2017 Conference Speakers 

This page includes links to session videos and presentations that have been shared with us. 
Speakers are listed in alphabetical order.

Mark Adams, President & CEO, Gatlinburg CVB
Georgia Tourism Emergency Preparedness

Mark Adams had long served as Director of Sales at the Georgia World Congress Center Authority when he was lured to East Tennessee to serve as CEO/President of the Gatlinburg CVB. Adams had been on the job barely six weeks when in late November 2016, deadly wildfires swept through Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, killing 14 people and damaging or destroying 2,400 buildings and structures. He and his staff have worked strategically in the past year to balance the messaging in the face of tragedy while working to get visitation back up to pre-wildfire levels in a region where the economy depends so heavily on tourism. 

Jennifer Bowen
VP of Destination Development, Augusta CVB
Destination Development

Jennifer Bowen has been with the Augusta CVB for 15 years, most recently as the Vice President of Destination Development.  She also has a background in communications, prior to joining the ACVB she worked in television news as a general assignment reporter and in management for a human resource staffing company.

In the last 8 years, as the VP of Destination Development, Jennifer lead the creation of Destination Blueprint, a strategy to enhance Augusta’s quality of place, she oversees the management of the Augusta Visitor Center, manages Augusta’s Wayfinding System, leads efforts to beautify Augusta’s gateways and corridors, and is the film liaison for Film Augusta, a division within the Augusta CVB.

She is a graduate of Georgia Southern University with a B.A. degree in Communications. She is also a graduate and former board member of Leadership Augusta, a graduate of the Georgia Academy for Economic Development’s Regional Economic & Leadership Development program, and has completed Downtown Development Authority Basic Training through the Fanning Institute of the University of Georgia. 

Levi Brandenburg
Account Executive, redpepper
Social Media Strategy:  The Right Fit for You

In almost a decade in advertising, Levi has worked with all sorts of brands—Cracker Barrel, Mars Petcare, and Georgia Pacific Paper.  In that time, communication channels have continued to innovate, change and proliferate. Levi has a knack for figuring out how best to identify and leverage consumer behaviors in order to harness each channel  in a way that creates brand loyalty.

Cory Cart
Division Manager, Hub
Engaging Influencers to Share Your Authentic Story
Don't be Tempted by PIE:  Components of a Sound PR Plan

As a tourism and hospitality marketing professional, Cory Cart, APR, works with travel media, produces influencer campaigns, and plans crusades for tourism advocacy. Through in-house and agency experiences, Cory’s expertise has benefited Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation Department, New Mexico Tourism Department, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, New Orleans CVB, Louisiana Tourism Promotion Association and others. He currently manages the PR Division of HUB, an integrated communication agency with offices in New Jersey and New Orleans.

Using a relationship-centric approach, Cory secures coverage with travel journalists from across the U.S. and Australia, Holland, Germany, England, Scotland, Japan and Canada from media outlets such as NBC’s Today, BBC-London, Travel + Leisure, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, National Geographic Traveler, and more.
Cory is nationally accredited in public relations, a member of National Speakers Association and was selected 2016 PR Practitioner of the Year by Public Relations Association of Louisiana.

Katie Christof
Senior Digital Media Strategist, GDEcD's Tourism Division
Uncover Your Best Content & Find the Coordinates to a Successful Marketing Strategy

Katie Christof joined the Explore Georgia team in November 2015 as the new Senior Digital Media Strategist for the Georgia Department of Tourism. She has more than seven years of experience in digital marketing, strategy and social media.  Katie holds a Marketing degree from Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business.  

Katie is an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, deployed with the 10th Mountain Division as a communications specialist. She has called Georgia home for more than 20 years and when she’s not working you can find her scuba diving or visiting one of the many local breweries the Southeast has to offer.

Governor Nathan Deal, State of Georgia

Since taking office in 2011, Gov. Nathan Deal has led Georgia to become the No. 1 state in the nation for business for four years in a row - a first in Georgia history - and helped create nearly 600,000 private sector jobs. In the last six years, Georgia’s job growth has outpaced the national average while its population has jumped from 10th to 8th nationally.

Through tax reform, workforce development initiatives and investment in education and infrastructure, the state continues to grow local small businesses and attract top companies from around the world. During Gov. Deal’s tenure, Georgia has become a global destination for companies in a wide range of industries. Under Deal’s leadership, Georgia has produced seven balanced budgets, saved millions of taxpayer dollars by maintaining Georgia’s AAA bond rating and grown the Rainy Day Reserve Fund to more than $2 billion.  Read more...

