Thank you to our 2020 Winter Meeting Guest Speakers and GA Peer Panelists



Elizabeth Hoekenga Whitmire, Senior Director of Audience Development, 

Alabama Media Group / Red Clay Media 

Elizabeth Hoekenga Whitmire is Alabama Media Group’s senior director of audience development, overseeing content brand development and expansion through Red Clay Media. She was the company’s first director of social media, helping to lead the creation of Reckon by AL.comThis is Alabama, People of Alabama and It’s a Southern Thing, as well as establishing’s news and sports brands as leaders in local media. In 2018, she was chosen as one of 25 female journalists across the country to take part in the 2018 ONA Women’s Leadership Accelerator, a yearlong program for women innovating in digital journalism. Elizabeth has 13 years of experience in journalism and has previously worked as a features editor, digital producer and community engagement specialist. She’s a graduate of the University of Alabama and is based in Birmingham.


Cedricia Thomas, Instructor/Facilitator of Leadership Development

The Leadership Institute at Columbus State University 

The Leadership Institute at Columbus State University M.S., Organizational Leadership, Columbus State University B.A., Music Performance, Columbus State University

Prior to her current position as an Instructor and Facilitator for Leadership Development at the Leadership Institute, she served in Student Affairs as a Student Development Specialist for Student Leadership and Special Events. During this time, she advised student leaders, organizations and spearheaded leadership programs for the student body to include: an extended orientation and leadership experience for incoming Freshman, annual student leadership conference, and student organization trainings and workshops. In addition, she has worked in various facets of higher education including Fraternity and Sorority Life, Parent Programs, and Admissions. Cedricia is a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) Certified Practitioner, who enjoys helping others gain greater self-awareness, become a more productive leader, build stronger teams, and make a significant impact within their organization and community.


Tina Lilly, Grants Program Director

Georgia Council For The Arts, Georgia Department of Economic Development 

Tina Lilly serves as Grants Program Director with the Georgia Council for the Arts. She also works with the Georgia Department of Tourism’s Resource Team, which travels to communities in Georgia to investigate ways to increase tourism in rural cities. Previously, she was Executive Director of the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center in Madison, Georgia; Administrative Director for 7 Stages Theatre in Atlanta; and Managing Director for Live Bait Theatre in Chicago. Tina holds a BA in Theatre from Birmingham-Southern College and an MFA in Directing from The Theatre School at DePaul University (formerly the Goodman School of Drama). She worked as an adjunct professor at The Theatre School as well as a freelance director while in Chicago.


Greg Wingo, founder of ROAM Projects 

Greg Wingo is a trail enthusiast and the founder of ROAM Projects is an outdoor recreation consultancy. Wingo works with tourism boards, government entities, and community groups to consult, create content, and promote trail systems and outdoors projects nationally and internationally. Currently, ROAM Projects is consulting with several entities, promoting a 6-day stage trail race in Costa Rica, and is the producer of the Great Alabama 650, the longest annual paddle race in the world. Wingo also co-founded the Birmingham Ultra Trail Society (BUTS) in early 2013. What was initially just a small group of trail runners looking to meet up and run, BUTS quickly grew into a 501c3 with nearly 400 paid members focused on sustaining the local trail system in the Birmingham area and creating a safe, fun, and supportive community for all levels of trail enthusiasts. BUTS now hosts multiple trail races and trail cleanup days each year and gives back financially to the different park systems in the region. In 2019, Wingo started Zapatos Para Volar, an initiative to provide running shoes to runners in need in Bogota, Colombia. Wingo has traveled to Colombia multiple times to deliver shoes to runners.









Neville Bhada, Founder and CEO

Tourism Skills Group 

Neville Bhada is the founder and CEO of Tourism Skills Group, a company that focuses on the strategic planning, research and marketing needs of the travel and tourism community, and association industries. Tourism Skills Group assists convention and visitor bureaus, chambers, accommodations, attractions, festivals and related organizations in developing long range plans through research and discussion. Its direction for strategies provide value in marketing, increasing customer engagement and partnerships that ensures travel is a vital and dynamic element. It provides unique solutions with a customized approach through focus groups, intercept studies, digital studies and more. Full Biography.



