Meet The Speakers

Each year, the Governor’s Conference on Tourism provides an opportunity for tourism industry partners to come together to find new and innovative ways to promote West Virginia as a top-tier vacation destination. Join us in Huntington, WV to hear from this lineup of travel and marketing experts.

Leon Aliski

Dean Runyan Associates

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Leon Aliski serves as Senior Project Manager for Dean Runyan Associate’s statewide, region, and county travel impact reporting for West Virginia. He also has conducted numerous market research, recreation planning, and feasibility study projects. He specializes in regional economic analysis and has expertise with input/output models and other advanced economic analysis methodologies.

Leon holds a Master of Science degree in economics from Oregon State University and a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration and economics from Humboldt State University. Additionally, Leon obtained a Ph.D. in mythological studies from Pacifica Graduate Institute in 2019.

Ben Amend

Digital Relativity

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Ben is a locally and nationally awarded photographer and cinematographer. He is a native West Virginian with a love of the outdoors. Ben graduated from WVU with a BFA in multimedia, focusing on fine arts photography. At Digital Relativity, he is responsible for photography, cinematography, animation, and post-processing.

Jason Armstrong


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Jason is one half of @sheenaandjason and has renovated two vintage RVs and travels the US with Sheena and his two poodle sons, Riley and Gus. He’s FAA licensed drone operator and enjoys capturing photos of the US from the sky, self-taught RV renovator, natural navigator and a lover of the outdoors.

Sean Bayliss

International Tourism Resources Group

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Sean (pronounced Seen) is the President of the International Tourism Resources Group (ITRG). A company focused on Education, Promotion, and Development of Inbound Tourism into the United States. In this role, he looks to further knowledge and understanding of US companies and Organizations on how to successfully enter and work with the International Tourism Industry.

Currently, ITRG works with Brand USA on product development and education initiatives; US Travel developing their Marketing and Technology Pavilion at IPW; and business development for Papillon Helicopters in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Before setting up his own company, Sean held key positions with many industry leaders in the Inbound Tourism Industry: GTA Travel, AlliedTPro, FTI (meeting Point USA), Bonotel Exclusive Travel, and American Tours International. Sean held a diverse array of responsibilities in these roles covering product development; sales and marketing in groups and meetings; escorted tours; and FIT fields.

Sean has held positions on many industry boards including IITA, US Travel, and IPW advisory. He was also the recipient of The Stanley Fisher Award for contributions to tourism and is a 3-time Chairman’s Circle Honoree.

A native of the United Kingdom, Sean moved to the United States in 1991 to pursue his career in tourism, after many years working in destination services in Europe.

Joe Boffo

Rustic Ravines

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Joe Boffo co-owns and operates Rustic Ravines with Paul and Christy Liimatta. Rustic Ravines offers cabin rentals in Genoa, WV, situated on 300 acres of wooded paradise and are surrounded by 50,000 acres of private and public ATV trails. The facilities also host events and include other offerings for guests, including kayaking, archery, fishing, hunting and golf. Prior to opening Rustic Ravines, Joe spent years in sales with several Fortune 500 companies like Ashland Chemical and A. Schulman.

Philip Bowen


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Born and raised in West Virginia, Philip Bowen’s uplifting sound is heavily inspired by his Appalachian roots.

The dynamic singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist began playing the fiddle at the age of four, and his virtuoso skills have become quite popular on TikTok, with over 5.5 million likes and 830k followers on the platform alone. His popularity on the app even propelled him to win TikTok’s Gamers Greatest Talent competition, earning $25k and beating out thousands of other competitors.

Bowen has been writing songs since he was a teenager, but never thought it would be possible to have a career in music. After earning an MBA from the University of Tampa, a friend encouraged him to create an account on TikTok. His fiddle covers and original songs took on a life of their own. He is an accomplished session player with over 100 credits to his name for a wide range of artists including Brandon Davis, Noah Kahan, Spinmont, Styles Haury, and more.

