in the travel and tourism industry includes executive management roles with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Universal Studios Hollywood, Monte Carlo Resort and Casino in Las Vegas and Atlantis the Palm Resort in Dubai.
Located at the base of the Hollywood Hills and adjacent to Beverly Hills, West Hollywood is a creative and progressive city that embodies the quintessential L.A. lifestyle. West Hollywood is home to 18 hotels and comprised of three main districts: the world-famous Sunset Strip with unparalleled nightlife, eclectic and LGBTQ-friendly Santa Monica Boulevard, and the Design District known for its sought-after shopping and dining.
Tom is on the board of the U.S. Travel Association, California Travel Association and IGLTA and is a key figure in travel and tourism in California.
Megan Knott is Director of Tourism Kingston and Kingston Accommodation Partners.
Megan has always called Kingston home, and graduated from Queen's University with a B.A and an MBA from Cape Breton University in Community Economic Development.
Megan has an extensive background in business development and marketing and currently markets Kingston as an all season destination.
She is a proud mom to two beautiful girls and a community champion for living the Kingston brand ‘ Fresh Made Daily’.
John Lambeth, attorney and Civitas’ President & CEO, specializes in developing unique funding strategies for tourism and travel promotion. He has over twenty years of experience working with destination marketing organizations and state travel offices. Whether adopting enabling legislation, building support among businesses and electeds, or guiding the formation process, Mr. Lambeth is the expert in tourism district creation. He has assisted in over 300 improvement districts, including 177 tourism focused districts, and helped create the first property-based improvement districts in California.
The primary author of the Property and Business Improvement District Law of 1994, Mr. Lambeth also wrote legislation for several states and assisted with legislation in El Salvador and Brazil. He was instrumental in the drafting and adoption of California’s AB 483 to protect DMO funding for the travel industry.
Mr. Lambeth is a prominent speaker on tourism districts. Visit England, the City of Maringa, Brazil, ISHAE, DMAI, CalTravel, Destinations International, US Travel, and the Association of Town & City Management in Ballymena, Ireland are among the organizations for which he has given presentations, and he addressed the 10th Annual BID gathering in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Featured in Forbes for his efforts to transform marketing funding models, Mr. Lambeth also became the 2014 recipient of the Cal Travel Promotion and Advancement of Tourism Award. He and his firm have been recognized as national leaders in the development and implementation of revolutionary financing mechanisms for destination management.
Kelly has more than 20 years of public relations, marketing and brand development experience, including work for some of the world’s leading consumer and business-to-business brands.
Hired by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation in 2012 to build a new business climate marketing capability for the state, Kelly has worked with statewide economic development partners to expand perceptions of Wisconsin to include an understanding of and preference for the unmatched opportunities the state offers for business, career and personal success.
Kelly holds a bachelor’s degree in English and linguistics and a master’s degree in English with a linguistics concentration from UW−Milwaukee; as well as a master’s degree from Oklahoma City University in mass communications.
Claus Lønborg has been managing director for Copenhagen Capacity since 2011. Copenhagen Capacity is the official inward investment agency for the “Greater Copenhagen” metropolitan region. They advise foreign companies and investors on establishing, expanding and retaining their activities in the region. Further to this consultancy role, Copenhagen Capacity is also active in developing the regional attractiveness for foreign investors through a number of projects and activities ranging from cluster development to talent attraction.
Prior to his job with Copenhagen Capacity, Claus spent 4½ years in Shanghai, setting up and leading an innovation center to advice Danish companies on research and high tech collaboration with Chinese companies, organisations and universities and to provide general establishment services for knowledge based Danish enterprises.
Most of Claus’ career is however from the private sector, where he had held international sales and marketing positions Rockwool, Arla Foods, Maersk and IBM. Through these jobs, Claus has built his international experience from activities and responsibility areas spanning across America, Europa and Asia.
Claus holds a masters degree in International marketing and has supplemented his education with training programs from IMD, INSEAD. He is married and has 4 children.
Jason is a research, communications and reputation strategist with 15 years' global experience providing strategic council to public, private and non-profit clients regarding their reputation strategies, competitive positioning, stakeholder engagement, marketing and communications. Jason consults with clients on their reputation measurement and evaluation programs, and how they can optimise their marketing and communications programming for the greatest reputational impact.
Doug is a born and raised Edmontonian who is currently the Director of Strategic Planning and Events for Edmonton Tourism. He leads the sport and cultural event attraction group and manages Tourism’s internal strategic planning to establish and promote Edmonton’s position nationally and internationally. He has previously been a partner with a B2B marketing firm and has worked with various sports organizations. On the side you’ll find him broadcasting university and international sport and still trying to be an athlete himself.
Andrew Nelson is director of editorial projects for National Geographic Travel and has worked or collaborated with NGT for 15 years. His most recent story, a feature on Laos, appeared in the October-November issue. His team's multi-platform production with partner Tourism New Zealand was named one of the "10 Best Branded Partnerships in 2017" by Ad Age. Nelson is also twice winner of the Lowell Thomas Award and his work has appeared in outlets such as Salon, the New York Times and San Francisco Magazine. He is also an educator and served as a visiting professor at Loyola University New Orleans teaching social media, journalism and travel writing. Nelson feels passionately about instilling young writers with an appreciation of travel, culture and place.
