2017 Conference Speakers 

Jennifer Bowen
VP of Destination Development, Augusta CVB

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

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.

Tina Bruno
Executive Director, The Coalition for a Traditional School Year

Tina Bruno is the executive director of the national advocacy organization, The Coalition for a Traditional School Year. Under her direction the cry of parents for a longer summer has become a national issue and many states have enjoyed the passage of school start date legislation.  Bruno has been guest on MSNBC, and been featured The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, and hundreds of daily and weekly newspapers.

Bruno works with thousands of parent volunteers from around the nation as she educates policymakers, members of the media and voters about the negative impact of non-traditional school calendars. She has studied the school calendar for almost two decades.

Cory Cart
Division Manager, Hub

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

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.

In order to keep up with a growing infrastructure demand, Deal implemented a number of investments in Georgia’s transportation system. Deal worked with the General Assembly on the Transportation Funding Act of 2015, which included a number of significant infrastructure projects and will generate $10 billion in new transportation funding over 10 years. Transportation projects under Deal have alleviated traffic and improved safety for a growing state, including the completion of the Jimmy DeLoach Parkway extension near the Port of Savannah. To track the progress of infrastructure projects, the GA Roads website was launched to provide unprecedented clarity and transparency in these investments. Georgia’s infrastructure projects and transparency measures are currently being used as a model for other states across the nation.

Georgia also leads the nation in criminal justice reform. When Deal took office, Georgia was in the midst of a criminal justice crisis, with high incarceration costs and recidivism rates. To address these issues, Deal implemented a series of bipartisan reforms that have already paid dividends by saving taxpayers $264 million and reducing the need for 5,000 prison beds.

Deal believes that education reform is the best criminal justice reform and a strong education system leads to a strong economy. Deal has made investments in education a top priority to strengthen the workforce pipeline that runs from the classroom to the job market.

A Sandersville native, Deal served in the U.S. Army at Fort Gordon in Augusta after graduating with college and law degrees with honors from Mercer University. He then began a private law practice in Gainesville, the hometown of his wife, Sandra Deal. While his wife taught in Hall County public schools, Deal began a career in public service, working as a prosecutor, judge, state senator and U.S. Congressman for Georgia’s 9th District. He was elected Georgia’s 82nd governor in 2010 and re-elected in 2014.  

Jeffrey Eslinger
Senior Director, Research Account Services, DK Shifflet & Associates
President, Travel and Tourism Research Association 

Jeffrey joined DKSA in 2006.  DKSA specializes in syndicated and custom market research exclusively for the travel and tourism industry. DKSA’s syndicated monthly tracking study called the DIRECTIONS® Travel Intelligence Systemâ„  provides the industry’s most complete travel data on U.S. residents and their travel worldwide. Jeffrey uses this information to provide strategic and tactical data analysis to destinations, associations, lodging, and airline clients. 

Prior to joining DKSA, he was Manager, Customer Insight and Research, for US Airways where he was responsible for customer research across internal departments as well as partners (Star Alliance, U.S. Department of Commerce/OTTI). Prior to that, he was the Research Director for Northstar Travel Media. He has also held marketing and research positions at Citibank Private Bank and Standard & Poor’s in NYC. 

Jeffrey has a B.A. in Communication (Marketing/Public Relations) from the University of Dayton and has completed graduate course work in advertising and communications at Astor College, London, UK and in History and Political Science at the Austro-American Institute, Vienna, Austria. He currently serves as President of the Travel and Tourism Research Association (TTRA). He frequently presents at travel and tourism marketing conferences.

Chairman Mike Dugan
Georgia Senate Committee on Economic Development & Tourism

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.