Steve Morse, Ph.D., Dean, School of Business

Middle Georgia State University

Dr. Morse is currently serving as Professor and Dean of the School of Business at Middle Georgia State University. In July 2018, Dr. Steve Morse was appointed Dean of the McCamish School of Business at Reinhardt University in Waleska, GA. He is an economist and professor and teaches courses in hospitality revenue management and price strategy, managerial economics, and hospitality and tourism business demand analysis. He was previously on the faculty and director of Hospitality and Tourism programs at the University of Tennessee, University of South Carolina, and Western Carolina University. Dr. Morse is a frequent speaker at national and state hospitality and tourism conferences and conducts workshops and seminars for regional and local tourism organizations, governments, and Chambers of Commerce to better understand the impact of tourist spending on the economic development of state and local economies. He is frequently quoted as an expert in hotel, restaurant, attractions, and travel and tourism trends in leading news sources in the U.S. and tracks economic trends in the hotel, restaurant, attractions, and tourism sectors of the U.S. economy.


Dr. Mark Newton, Paul T. Martin Chair in Hospitality and Tourism

Piedmont College, Walker School of Business - Athens campus

Dr. Mark Newton is the Paul T. Martin Chair in Hospitality and Tourism for the Hospitality and Tourism Program within the Walker School of Business at the Piedmont College-Athens campus. Dr. Newton started the new hospitality program in August 2018. He specializes in workforce development issues especially dealing with recruitment and retention issues. Mark retired from Gwinnett Technical College in 2016 where he was the Program Director of the Hotel/Restaurant/Tourism Management Program. Dr. Newton is a graduate of the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University, and has worked over twenty years in various management jobs in the hospitality industry. Dr. Newton returned to school and earned his Master’s and Doctoral Degrees from the University of Georgia. Full Biography.


Bennish Brown, President / CEO

Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau

Bennish Brown has served as President/CEO of the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau (ACVB) since July of 2018. The ACVB is the official destination marketing and management organization responsible for telling Augusta’s story and promoting the Augusta region as a preferred visitor destination. Here is what you should know about Bennish professionally: Bennish previously served for six years as the President/ CEO of the Tacoma Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau in Tacoma, WA, and before that at the Rock Hill (SC) Convention & Visitors Bureau for 12 years. Before working in the tourism industry, Bennish spent nearly two decades in communications. He has worked in the radio industry, including time as an on-air radio personality. He has been a newspaper reporter, and worked in many aspects of public relations and public information. He holds a bachelor’s degree in broadcasting and a master’s degree in public relations from the University of South Carolina... more about Bennish.



Stacey Dickson, President

Lake Lanier Convention & Visitors Bureau

A native Southerner, Stacey was born and raised in the southwest Georgia town of Albany. She has been working in the tourism industry for over 25 years – her first experience in tourism was as a leisure travel planner for the United States Marine Corps where she had the pleasure of coordinating a trip to Disney World for over 300 Marines and their families after the first Gulf War. Changing from buyer to supplier in the early nineties – Stacey began her work in the world of Convention and Visitors Bureaus. First as a group travel and promotions planner in Albany and then moving to the Metro Atlanta area as President and CEO of the Clayton County CVB – more famously known as the Legendary Land of Gone With the Wind. Since the summer of 2006, Stacey has taken on the coveted role of promoting the Lake Lanier area in Gainesville/Hall County just north of Atlanta. Stacey's Full Biography


Cookie Smoak, President 

ATL Airport District  

Passion, energy and humility describe Cookie Smoak’s tenacious spirit that has led her to a successful career in destination marketing. She brings over 36 years of sales and marketing experience to her role as president of the ATL Airport District. Her mission is to generate economic development for the cities of College Park, East Point, Hapeville and Union City by effectively marketing the community as a preferred tourism, convention and meeting destination. In this role, Smoak leads a team of destination marketing professionals while managing a multi-million dollar budget. Her bright personality and welcoming attitude make her the perfect trailblazer for the District. Before joining ATL Airport District in 2013, Smoak served as the director of convention services for the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau (ACVB). During her tenure with the ACVB, Smoak was responsible for all convention services personnel and was the liaison between sales, membership, meeting planners and the public sector. Her work with the ACVB ensured group satisfaction, account retention and promoted financial return to the City of Atlanta. Cookie's Full bio.