As a co-founder of the 1990s award-winning computer gaming company CyberFlix, he built the first digitally navigable model of the Titanic. Mac Home Journal named Titanic: Adventure Out of Time “Game of the Year." He also served as a senior producer for Britannica.com in San Francisco, however Andrew's most satisfying accomplishment was restoring an old adobe near Marfa, Texas, in the Big Bend of the Rio Grande. A graduate of Syracuse University, he received a masters from the University of Missouri's School of Journalism. He lives in Washington, DC.
Stephanie Pace Brown is the President and CEO of Explore Asheville, leading a team of 27 to attract overnight visitors to Buncombe County, North Carolina. During her tenure, tourism promotion funding increased 250 percent and the DMO was established as an independent non-profit. While serving Alexandria, Virginia in the same capacity, membership increased 40 percent, and visitor spending in the city doubled the growth rate of surrounding municipalities.
Explore Asheville, on behalf of theBuncombe County Tourism Development Authority, manages a grant program that awards more than $6 million annually to community projects that are enjoyed by the local community and attract visitors to the destination.
Brown directed marketing and public affairs for Mount Vernon, the Home of George Washington, including advertising, media relations, special events and group sales. She has extensive experience in tourism-related marketing and economic research having worked as Research Manager for the Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism and as Director of CustomerResearch for The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
She is the immediate past chair of the Destinations International Foundation and has served on the US TravelAssociation Board of Directors. She is on the executive committees of the NorthCarolina Travel and Tourism Coalition, the Asheville Independent RestaurantAssociation, the Asheville Riverfront Redevelopment Commission, and is a member of the North Carolina Travel and Tourism Board and the Asheville Regional Airport Authority.
Steven Pedigo is an expert in economic and urban development, city strategy and management, and placemaking. Steven has advised and collaborated with more than 50 cities, universities, developers, nonprofits, and Fortune 500 companies across the globe to build more creative, innovative, and inclusive communities.
Steven is the director of the LBJ Urban Lab Initiative and professor of practice at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. He is also a vice president for strategy at Resonance Consultancy. Steven was a clinical professor at the NYU Schack Institute Real Estate.
Steven’s city clients include New York, Jerusalem, Vancouver, Dallas, Washington, D.C., Brisbane, the Yukon, Tulsa, Austin, Portland, Newark, San Diego-Tijuana, Miami, Sao Paulo, Monterrey, Mexico City, and many others. His corporate clients include BMW, Converse, Starwood Hotels, Philips, Cirque du Soleil, Audi, Pinewood Studios, Zappos, EDENS, Kraft, among others.
Steven holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin and graduate degrees from the H. John Heinz III School for Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Jenny Peters has covered the travel, entertainment and lifestyle worlds as a freelance journalist for many years. Her credits include writing on travel, restaurants, wine and spirits, film, celebrities, events and parties, design and architecture, beauty, spas, golf, automobiles and fashion for USA Today, National Geographic Traveler, New York Lifestyles Magazine, AARP.com, Variety, New York Magazine, Bask Magazine, the Los Angeles Daily News and many other domestic and international publications, websites and wire services. She was the editor in chief of Brentwood/Distinctive Living magazines (the Southern California luxury lifestyle magazines), and held the same post for Scene magazine. Before she became a full-time freelance writer, Peters was a manuscript editor at Random House Trade Publishing, working with authors ranging from Woody Allen to Carl Sagan. She is a founding and voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, who present the Critics’ Choice Awards every January honoring the previous year’s finest in cinematic achievement.
Matt Pivarnik is CEO of the Greater Topeka Partnership, a collaborative organization created in 2017 that includes GO Topeka Economic Development, Visit Topeka, Downtown Topeka Inc., the Greater Topeka Chamber, FORGE Young Professionals and other community development organizations.
Topeka, Kansas is experiencing a regional renaissance. Matt moved to Topeka from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he served the Tulsa Regional Chamber, a partnership organization focused on placemaking, economic development and tourism.
Kristian’s role at the New Orleans Visitor & Convention Bureau enables him to focus on the strategic direction and messaging of the New Orleans tourism industry. He creates and oversees the implementation of public relations and communications strategies to brand New Orleans as the nation's premier business and leisure destination and is responsible for positioning the NOCVB as one of the top CVBs in the country. He supports the president and CEO as a spokesperson for the tourism industry on all levels, supervises the day-to-day operations and management of the communications staff and manage activities of outside CVB partners.
Prior to joining the NOCVB I 2015, Kristian was with the New Orleans-based Peter A. Mayer Advertising, Louisiana's largest full-service advertising, public relations and marketing agency, He and his team serviced approximately 20 accounts per month ranging all categories including Emerald Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau, GE Capital, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Louisiana, Hancock/Whitney Bank, The National World War II Museum and the Louisiana Office of Tourism, among others.