He continues to release his original music, spreading his message of positivity to an audience that has been growing rapidly. He made his debut at the world-famous “Bluebird Café” as a featured performer in May of 2022 and returned to Nashville as a featured performer at 3rd and Lindsley in July of 2022. With guest spots on Ross Golan’s “And the demo is…” and praise from Yahoo, PopMatters, and Atwood Magazine, it’s easy to see why the Nashville Songwriters Association International dubbed this inspirational artist “one to watch.”

Joseph Brouse

West Virginia Economic Development Authority

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Joe Brouse is the Senior Economic Development Representative with the West Virginia Economic Development Authority where he works with the agency’s programs including direct lending, business loan insurance and broadband loan insurance. He has over twenty years lending and economic development experience with such organizations as The New River Gorge Regional Development Authority, Natural Capital Investment Fund, as well as commercial banks. Joe currently serves on the WV Center for Rural Health Loan Committee and also on the board of directors for New River Health Association. He is a graduate of Concord University and currently resides in Beckley.

Michelle Cassidy

Atlas Obscura

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Michelle Cassidy is a writer, editor, and illustrator. As Senior Places Editor at Atlas Obscura, she oversees a database of more than 23,000 unique and offbeat places from around the world, from subterranean cities to miniature crime scenes. Michelle began her career at National Geographic Books, where she worked with explorers, photographers, and scientists to share their stories.

Maggie Delgadillo

Travel + Leisure

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Maggie is a Video Producer across multiple Dotdash Meredith brands, including Travel + Leisure, InStyle, Better Homes & Gardens, and Southern Living. Her experience across content verticals has given her an inside look at the requirements for video success on multiple social platforms. Through her work in the editorial, commercial, and branded content landscape, she has developed her skills and is excited to share some knowledge with workshop participants.

Jodi French-Burr

National Parks Service

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Jodi French-Burr has been sharing stories of natural and cultural history for over 35 years. As an Interpretive Park Ranger with the National Park Service (NPS) since 1987, Jodi uses her skills as an educator, storyteller, naturalist, and historian to help others explore and preserve our nation’s rich heritage.

French-Burr has spent most of her career at New River Gorge National Park and Preserve (NERI) in West Virginia. Much of her work has a base note of outdoor stewardship, as Jodi continues to work as a Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics (LNT) Master Instructor and has done so for over 25 years. Through her work and that of other outdoor stewardship partners, NERI is now recognized as a national Leave No Trace Gold Standard Site.

Pauline Frommer

Frommer Media LLC

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Pauline Frommer is the Co-President of Frommer Media LLC, the company behind Frommer’s Travel Guides and, with her father, founder, and travel legend Arthur Frommer. She’s an award-winning author in her own right and has written countless articles on travel and 15 books. She also co-hosted a nationally syndicated radio show on travel for 20 years, created travel segments for CNN’s Headline News for four years, and is the current host of The Frommer’s Travel Podcast, named as one of the 13 best for travel by the New York Times. You may recognize her from her appearances on the Today Show, Good Morning America, the NBC Evening News, Fox, CNN, MSNBC, and every local news show you can name. Frommer is married to Columbia University professor Mahlon Stewart and is the mother of two very well-traveled daughters.

Katy Hildman

Dotdash Meredith Travel Marketing

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Katy Hildman is the National Travel Director for Dotdash Meredith Travel Marketing which represents leading lifestyle brands such as People, Better Homes & Gardens, Real Simple, Midwest Living as well as the Travel Content Studio. As an industry leader in tourism content marketing, Katy and her team consistently deliver public sector tourism partners best-in-class marketing programs that encompass every media platform—print, digital, mobile, social and video.
By leveraging her 17 years of media experience with roles in advertising, retail, production and sales, Katy has played a key role in some of the country’s most respected tourism campaigns. Clients include West Virginia Tourism, Montana Tourism, Pure Michigan, South Dakota Tourism, Visit Phoenix, North Carolina Tourism, Travel Nevada, and many other DMOs with projects ranging from straight media buys to more custom work such as state travel guides, inspirational pieces, digital native hubs, TV segments and much more.