Chairman Mike Dugan
Senate Committee on Economic Development & Tourism, Georgia State Senate 

State Senator Mike Dugan, a Republican, was elected to the State Senate for Georgia’s 30th District in early 2013
representing portions of Carroll, Douglas and Paulding counties.  Senator Dugan serves as the Chairman of the Senate Economic Development and Tourism Department and also is the Secretary of the Veterans, Military, and Homeland Security, Public Safety and Transportation committees. Sen. Dugan served as a Governor’s Floor Leader from 2015-2016.  Read more...

Debbie Evans
Strategist, Debbie Evans Marketing Communications
Crisis Communications in the Digital World

Debbie Evans is a hospitality industry veteran with more than 20 years of sales, marketing and public relations experience.  Her career has taken her form the floor of Germany’s largest travel trade fair to the top of Spain’s tallest roller coaster.  Debbie has extensive experience in product launch, photo and video direction, collateral development, corporate communications, crisis management and media relations.  Debbie previously served as Six Flags, Inc.’s corporate director of communications providing strategic counsel and oversight of the company’s 39 parks worldwide and got her start in the hospitality industry as an intern at the Georgia Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism.

Nichole Farley
Account Manager, Civitas
Putting the Fun in Funding - A Strategic Funding Plan

Nichole Farley, Account Manager, specializes in stakeholder relations and education on unique funding strategies for tourism and travel promotion. She has 10+ years’ experience in the travel industry, working with destination marketing organizations and state travel offices, including Visit California. Ms. Farley was instrumental in the effort to renew Visit California's statewide tourism district in 2013, that was renewed with 97% support, and Visit California's Dream Big campaign, in 2014, which increased their budget from $50M to $112M.

Introduction to Civitas:
Civitas is the nation’s leading firm in Tourism Improvement Districts. Our team has helped form an unparalleled 85 districts throughout the United States, including San Diego, and Los Angeles; and the first districts in Oregon (Portland), Kansas (Wichita), and Tennessee (Memphis). We have been featured in the past in publications such as Forbes (article attached) and Skift. In 2016, Civitas presented at the CalTravel Summit, DMAI Annual Conference, U.S. Travel's ESTO, Southeast Tourism Society Conference, Texas Travel Industry Association Board Meeting, and a number of State Tourism Conferences such as Ohio, Alaska, Wisconsin and more. TIDs have become an increasingly popular - and important - method of providing stable funding for destination marketing and promotion, tied directly to the lodging industry. Civitas is the expert in tourism district creation: adopting enabling legislation, building support among tourism businesses and elects, and guiding the formation process.

Rich Garcia
Senior Account Director, Miles Partnership
Travel - Optimized

Rich Garcia is responsible for the overall client relationship and business success at Miles Partnership. He works with Georgia to develop and implement marketing strategies, leading programs and product development.  Rich has spent three years with Miles and has more than 12 years of experience growing business for global brands. He holds an M.S. in Marketing from University of Colorado, Denver and a B.S. in Business Administration from Colorado State University.

Ed Helton
Assistant Vice President of Leadership Development, Columbus State University
Foundations of Leadership

Ed Helton is the Assistant Vice President of Leadership Development at Columbus State University. He serves on the President‘s Cabinet and is responsible for internal leadership programs facilitated by the Leadership Institute.


Meggan Hood, Senior Director of Marketing, Jekyll Island Authority
Georgia Tourism Emergency Preparedness

Meggan Hood joined Jekyll Island Authority as Senior Director of Marketing back in 2015. Her past experience in marketing and brand strategy for the corporate headquarters of both Home Depot and American Society helped prepare her to lead both crisis communications and recovery marketing efforts for Jekyll for Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Irma. 


Kevin Langston
Deputy Commissioner, GDEcD's Tourism Division
Coordinates for Discovery - Matting out the Future

Kevin Langston is Deputy Commissioner for the Tourism Division at the Georgia Department of Economic Development. Working with the Commissioner, Kevin oversees the activities of the department’s Tourism Division. Mr. Langston has served as Assistant Commissioner for theTourism division since May 2007, returning to the division after serving as Director of International Operations and Director of Projects, managing the state’s offices in ten locations around the world.