Mike Robertson, Director of Culture and Brand Partnerships

MediaOne North America 

Mike Robertson is the Director of Culture and Brand Partnerships at MediaOne North America. He is responsible for keeping the mission, vision and values of MediaOne before the team, and providing digital media strategy and account management services for clients in several states. Mike was born in Texas but grew up in Rome, Ga, graduating from Berry College with a BA in History. He also holds a Certificate of Master with a concentration in Biblical Studies from Reformed Theological Seminary. He  trained under senior leadership at MediaOne to become a digital advertising expert and has worked with clients from Texas to Florida and as far north as Maine in the tourism and hospitality Industry. Mike enjoys public speaking around the city of Atlanta, GA, where he, his wife and two sons currently reside.



Julie Kirkpatrick, Vice President, Sales & Marketing,


Julie Kirkpatrick is the Vice President, Sales & Marketing of meetNKY | Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau. She is proudly responsible for economic development in the Northern Kentucky communities through meetings, events and visitor expenditures and collaborates to make Northern Kentucky a premier destination to work, live and invest. Julie was raised in Lexington, KY and is a Certified Tourism Ambassador for the Cincinnati region, an Executive Bourbon Steward and a Certified Destination Management Executive. Julie is a graduate of the University of Kentucky and Northern Kentucky University and is also an Adjunct Professor for Cincinnati State’s Culinary and Hospitality Sciences program. She sits on many boards through the Northern Kentucky region and Commonwealth of Kentucky including the boards for the Cincinnati Music Festival, Film Cincinnati, the Dan Lincoln Cincinnati Hospitality Institute and is current President of the Kentucky Chapter of Meeting Professionals International.


Stuart Chamberlain, Marketing Director 

Currituck County Travel & Tourism 

Stuart Chamberlain is a graduate of Virginia Tech and has worked in the Tourism industry for over 15 years. He is currently the Marketing Director for Currituck County Travel and Tourism, located in the northeast corner of North Carolina.  He enjoys doing anything outdoors and spending time with his 7-year-old son, Ben.



Josh Sherwood, Head of Digital Strategy

MediaOne North America 

Josh is a managing partner of MediaOne. He has worked with top brands and technology partners in many verticals, including hoteliers, tourism boards, auto, financial institutions and more. Annual working budgets have ranged from thousands to over $20 million in a single annual budget. Brands include: Hard Rock International and All-Inclusive Resorts, Visit Sevierville (Tennessee), Kentucky Tourism, Explore Minnesota, Pilot Pens, Toyota, Cooper Tires, Florida Prepaid College Plan, Tobacco Free Florida, Visit Myrtle Beach and many more. Josh is tireless when it comes to digital campaign performance. He has been pitched by all the top ad platforms and noticed a hole with very few focusing on Google Analytics and what happens after the click. That is his key for MediaOne to deliver high performance campaigns. Every angle is pursued to provide insightful data through custom analytics reporting. This puts the team in a position to look well beyond just impressions, clicks and click through rate (CTR). 


Tyler Reinagel, Ph.D., Director

Office of Planning & Research, Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA)

Dr. Tyler Reinagel is the Director of the Office of Planning and Research at the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. He oversees local comprehensive planning and service delivery strategy programs, annual service delivery and financial reporting for the state’s local governments and local authorities, hotel-motel excise tax training programs and annual reporting, and the agency’s GIS and mapping support. A native of Woodstock, Tyler earned his B.A. in American Studies from Fordham University; M.P.A. from the University of Georgia; and Ph.D. in Public Administration and Policy from the University of Georgia, with a research emphasis on state and local budget and finance.


