Speaker Information

Tuesday, September 14

Chelsea Ruby

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, and their two children.

George Zimmermann

George Zimmermann brings more than two 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 he 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.  He was elected as Chair of the Council four times.

George has consulted with and/or presented to the state tourism offices in Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming, as well as convention bureaus in Asheville, North Carolina; Lake Geneva and Green Bay, Wisconsin; the Poconos, Chester County and York, Pennsylvania.  In 2014, he led the effort to create the National Council of State Tourism Directors Alumni Group and was elected the group’s first chair.

Before his work in tourism, George spent more than a decade in all phases of broadcasting, including serving as the Statehouse Bureau Chief for the Ohio Public Radio/Public Television Statehouse Bureau.  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.

TJ Fletcher

TJ has worked with destinations across the southeast for 10 years developing strong relationships and creative marketing solutions that drive long-term economic impact for communities.  As Director of Destination Strategy and Business Development, he leads the team on marketing strategy and community collaboration to elevate destination brands. TJ has served as a board member for the Southeast Tourism Society and currently leads top destination brands including South Carolina’s Hammock Coast, Visit Valdosta, and Charleston WV, in addition to numerous digital co-ops offered by West Virginia Tourism.

Hannah Chute

Hannah has over five years of experience in the digital ad world starting out as a marketing expert at Facebook. As a Media Director at Madden Media, she is passionate about data-driven solutions that optimize towards machine learning and smart campaigns. She works with a multitude of vendors and demand-side platforms on a daily basis so data privacy and user protection is at the core of the work she does. Her media expertise has led to award-winning campaigns for our top brands including Visit Tampa Bay, Discover Atlanta, Traverse City, Visit Carmel, and Discover Crystal River.

Maggie Parsons

Maggie Parsons serves as a marketing specialist for agritourism for West Virginia Department of Agriculture. Maggie was born and raised on a farm in Putnam County. Attending University of Kentucky’s Agriculture Communication program, she learned ways to market for small farms and has found her passion helping farmers succeed. She has devoted her entire career to agriculture, specifically agritourism, and trying to further the industry in West Virginia. She hopes to one day look back and see a state that pushes agritourism in their marketing strategy to attract tourists to West Virginia’s natural beauty.

Danny Twilley

Dr. Danny Twilley is the Assistant Dean for the Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative. By utilizing West Virginia University’s intellectual and social capital, Danny focuses on growing the state’s outdoor economy to make West Virginia a more desirable place to live, work, and play by leveraging the state’s expansive outdoor recreation assets. To do so, he leads initiatives that focus on talent attraction and retention, such as the Ascend WV Remote Worker Program, outdoor recreation infrastructure enhancement, asset development, business and workforce development, and research to tell the story of outdoor recreation in the state. He approaches this work by engaging with communities and facilitating academic collaborations across the University, state and local governments, outdoor industry, and related groups.

Dr. Twilley received his B.S. from Salisbury University, and his M.S. and Ph.D. from Ohio University. Prior to joining WVU, he spent 13 years as a faculty member in Ohio University’s Recreation and Sport Pedagogy Department where he served as a Professor of Instruction and Assistant Professor in the Recreation, Parks, and Leisure Studies Program. He was the Director of the University’s Ecotourism Certificate, Interim Program Coordinator, Coordinator of the Outdoor Skill Development Program, and led education abroad programs for 7 years to places such as Costa Rica and the Balkans. In addition to his academic career, he has worked for organizations such as Outward Bound, Project Adventure, Sun River Recreation Department, and the Appalachian Mountain Club. Safe to say, Danny has wasted no time on using his knowledge to improve the world around him through outdoor recreation and community.

Danny recharges his vision by connecting with nature through whitewater kayaking, mountain biking, climbing, and now that he’s back in West Virginia, skiing!

Richard Edwards

Rich Edwards is the Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Coordinator for the Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative. Before joining the team, Rich worked for 21 years at the International Mountain Biking Association as the IMBA Trail Solutions Director of Community Engagement and Education. Rich has gained quite the reputation in the trail building community and is known for the care and effort he places into design, with special attention to sustainability and working with the land, not against it. Rich has gathered this knowledge across time and space, traveling over 33 U.S. states and eight countries to build his understanding of trail building, mountain biking land management, and techniques. He’s brought this knowledge, experience, and creativity with him as he seeks to reimagine trails in West Virginia that will shape our communities for years to come.

Chris Cavanaugh

Cavanaugh has worked as a consultant for the last 17 years with urban and rural destinations of all sizes and many attractions, especially historic, natural, and cultural sites. He’s a tourism policy nerd who combines a love of tourism strategic planning, marketing, and research into forward-thinking recommendations for his clients, Prior to founding Magellan Strategy Group, Cavanaugh served as vice president of marketing for The Biltmore Company in Asheville, NC for nearly 10 years. He served on North Carolina’s travel and tourism board from 2003 to 2012 and is a past chairman of the board. Cavanaugh is also past chairman of the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, which oversees the work of the Explore Asheville CVB and he served as interim CEO for Explore Asheville in 2020. Prior to his work in tourism, he had a career in consumer packaged goods marketing.