Mr. Langston previously served as Assistant Deputy Commissioner for the Tourism Division, where he oversaw marketing, sales and product development initiatives. He has also previously served as Director of Communications for the agency and in a number of roles in the department’s International Trade Division. Originally from northeast Missouri, Mr. Langston graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Kansas State University and a Master of Business Administration degree from Georgia State University. Kevin serves on the board of directors of Travel South USA, and is the chair of their international committee. He is also a member of the National Council of State Tourism Directors. Kevin is an active member of the Georgia Economic Developers Association, a Certified Economic Development Finance Professional, and serves with numerous other industry and civic organizations.

Gray Lawry
VP, Strategy & Insights, Miles Partnership
Travel - Optimized

Miles Partnership, VP, Strategy & Insights, Gray Lawry combines creativity with technical knowledge to develop strategic marketing programs and measurement strategies for some of the world’s leading travel organizations.  Gray has a proven track record of delivering business solutions gleaned from a solid understanding of technology, data, and evolving business needs to meet big-picture goals as well as key performance indicators. He is highly skilled in selecting, configuring and administrating reporting platforms that capture crucial information for understanding and predicting customer behavior to give destination and resort clients a true competitive advantage.

Eric Lopez
Government Research & Survey Program Coordinator, Georgia Dept. of Community Affairs
Accommodations Tax 101

Eric Lopez joined the Office of Research at the Georgia Department of Community Affairs in 2014, and has worked broadly with the various local government surveys and reports conducted by that office. He is directly responsible for overseeing reports and responding to questions involving the Hotel Motel Tax, as well as the Report of Local Government Finances and Report of Authority Finances. Eric also oversees the tax-exempt bond allocations program for DCA. 

He holds a Bachelors Degree in Political Science and International Affairs from Auburn University, and a Masters of Public Administration from Kennesaw State University, graduating Summa Cum Laude. During his final semester of Graduate School, he served as the policy intern for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG), where he remained on staff in a fellowship role until receiving his current position as the Government Research & Survey Program Coordinator for DCA.

Lisa Love
Division Director, Georgia Department of Economic Development's Tourism Division
Coordinates for Discovery - Mapping out the Future

Lisa Love recently began a new role as Division Director for the Tourism Division of the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD) overseeing operations. Prior to that, she spent six years managing music marketing and development initiatives for both Tourism and GDEcD’s Film, Music & Digital Entertainment division. For more than 12 years, she served in successive capacities, including executive director, at the Georgia Music Hall of Fame museum in Macon, and she spent two years as Director of Marketing and Communications for the Macon-Bibb County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Love is the guiding force behind the Georgia Music Foundation’s Board of Directors and is a member of the governing board for DREAM Academy, a music- and arts-integrated charter school.

Joseph Marinelli, President & CEO, Visit Savannah
Georgia Tourism Emergency Preparedness

Despite the impact that both Hurricane Matthew and Tropical Storm Hermine had on Georgia's Coast in 2016, Savannah still reported record-breaking visitor spending for the year. The resilience of the city's tourism industry in the face of continued weather-related situations owes much to the leadership of Joe Marinelli, who has served as president of Visit Savannah for the past decade.

Vice-Chairman Terry Rogers
House Committee on Economic Development &Tourism, Georgia House of Representatives

Terry Rogers’s roots run deep in Georgia, all the way back to his 4th great grandfather, Arthur Archibald Coody Sr. who served with General James Oglethorpe as a member of the 42nd Ga. Ranger division of the Georgia State Militia. It is that inherited love for Georgia and his community that led Terry to public service. 

First elected to the State House in November 2011, Rogers represents District 10 which includes Habersham and White Counties. He currently serves as Vice Chairman of the Georgia House Economic Development and Tourism ommittee as well as of the State Planning and Community Affairs Committee. He is also a member of the Appropriations, Defense and Veteran Affairs, Rules, Regulated Industries and Human Relations and Aging Committees of the Georgia House. Rogers also represents Governor Nathan Deal as a House Representative to the Legislative Fiscal Affairs Oversight Committee and House Speaker David Ralston on the Georgia World Congress Center Oversight committee. Rogers also serves as an Administration Floor Leader for Governor Deal.  Read more...