Sharon Houghton


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Sharon Houghton is the SVP of Sales & Partnerships of Outside Inc. Her entire career has been spent in media within the active lifestyle industry. Armed with nearly 20 years of experience, she is known to have a gift of collaboration, vision, and leadership that inspires her journey both personally & professionally. Her entrepreneurial spirit, combined with her rich experience as a business and media executive is the catalyst to her success. A fast-tracked career built on integrity, accountability, and results. Sharon is an avid runner and swimmer and loves to travel. She lives in Boulder, CO with her husband, Kevin, and two kids, Gunnar (10) and Amelia (7).

Kylee Krizmanic

Dotdash Meredith Travel Marketing

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Kylee Krizmanic is the Editorial Content Director of Dotdash Meredith’s Travel Marketing Content Studio and Midwest Living magazine. In a short five years, Krizmanic and her team have grown the small studio into a travel industry powerhouse with a roster including Pure Michigan, Travel Illinois, Visit California, Visit Phoenix, Montana Tourism, West Virginia Tourism, Travel Nevada and many other DMOs. Her team produces state travel guides, inspiration pieces, native print and digital programs, TV segments, short documentary films and social content packages. The group won a 2020 FOLIO Award for Best New Custom Magazine for its work with the West Virginia Vacation Guide, and in 2021 they were awarded a coveted ESTO Mercury Award for the second time, recognizing West Virginia as the best in printed travel guides. Krizmanic is a past 40 under 40, was included in the 2018 class of FOLIO’s Top Women in Media and was recently named the 2020 Editorial Director of the Year. She previously held positions at Parents and Better Homes & Gardens magazine brands after a handful of years building a national agency portfolio. Kylee spends her free time serving on various non-profit boards and coaching youth sports.

Cree Lawson


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Cree Lawson is a new media pioneer with a focus on early-stage vertical media companies and evolving digital advertising technologies. Cree is best known for starting Travel Ad Network (TAN)–one of the leading Vertical Ad Networks–with less than $500,000 in investment and turning it into the largest travel information audience in the world. Along the way, Travel Ad Network launched the first display ads on and In 2009, TAN Made INC Magazine’s List of 500 Fastest Growing Companies in America” before raising $34 million in venture capital and being sold to a publicly-traded advertising technology company.

Before founding Travel Ad Network, Lawson served in various Management, Sales, Business Development, and Marketing roles at Random House, the Associated Press, Gannett, Time Warner Trade Publisher, and two Internet start-ups. He’s also a nationally-recognized investigative reporter and an academic All-American athlete. His publishing career began in 1994 when, as editor of the college newspaper, he made the Belmont Vision one of the first five college papers published online.

Lawson left the day-to-day management of Travel Ad Network in March 2009 to acquire travel websites and invest in ad technology. He formed Arrivalist in 2012—one of the first companies to measure offline response to online advertising.

Jeffrey Lusk

Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority

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Jeffrey Lusk is currently the Executive Director of the Hatfield McCoy Regional Recreation Authority, the multi-county economic development agency charged with managing the 900-mile Hatfield McCoy Trail System in Southern West Virginia.

Mr. Lusk’s formal education includes a master’s degree in Public Administration from Marshall University and undergraduate degrees from Penn State University and West Virginia University Institute of Technology.

Mr. Lusk currently serves as the Governors appointed Chairman for the West Virginia Tourism Advisory Council and serves as the Chairman of the Board of Directors for Partner Community Capital, a United States Department of Treasury Community Development Financing Institution (CDFI). Mr. Lusk has worked as an economic developer and business financing professional for over 26 years.

Mr. Lusk is a Certified Economic Developer, Certified Community Developer, and has obtained the designation of Economic Development Financing Professional.

James McCloskey


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James McCloskey has 15 years of experience in travel and business development, ranging from startups to publicly traded companies, and has worked at Travelzoo for nearly 10 years.

As a Senior Business Development Manager, James guides partners on marketing strategies and solutions across many categories including destinations, tour operators, cruise lines, transportation, and agency partners. James utilizes insight-driven initiatives to achieve partner objectives focused on generating awareness and driving high-volume conversions.

James is originally from Sydney, Australia, and prior to moving to the U.S. 12 years ago, he worked in various finance roles. He has a bachelor’s degree in Finance and Accounting. He now calls Austin, TX home and enjoys exploring the world with his family, continuing to discover new destinations domestically and abroad.