Prior to being elected senator, Senator Dugan was President of the Carrollton Kiwanis Club, served on the Executive Board of the Carrollton Housing Authority and West Georgia Athletic Foundation Executive Committee. Sen. Dugan enlisted in the U.S. Army after graduating from the University of West Georgia (UWG) with a Bachelor’s Degree in History. He was later commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Infantry. He became an Army Ranger and a Master Paratrooper. Sen. Dugan is proud to have spent more than 20 years in the Army before retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel in 2008. During his career, he was deployed to more than 32 countries, including hostile fire deployments in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Senator Dugan is a local contractor at the Carrollton branch of RA-LIN and Associates. RA-LIN maintains a reputation as one of the most respected providers of construction services in the Southeast.  He also earned a Master’s Degree in Organizational Development from UWG.

Debbie Evans
Strategist, Debbie Evans Marketing Communications

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

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

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

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.


Teresa Hildebrand
Regional Director, AAA Auto Club Group
Teresa Hildebrand serves as Regional Director for AAA Auto Club Group in Georgia.  She oversees AAA field operations for all Georgia branches for staff, sales and service.  AAA delivers domestic and international travel services through cooperative marketing efforts, provides travel education with events and programs for its members and represents the legislative interests of the travel and tourism industry at the local, state and national level.

A native of North Carolina, Teresa  began her travel career in the hotel industry and worked at prestigious resorts to include Grove Park Inn and Resort in Asheville, N.C., Sapphire Valley Fairfield Resort in Sapphire, N.C., The Don Cesar in St. Pete Beach, Florida and South Sea’s Island Resort on Captiva Island, Florida.

Teresa joined AAA in 1981, serving across the southeastern states in leadership roles for multiple business lines, including travel.  She has successfully procured leisure, corporate and government travel contracts; negotiated travel agency acquisitions, and developed and delivered new travel products to include AAA Premier Collection and AAA Diamond Vacations.  As Vice President of Travel for AAA Auto Club South, Teresa led the largest travel agency in the southeastern US through industry changes post 9/11, shifting strategies from transactional mass market travel to high touch, relationship focused services for AAA members and clients. AAA is the largest leisure travel organization in North America with over 56 million members and 1000 office locations.

Teresa has served on a number of travel industry related boards and committees for companies to include Disney Destinations’ AAA Advisory Council; Royal Caribbean International’s Travel Advisory Board; Hertz Corporation Industry Advisory Board; Travel Corporation Advisory Council; Going Places Magazine Editorial Board; American Tours International Industry Board; and AAA National Travel Subcommittee.  She currently serves on the Industry Advisory Board for GSU’s Cecil B Day School of Hospitality and as Vice Chair for the Auto Club Group Traffic Safety Foundation Board.  

Kevin Langston
Deputy Commissioner, GDEcD's Tourism Division

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.

Morgan Law
Executive Director, Georgia Travel Association

Morgan Law currently serves as the Executive Director of the Georgia Travel Association.  The Athens, Georgia native previously served as President and CEO for both the Robins Regional Chamber of Commerce in Warner Robins, Georgia and the Forsyth-Monroe County Chamber of Commerce. From 2001 to 2012, he led the Houston County Development Authority in Middle Georgia. Law holds an economics degree from the University of Georgia and in 2015 he graduated with distinction from the MBA program at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, UK. When not working, he enjoys writing, photography, fly fishing, and has been known to attempt triathlons.

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

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

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.

Daniel Roberts
CEO - Admiral of Altruism, Friendly Human

An expert on all things video marketing, Daniel Roberts has built a career helping people cross the intersection of digital storytelling and human behavior. Having started working in video production as a freshman in high school, he was already directing TV shows by college. At twenty-six he reimagined how the future of online media could look and started Friendly Human. Today he and his team shoot around the world helping humanize brands and organizations of all sizes, from the Fortune 100 to idea stage startups. In his spare time, he is currently directing a feature-length documentary, RHINO MAN, on the rhino poaching epidemic in South Africa to be released later this year.

Scarlett Rosier
Co-Founder & Director of Operations, Rhyme & Reason Design

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.

Jay Salyers
Senior Vice President, Miles Partnership

Jay Salyer’s specialty is in developing product plans that match clients’ needs and strategic objectives, specifically in aligning Georgia’s resources with the latest research-based trends. He’s responsible for maintaining positive, productive relationships with Miles’ clients, as well as their overall satisfaction with our products and services.