Scarlett Rosier
Co-Founder & Director of Operations, Rhyme & Reason Design
Your Website $&#*@, Let's Make it Awesome!

Scarlett is the Director of Operations and Co-Founder of Rhyme & Reason Design. After receiving a Bachelor’s degree in Advertising and a Master’s degree in International Advertising from the University of Florida, she joined the agency world in Atlanta where she learned the ropes of client management. 

In late 2008, she joined forces with her business-partner-in-crime, Karen McKenzie, to form Rhyme & Reason Design. Since then she has become a force in traditional and digital marketing strategies. Scarlett works closely with the agency’s clients, educating and guiding them carefully through the design and interactive process from start to finish. Through speaking engagements and blogging, she is able to share the importance of building culture in business, the impact of positive client/employee relationships and of course, the ever-changing world of marketing technology.

Erin Sephel
Social Media Strategist, redpepper
Social Media Strategy:  The Right Fit for You

When brands meet people, Erin makes sure they stick to the heart — through lovable content paired with thoughtful messaging, placed right where consumers like to be. Erin’s fit a lot into over 6 year in advertising. A research-based start in tourism marketing served as her launchpad into digital content strategy, where she’s been creating delightful content since—for brands like Healthier Tennessee, Sprouts Farmers Market, and Cracker Barrel.

Peter Shankman
CEO, The Geek Factory
How the Travel, Tourism & Hospitality Industry Can Win the Customer Economy Wars

Peter Shankman is an entrepreneur, CEO, runner, skydiver, podcaster, Ironman Triathlete, and most importantly, a dad. He’s the founder of ShankMinds: Breakthrough, a private, online entrepreneur community with hundreds of members around the world. He’s perhaps best known for founding Help a Reporter Out, the world’s largest source repository in the world, which fundamentally changed how journalists source their stories. His customer service and social media clients have included American Express, NBC, Universal, E Entertainment, Sprint, the US Department of Defense, Royal Bank of Canada, Saudi Aramco, Snapple, Walt Disney World, and many others. Peter is the author of four books, including his most recent best seller, Zombie Loyalists : Using Great Service to Create Rabid Fans. Peter also hosts the top-rated Faster Than Normal Podcast , helping people understand that ADD and ADHD is a gift, not a curse.  He’s based in NYC.

Lee Thomas
Deputy Commissioner, Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office
Coordinates for Discovery - Mapping Out the Future

Lee Thomas is the Deputy Commissioner of the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office, a division of the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

A native Atlantan, Lee graduated from Marist School and then went into the Radio -TV -Film program at the University of Georgia. She received a Bachelor of the Arts in Radio -TV -Film from UGA, and returned to Atlanta to earn Master’s Degree in Film Studies from Georgia State University. In 1992, she entered the Tisch School of the Arts Doctoral Program in Cinema Studios at New York University, then began a job at the Brooklyn Arts Council. She returned to Atlanta in 1996 to work for the Georgia Film and Videotape Office as a project manager, and then became a location specialist for the office in 1998. After finding locations for film and television projects for 12 years, Lee became director of the film division in 2010, and was then promoted to Director of Film, Music & Digital Entertainment in 2011. Films that Lee has worked with include The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Blind Side, Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil, Footloose, Fast 5, The Conspirator, and Zombieland.

Gary Wheat, President & CEO, Visit Macon
Georgia Tourism Emergency Preparedness

October marks one year since Gary Wheat was announced as the new CEO/President of the Macon-Bibb County CVB, which has since been officially renamed Visit Macon. Wheat came to Georgia from Colorado where his six-year tenure as CEO/President of Visit Aurora included leading the tourism industry through the aftermath of the July 20, 2012 mass shooting that occurred inside the Century 16 movie theatre. This event forced the DMO to not implement its crisis communications plan, but in the end, allowed for Visit Aurora to evolve not only how it serviced the visitor and groups, but also the victims, citizens and community as a whole. 

Shana Young
Executive Director, Leadership Institute at Columbus State University
Not Right or Wrong, Just Different:  Understanding Yours and Others Behavior & Personality through DISC

Shana Young is a certified Human Behavior Consultant focusing on helping individuals to understand theirs and others personalities in order to improve communication and become a more effective leader. In addition, Shana is certified in Basic Behavioral Studies, the DISC Self Assessment Tool, the EQ-I Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory, Hogan Assessment, and consult/coach on 360° Assessments.