Sara Meaney

Coraggio Group

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Sara Meaney has 25+ years of leadership experience across public, private, nonprofit and government entities with a finely tuned strategy and growth perspective. Her career is punctuated with a pattern of firsts and a legacy of unprecedented growth, strategic alignment, and high-performing team culture. 

Sara is a Principal consultant with Coraggio Group, headquartered in Portland, Oregon and a Senior Vice President of the firm’s parent company, Miles Partnership. She joined the organization full-time in 2022 to lead Coraggio’s travel and tourism practice.

In 2019, Governor Tony Evers appointed Sara as Wisconsin Tourism Secretary where she led the state’s $22.2 billion industry. During her tenure as secretary, she achieved the state’s first tourism budget increase in over a decade and launched one of the first Offices of Outdoor Recreation in the Midwest. She led the industry through pandemic relief efforts, including the hands-on advocacy for CARES Act funded grant programs for businesses and tourism-adjacent organizations statewide, totaling over $200 million.

Sara began her career working in healthcare marketing and corporate sales training after graduating with a pre-med psychology degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She left the healthcare industry in 2003, serving as Managing Director of Marketing & Communications for a Denver-based privately held investment company with over $1 billion in assets. There she led brand advancement and PR for the parent company while also overseeing the pre-acquisition marketing due diligence for investment targets and the management of post-transaction operating companies’ marketing and communications strategies.

She returned to Milwaukee and in 2009 launched her own company, Comet Branding + PR, a social media and communications strategy firm. After several years of rapid growth, she led Comet through a merger with Hanson Dodge Creative, where Meaney served as Partner and President, focusing the agency’s work primarily in outdoor recreation and active lifestyle consumer products and services. 

Sara joined Milwaukee-based advertising agency BVK in 2013 as Managing Director, where she expanded the earned media practices for the agency and also led agency marketing and development of new service offerings as a member of the executive leadership team. 

Meaney is a Business Journals Forty Under 40 alum and was hailed as one of “20 Executives to Watch in 2020”. In addition to her formal education, she completed executive education programs at Harvard Business School and Kellogg School of Management. Meaney is a frequent keynote speaker and guest lecturer at the university and post-graduate level, having addressed hundreds of audiences of all sizes across North America, Europe and Asia. She and her husband Brian live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with their four children.

Derek Price


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Derek Price’s focus as Director of Business Development for North America at Expedia Group Media Solutions is working with his team to develop and deliver custom-designed digital media campaigns. The team’s strength comes from its deep partnerships and relationships with DMOs, Airlines, Hotels and Attractions, and non-traveler advertisers. Their extensive knowledge of the Expedia Group’s Audience and ecosystem allows them to be able to exceed their partner’s expectations by utilizing the vast network of trusted Expedia travel brands and global points of sale.

Derek has worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years. The last 10 years have been within the online space, much of it at OTAs, including Travelocity, Orbitz, and now Expedia. Derek has previously held roles such as travel product manager, hotel sales director, market management, and media sales at travel marketing companies like Sojern. He has lived and worked in locations from Vermont, Arizona, San Francisco, New York City, Las Vegas, South Florida, and now Maine. When not traveling with his team, Derek splits his time between Ft. Lauderdale and Coastal Maine spending much of his spare time in his kitchen. He graduated from culinary school in 2015 and is a trained Pastry Chef.

Abbey Reifsnyder

Digital Relativity

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Abbey has been working in and around the photography industry for more than 15 years. She earned her BFA from Alfred University with a dual focus in graphic design and photography. After graduating, Abbey found ways to incorporate her love for capturing and creating images into her graphic design career. She became a lead photographer for Charleston Magazine while working with The Manahan Group, but she stepped away from shooting soon after to focus on her role as a creative director. Abbey has recently picked up a camera again, stepping in to photograph while directing and coordinating travel and tourism productions for Digital Relativity.