Jackson Lilly, Research Coordinator

Office of Research, Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA)

Jackson Lilly works as a Research Coordinator in the Department of Community Affairs Office of Research. Jackson provides local governments and tourism organizations with programs of education and training on the hotel-motel tax and conducts research on how local governments are collecting and spending funds. In addition to the hotel-motel tax, he works on several other programs involving local government finance, including Authority Registration and Finance, the Report of Local Government Finances and Debt Issuance reporting. Jackson has a B.A. in Economics from Oglethorpe University and an M.A. in Applied Economics from Georgia State University, focusing in Urban, Regional, and Environmental.



Gracie has grown up in the Middle GA region, specifically Warner Robins, GA.  After graduating from the University of Georgia, she moved back to the area to pursue a career in the family business.  If you've ever been a part of or around a family business, you know that the pressure to succeed is on.  Taking the challenge head on, Gracie has made herself a vital part of the Rigby’s team.  Her ability to take Rigby's Entertainment Complex, Water World, and associated entities to the next level of 'fun' is unmatched.  Gracie was able to conceive and coordinate the most successful day in Rigby's Entertainment Complex and Water World history.  Her conception for the first rooftop bar in Middle Ga is a soon to be a reality atop the first hotel on highway 96. Within these businesses, she has identified Rigby’s as an events hub, most recently saving the Warner Robins Christmas Parade. Her most recent accolades include being awarded to the Dr. Dan Callahan Leadership Award and Business Excellence Award for Outstanding Leadership and Service to Community. Her passion for continued learning and personal growth infuses not only the business but the team that makes it all possible. She is an active community member with involvement in business and philanthropic organizations such as the Robins Regional Chamber, Abba House, and Rigby’s Readers with the Houston County Public Library System. She has not only contributed time and effort to better Rigby’s but to also grow the Middle GA region.


Lisa Anders, Executive Director

Explore Gwinnett

Lisa Anders is the Executive Director of Explore Gwinnett, Gwinnett’s official tourism agency and film office. Explore Gwinnett’s mission is to draw conventions, meetings, conferences and sports tournaments to Gwinnett’s convention center, hotels, and event facilities, as well as destination marketing of Gwinnett County’s cities. Explore Gwinnett is currently overseeing the public-private expansion of the Infinite Energy Center, as well as working with North American Properties on the $600 million dollar Revel mixed use project. Lisa is Gwinnett County’s Camera Ready representative, serving as the county liaison to the booming film and movie industry as well as to the Georgia Film Office. Lisa serves on the boards of the Aurora Theatre and Partnership Gwinnett PFE. She is a Certified Destination Management Executive, 2018 graduate of Atlanta Regional Commission’s Regional Leadership Institute and a 2013 Leadership Gwinnett graduate.  Lisa and her husband Jim have 2 kids, Ben and Isabella, both college students.   


Lindsay Fruchtl, Vice President of Marketing 

Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau

Lindsay Fruchtl joined the Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau in January 2016 as the Vice President of Marketing. Prior to joining the Augusta CVB team, Lindsaymost recently worked as the Senior Marketing Manager with the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce and Visitor & Convention Bureau (VCB) in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. In this role, Lindsay was responsible for the planning and management of all marketing programs, content, media placement, production, and metrics reporting for the Chamber’s VCB with a focus on leisure, meetings and groups, co-op, international tour and travel trade, sports and cultural heritage segments. From 2009- 2013, Lindsay served as the Marketing Director for Visit Tybee on Tybee Island, Georgia. In 2013 she was selected as one of Generation NEXT Savannah’s Rising Stars in Business and has her Travel Marketing Professional (TMP) certification from the Southeast Tourism Society. She is a graduate of Leadership Augusta and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications from Brenau Women’s College in Gainesville, Georgia.