Angie Cox | @thelovelyescapist

Angie Cox is a 28-year old American photographer, adventure seeker and travel blogger for The Lovely Escapist. Angie’s love affair with travel began at the age of six when her family took their first strip to Europe, and it has not stopped since. Over the years, she has traveled to 6 continents and more than 30 countries. Cox created The Lovely Escapist blog to provide travel inspiration and information for adventurous souls!

Kate Morgan

Kate Morgan is a freelance journalist based near Philadelphia. Her work on science, travel, adventure, and good food and the people who grow it has appeared in USA Today, Popular Science, The Washington Post, Harper’s Bazaar, Woman’s Day, Saveur, and many others. Kate loves to ski, kayak, hike, and climb, and is always looking for a new adventure.

Wednesday, September 15

Doug Lansky

After 20 years as a travel journalist, editor and author contributing to such publications as The Guardian, Lonely Planet and Skift, Doug has given acclaimed lectures at nearly 100 universities, given two TEDx Talks, presented at National Geographic Headquarters, for the United Nations World’s Tourism Organization, at Google Travel, Booking.com, Amadeus, ITB Berlin and for over 100 destinations around the world, from Singapore to South Dakota, Finland to Florida, introducing audiences to new insights and smart tourism concepts.

Steve Chandler

Steve entered the world of marketing and branding through stints at large and small branding agencies. Steve’s experience in the branding of communities began when he was President of a national destination branding consulting firm, there he helped craft and manage the process of community branding for numerous destinations, cities and communities. Always one to evolve as required, his “digital make-over” occurred in 2009 (more than just switching from a Blackberry to an iPhone).

Today, Steve applies his classic marketing, destination branding and digital strategy backgrounds to Chandlerthinks, a strategic place marketing and branding firm. His experience in similar projects for more than 100 destinations gives him the careful finesse needed to navigate and lead important local stakeholders. He leads the brand strategy development, as well as the brand creative direction. Some of his more recent place branding project work can be seen in what is taking shape in communities such as: Salisbury-Rowan County, North Carolina; Jefferson, Wisconsin; Macon, Georgia; Kentucky Lake, Kentucky; Seguin, Texas; Ennis, Texas; Lake City, South Carolina; Village of Northfield, Illinois; LaFourche Parish, Louisiana and many more.

Antonio Neves

Antonio is the author of four books including, Stop Living On Autopilot: Take Responsibility for Your Life and Rediscover a Bolder, Happier You (Penguin Random House). On his top self-improvement podcast The Best Thing, Antonio talks with leaders about the “best thing” to happen to them that would never appear on a resume.

Antonio’s speaking audiences over the years have included: Google, Amazon, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Visa, Booking.com, Credit Union National Association (CUNA), Stanford University and scores more.

For over 10 years, Antonio worked as a correspondent in New York City with top television networks including NBC, PBS and BET Networks.

Antonio has been featured on the TODAY Show and his advice and opinions regularly appear in Inc.com, Thrive Global, TheMuse.com, and more.

Antonio is a graduate of Western Michigan University and holds a Masters degree from Columbia University.

Judy Randall

Judy is a researcher who has spent over 25 years capturing the voice of the customer. She is president/CEO of Randall Travel Marketing, Inc., a company that focuses solely on research for the travel and tourism industry.

She has conducted comprehensive visitor research studies for over 150 small, medium and large destinations. Judy, along with Dr. Larry Gustke, co-author the annual Top Ten Trends in Travel and Tourism (published annually since 1995).

Judy is one of the top speakers in the travel industry and has spoken at numerous U.S. and international travel conferences.

Now in “semi-retirement” Judy is still working and speaking between world travels.

Leon Aliski

Leon Aliski has served as Senior Project Manager for more than 100 of Dean Runyan Associates’ impact analyses as well as for many other 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 PhD in mythological studies from Pacifica Graduate Institute in 2019.

Governor Jim Justice

Governor Justice is a native of Raleigh County, West Virginia. After graduating from high school, he attended Greenbrier Military School and then earned both his bachelor’s degree and his M.B.A. from Marshall University. He joined his family’s agriculture business in 1976, and in 1977 founded Bluestone Farms (now Justice Family Farms, LLC) in Monroe County, growing it into the leading producer of grain on the East Coast. During that time, he also developed Stoney Brook Plantation, a 15,000-acre hunting and fishing preserve in Monroe County. In 1993, Justice became the president of Bluestone Industries and Bluestone Coal Corporation. Over the next two decades, he led the expansion of multiple businesses, becoming president and chief executive officer of more than 100 companies, including the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs. He is a longtime supporter of a range of youth programs in southern West Virginia. Justice was elected West Virginia’s 36th governor in November 2015.

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