Chelsea Ruby

Secretary, West Virginia Department of Tourism

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Chelsea Ruby was appointed Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Tourism by West Virginia’s 36th Governor Jim Justice in March 2021. This appointment marked an elevation of the West Virginia Tourism Office to a cabinet-level department, where Ruby served as Tourism Commissioner for four years. Tourism is a pillar of Governor Justice’s administration. As Secretary, Ruby leads efforts to unify and promote the state’s Almost Heaven brand, advance tourism development, and promote the Mountain State to a broader audience, featuring West Virginia as a year-round travel destination to both national and international travelers.

Under Ruby’s leadership, tourism in West Virginia has seen historic success. Growth in traveler spending in West Virginia outpaced the national growth rate and saw a 9.9% increase in just two years. In addition, the Department of Tourism has received numerous marketing and advertising accolades for the Almost Heaven brand campaign, which launched in April 2018, including an ESTO Mercury Award for best broadcast television ad and an Eddie Award for best Custom Content Marketing piece for the 2020 West Virginia Vacation Guide.

Previously, Ruby served as Director of Marketing and Communications for the West Virginia Department of Commerce, where she earned numerous state and regional marketing awards for the department’s successful social media, print publications, and comprehensive public relations and advertising campaigns. She also was a member of then-Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s communications staff and served as executive director of West Virginia’s acclaimed 150th birthday celebration. In 2014, Ruby was named Young Practitioner of the Year by the West Virginia Public Relations Society of America, and in 2015, she was recognized as one of West Virginia’s 40 top young professionals by Generation Next.

Secretary Ruby currently serves as Chair of the board of directors for Travel South USA, the official regional destination marketing organization for the southern United States and serves on Travel South’s media relations and advertising committee. She is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma and lives in Charleston, West Virginia, with her husband Steve, son Robert and daughter Caroline.

Todd Schechter


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Todd currently serves as Sojern’s Senior Sales Director, working with destinations and attractions throughout the Southeast & Mid-Atlantic. This is Todd’s second stint with Sojern as he spent 4 years with the company pre-COVID working with clients across the air, hotel, car rental space, and more. Todd has worked in digital marketing in the travel space since 2004 and has extensive experience helping travel brands grow their marketing footprint through effective digital advertising campaigns. Todd received his B.A. from Georgia State University and resides in Atlanta, GA.

Don Smith

West Virginia Press Association

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Don Smith is executive director of the West Virginia Press Association.

Smith has overseen the reorganization of the WVPA, developing statewide news and regional advertising networks for print and digital advertising, created video and social media news programming for the West Virginia newspaper industry, and worked with the West Virginia Legislature on public notice, public access and Freedom of Information issues.

Smith serves on the advisory board for West Virginia University’s Reed College of Media. He speaks as a consultant on public access, media relations and advertising to media, government, business and non-profit organizations. He is an adjunct professor at WVU and developed the concept for the program at the university.

Prior to joining the WVPA in 2012, Smith worked for 27 years at daily and weekly newspapers in West Virginia. Newspapers under his direction earned General Excellence recognition – the top honor in West Virginia – numerous times. During his management career, he worked as publisher, ad director and editor. Smith started his newspaper career in the editorial department. He is an award-winning columnist, reporter, photographer, and cartoonist. He is a graduate of West Liberty State College in West Liberty, W.Va.

Ennis Smith

West Virginia Department of Tourism

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Ennis Smith serves as the Director of Destination Development for West Virginia Department of Tourism. In this role, she supports tourism businesses and organizations across the state, connecting them with financial incentives, technical assistance, and marketing resources. Ennis has experience in grants management, museum administration, heritage tourism, and qualitative research. She earned a master’s degree from the University of Maryland in Applied Anthropology and a B.A. in Anthropology from Marshall University. In both degree programs, she focused on heritage tourism and museums in her research and courses. Ennis grew up in southern West Virginia and spends her free time in West Virginia’s forests and rivers whenever possible.

Madeline Weinfield

Freelance Journalist

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Madeline Weinfield is a writer and editor based in Washington, DC. Her work has appeared in print and online in The Washington Post, InStyle, Lonely Planet, Thrillist, Garden & Gun, Poets & Writers, Suitcase, Discovery, Edible DC, Fathom, Here Magazine, Yolo Journal, Bustle, and more.