He has held numerous leadership positions in the city and region, including serving on the Host Committee for Super Bowl XLVII, serving on the city's team of BP oil spill communications specialists, and working with key city and state officials on Louisiana's recovery efforts post-Hurricane Katrina and Rita. Sonnier began his career as a public relations manager at the Resort at Squaw Creek in California.
Tourism is a $6.47 billion industry for New Orleans, employing more than 80,000 people and attracting 9.28 million visitors annually.
Jason Thorne is a professional planner who leads the Planning and Economic Development Department at the City of Hamilton, Canada. He oversees a team of 800 staff working across multiple portfolios including planning, building, development engineering, transportation planning, parking, arts, culture and economic development. Best known historically as Canada’s industrial powerhouse, Jason and his team have helped to guide an urban renaissance in Hamilton that has gained national and international attention.
Born and raised in Hamilton, Jason has been working in planning and community development his entire career. As a Manager with the Ontario Growth Secretariat, Jason was one of the key architects of the Province of Ontario’s Places To Grow initiative. Recognized with national planning awards from both the Canadian Institute of Planners and the American Planning Association, the Places To Grow initiative transformed the regional planning framework for the Toronto-centred Greater Golden Horseshoe Region.
As Director of Policy and Planning for Metrolinx, Jason was one of the lead authors of the Big Move, the regional transportation plan for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.
Jason also worked as a planning consultant for communities across Canada and in Africa and Latin America as a Partner and Principal with the Toronto-based planning, architecture and design firm planningAlliance.
Jason has also worked for a wide range of non-governmental organizations including the Bay Area Restoration Council, Bruce Trail Association and Coalition on the Niagara Escarpment.
Jason is a passionate advocate of community-based planning, sustainable and inclusive development, and the creation of complete, vibrant cities. Most importantly, he is a proud Hamiltonian who is excited to be back working in his hometown.
Doug Warner has spent over 30 years in economic, trade and tourism development, mostly in the Charleston, South Carolina, community. He also has experience in non-profit management, fundraising, and real estate development. His area of expertise is community building and branding. A former U.S. Army officer, he was deployed to the Middle East during Operation Desert Storm and represented the U.S. Army at NATO in 1992. He is a licensed auctioneer and provides pro bono services to more than thirty non-profit organizations each year, raising more than $57 million in support of their missions. He is a graduate of Presbyterian College and The Citadel. Doug and his husband, Truman Smith, live in Charleston.
Scott White is the President & CEO of the Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau. The Greater Palm Springs CVB is the tourism sales and marketing organization for the Coachella Valley. Tourism attracts over 13 million visitors and generates over $7 billion annually to the local economy. In 2016, the CVB launched the Destination Development Plan with a goal to attract over 16 million visitors by 2026.
White came to the CVB in 2010 following four years as the Executive Director of the San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau and eight years at the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau. He began his hospitality career in Monterey, California in the hotel industry, including nine years with Renaissance Hotels.
Scott serves on the Governing Board for the Desert Regional Medical Center, Past Chairman of the California Travel Association and serves on the Board of Trustees for the California Travel Political Action Committee. He is a member of the Board of Directors of Destinations International and serves on the Chairman’s Circle of the U.S. Travel Association.
He is a native of California and is married to Rachel. When not working, he likes to be outdoors golfing, hiking or at home in his personal oasis. Scott is in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and sponsors his little brother Joshua. His favorite quote: “In the midst of chaos lies creativity.”
Elisabeth joined the staff of the San Francisco Travel Association in February 2015. She heads up the department of Global Media Relations and oversees 13 international PR representation offices. She is in charge of multi-channel PR campaigns, international media missions, the organization of media familiarization trips and manages relations with key travel and lifestyle media in the U.S. and overseas with the goal to increase media coverage of San Francisco as a prime tourist destination. Born, raised and educated in Austria, France and the UK and relocated to San Francisco in 2013, her background in the communications industry spans over 25 years, both in Europe and the United States.
Ernest Wooden Jr. took the helm of the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board (L.A. Tourism) in January 2013 to oversee the global brand marketing and meetings and convention sales strategy.
As President & Chief Executive Officer of L.A. Tourism, Wooden is responsible for ensuring the achievement of the mission of the city’s official tourism marketing organization, which is to advance the prosperity of the Los Angeles visitor economy and the livelihoods which depend on it. This mission is fulfilled by marketing and promoting Los Angeles as the premier site for leisure travel, meetings and conventions to the principle segments of both the domestic and international consumer and travel trade. In addition to the staff at the primary office in Los Angeles, Wooden directs the activities of L.A. Tourism’s international offices in London, Sydney, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu as well as representatives in Japan, Germany, France, South Korea, Scandinavia, India and the Middle East. His additional responsibilities include oversight of the exclusive contract to market international air service and promote route development for Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) as well as the Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission (LASEC).
Under Wooden’s leadership, Los Angeles has enjoyed record-breaking visitation, welcoming 50 million visitors from around the globe in 2018. As a global gateway for the United States, Los Angeles enjoys the second highest share of overseas visitors to the country. Tourism is a leading industry in Los Angeles, supporting 547,000 jobs within the Leisure & Hospitality sector, contributing more than $24 billion in visitor spending to the local economy and generating $35 billion in local economic impact.