Jay has spent the last 12 years with Miles and has three additional years of related tourism marketing experience. He holds B.A. in Integrated Strategic Communications from the University of Kentucky.

Mike Schatz
Senior VP/Creative Director, Blue Sky Agency

A creative leader at Blue Sky for 19 years, Mike Schatz has assumed a number of roles—copywriter, broadcast producer and creative director—all with the shared goal of strengthening our clients’ brands. Known as a leader who challenges his teams to do their best work, he oversees all creative and campaign development to ensure that the work is on strategy and unforgettable. Mike began his career at Catspaw Productions and then started his own production company, Duck Duck Moose, where he worked with clients like Pay-Per-View, Disney and Turner Networks. During that time he also was host for the live Georgia Lottery/Powerball drawings, also known as the most stressful sixty seconds in television. Mike is a talented comedian, actor, musician and playwright. He’s been an ensemble member with Dad’s Garage Theater for 12 years. He’s appeared on multiple television shows for F/X and Adult Swim and was cut from a scene in Major Leagues III: Back to the Minors, a truly awful movie.

Blue Sky Agency is the go-to agency for fast-growing brands in the Southeast. Proudly based in Atlanta for 24 years and counting, Blue Sky is the agency of record for the Georgia Department of Economic Development. Additionally, Blue Sky partners with clients like the Atlanta Braves, Turner Broadcasting, IHG, and Honeybaked Ham. Whether it’s media, creative, or account services, their goal is simple: support growing brands with thoughtful work across channels.

Erin Sephel
Social Media Strategist, redpepper

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

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.

Chairman Ron Stephens
Georgia House Committee on Economic Development & Tourism 

State Representative Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) represents the 164th District in the Georgia House of Representatives. Rep. Stephens is the Chairman of the House Economic Development & Tourism Committee. Rep. Stephens has been a member of the House for eighteen years. Rep. Stephens is also a member of the Appropriations, Rules, and Ways and Means Committees. May 24, 2013 Governor Nathan Deal appointed Rep. Stephens to the Georgia Tourism Foundation. Representative Stephens is a graduate from Armstrong State & Mercer University with a degree in Pharmacy.

Representative Stephens has spent thirty-seven years as a pharmacist. Before being elected to the House, Rep. Stephens earned a seat as a City Councilman in Garden City. Proven a consensus builder and a member who can reach across party lines, Rep. Stephens was selected as the Vice-Chair of the Appropriations Health subcommittee and as a member of the Economic Development subcommittee, under a democratic majority and leadership. Rep. Stephens was selected as the Chair of the Economic Development & Tourism Committee because of his experience of seventeen years in the General Assembly. Representative Stephens is passionate about protecting and strengthening Georgia's tourism business. He has served on the Appropriations Committee for seventeen years. Representative Stephens is the co-author of the first floating homestead exemption in Georgia now applying in more than 50 taxing districts in the state which effectively freezes property taxes for the homeowner. It is known as the STEPHENS DAY Bill HB 350. He also served and was pioneer on the original tourism study committee that led to the formation of the current Economic Development and Tourism Committee, which earned him the Leadership Award for efforts to bring non-traditional tourism industries over to the tourism side.

Lee Thomas
Deputy Commissioner, Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office

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.

Parker Whidby
Digital Content Specialist, Georgia Department of Economic Development

Parker Whidby joined the Explore Georgia team in September 2015 as the Digital Content Specialist. In her role with the Department of Economic Development, she is the responsible for the day-to-day management of Explore Georgia’s social media channels, generating creative digital content and working with partners to promote their amazing destinations around the state.

Parker has more than five years of experience in marketing, public relations and event planning. She is a native of Valdosta, Georgia and holds a degree in Public Relations from from Auburn University.

Shana Young
Executive Director, Leadership Institute at Columbus State University

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.