Justin White

Partner Community Capital

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Justin White joined Partner Community Capital (PCAP) in February 2017 as a West Virginia lender. He works with small businesses and entrepreneurs to provide financing that supports triple-bottom impacts in communities across the state.

Before joining PCAP, Justin worked as a commercial lender for a large financial institution. He has experience lending to a range of industries including tourism, hospitality, manufacturing, and professional services.

His passion for the outdoors and conservation led him to move outside of private banking and join the PCAP team to pursue the mission of both economic and environmental vitality in his home state.

He received a B.S. in business administration from West Virginia University.

Jeremy Whitt


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While “media” appears on his business card, Jeremy fancies himself as more of a connections strategist. He spent years developing a process to identify the roles of media channels within the consumer journey. Eventually, he began integrating media, creative, brand planning, PR, and social media into a data-driven collective channel planning approach that has produced several creative and Effie awards. Having made his mark by pioneering the implementation of a unique segmented marketing program for a leading Vegas hotel group, he has more recently applied his trade to the West Virginia Department of Tourism, as well as the tourism offices of Wyoming, Maine, Orlando, Reno, Ocean City MD, and St. Pete/Clearwater. With analytics informing a higher number of media decisions, Jeremy works hard for clients to find balance between meaningful metrics and tactics that can break through.

Emily Wilson-Hauger

Woodlands Development and Lending

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Emily Wilson-Hauger is the Director of Programs & Partnerships at Woodlands Development & Lending, a Community Development Corporation and Community Development Financial Institution based in Elkins, West Virginia. Having joined the Woodlands team in 2015, Emily now supports programs and projects that benefit the communities in Woodlands’ service area: affordable housing, downtown redevelopment, community facilities, community planning, as well as small business lending, and technical assistance. Along with that on-the-ground engagement, in her dual role, Emily also helps foster Woodlands’ relationships with local, state, regional, and national partners to collaborate on broader programs, initiatives, and funding proposals; boost WV’s community development ecosystem; and advocates for increased development resources and policy change.

Emily holds an M.A. in Sustainable International Development from Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management. She is also active in her community, serving as Vice President of the Tucker County Planning Commission and a board member of both the Tucker County Cultural District Authority and Mountain Laurel Learning Cooperative. Emily resides in Canaan Valley, WV with her husband and daughter, Kat.

George Zimmermann

Longwoods International

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George Zimmermann brings three decades of experience in tourism destination marketing and research to the Longwoods team and its clients.

He was the Vice President responsible for Travel Michigan at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation from October 2001 until April 2014. Under his leadership, Travel Michigan and its advertising agency, McCann Detroit, created and launched the award-winning Pure Michigan branding campaign in 2006, a campaign that Forbes ranked among the top ten tourism promotion campaigns worldwide. Initially a regional campaign, Pure Michigan became Michigan’s first significant national advertising campaign starting in 2009. During his tenure, the annual tourism promotion budget rose from $5.7 million to $30 million.
In 2012, the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI) named George one of the “Top 25 Extraordinary Minds in Hospitality Sales and Marketing.” In 2011, the National Council of State Tourism Directors named him State Tourism Director of the Year for his work at Travel Michigan. Prior to joining Travel Michigan, George served as Ohio’s Tourism Director, and was named State Tourism Director of the Year in 1997. He is the only person to have received this honor twice.

George served on the U.S. Department of Commerce Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, the board of directors of the U.S. Travel Association, and the board and executive committee of the National Council of State Tourism Directors (NCSTD). He was elected as chair of the council four times. In 2014, he led the effort to create the NCSTD Alumni Group and was elected the group’s first chair.
George has consulted with and/or presented to the state tourism offices in Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, as well as convention/visitor bureaus in Asheville, North Carolina; Mansfield/Richland County, Ohio; Chester County, the Poconos, State College, and York, Pennsylvania; Lake Geneva and Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Before his work in tourism, George spent more than a decade in all phases of broadcasting, including serving as the Bureau Chief for the Ohio Public Radio/Public Television Statehouse Bureau in Columbus. He was the editor of the situation comedies “The Jeffersons” and “Good Times” in Los Angeles, and he was the technical director for the two pilots of “Austin City Limits” in Texas.
He is the author of three travel-related books and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin.

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