Michele Arwood, Executive Director 

Thomasville Center for the Arts 

Michele has served as the Executive Director of Thomasville Center for the Arts since 2010, guiding the organization through sustained strategic growth and the development of the city’s newly designated creative district. Prior to moving to Thomasville, she enjoyed a 20-year career in the Atlanta advertising arena and served on the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games to develop revenue generating programs and public information systems. She is the founding editor of THOM magazine, which profiles the people and ideas shaping the creative life of the Red Hills region and is currently developing the THOM Center for Rural Arts + Innovation. Michele is an active Rotarian and serves on the Arts Now Advisory Council, Destination Thomasville Tourism Authority, City of Thomasville Trails Commission, Thomas County Chamber of Commerce, and the South Georgia Ballet board. When she’s not driving the Center’s mission to encourage artistic expression and purposeful creativity, she frequently visits other communities to share what Thomasville has learned about the power of the arts to fuel rural economic vitality.


Erin Wessling, Founder/CEO

W Projects, LLC

For over a decade, Erin has worked in marketing, PR and events both in Savannah, Georgia and on an international level. She has produced some of the premier events in Savannah including Savannah’s Night Out and the A-Town Get Down Festival. With her company, W
Projects, she has also produced site activations and public art installations throughout Savannah including Pavement-to-Parks for CNU26 Savannah and several of Judge Realty’s public art installations including Savannah’s Mossterpiece, Savannah’s first eco-friendly
moss installation and Intersection, a light project installation by Will Penny. In a continued effort to support the community, Erin is also active several community organizations sitting on the board for Re: Purpose Savannah, is a member of the NAWIC (National Women in Construction) of Coastal Georgia, an Allied Member of AIA Savannah Chapter and of the Society of Women Engineers of the Coastal Empire. Before starting W Projects, LLC, Erin worked as the Marketing Director for South magazine, Director of Development for Dream Project Foundation, an anti-human trafficking NGO in Bangkok Thailand, and Assistant Director of PR at Intrigue Music in New York City. W Projects was born out of her love of finding and cultivating emerging creatives in the Low Country of Savannah, GA. Erin’s passion to help creative individuals & companies reach their full potential & success drove her to expand her freelance business into a full-service firm in January 2015. With 10 years of experience in public relations, marketing and branding worldwide, Erin brings a unique perspective & understanding of how to creatively connect clients visions to the public.



Janet Cochran, Project Manager

Georgia Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation

Janet Cochran has over 20 years experience as a leader in tourism development in Georgia.  She was a regional director of tourism with the GA Dept. of Economic Development and also as Executive Director of the Dalton, GA Convention and Visitors Bureau.  She has partnered with college and universities for tourism development and now is the Program Manager for the statewide Georgia Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation with a focus on north Georgia counties. The Georgia Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation is headquartered in Tifton, GA on the campus of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC).



Shana D. Young, M.A., Executive Director 

The Leadership Institute at Columbus State University

Shana is a certified Human Behavior Consultant focusing on helping individuals understand theirs and others personalities in order to improve communication and become a more effective leader.   In addition, Shana is certified in a variety of self-assessment tools and a certified executive coach.  She is the lead on research, development, and writing of strategic plans for many Leadership Institute clients, to include the ‘City of Columbus’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness’

Shana coordinates the speakers for The annual Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum which boast past speakers such as Football great Peyton Manning, Entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban, Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg, Spanx Owner/CEO Sara Blakely, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Dr. Robert Gates; General Colin Powell; John Maxwell, Malcolm Gladwell, James Carville and Mary Matalin just to name a few. Full Biography


Dr. John Salazar, Associate Professor, Coordinator of the Hospitality and Food Industry Management Program

University of Georgia - Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics

Dr. Salazar’s research focuses on hospitality human resources management and marketing, and festival and event management.  He has held leadership positions with premier hotel and resort companies throughout the US.  He has conducted research for local, state and regional destinations and tourism organizations in the US. and Southeast. Prior to UGA, he was professor in the Department of Hospitality Management at the University of South Carolina Beaufort, and Director of the Lowcountry and Resort Islands Tourism Institute.


Cheryl Hargrove, Director - Industry & Partner Relations

Explore Georgia - Georgia Department of Economic Development Tourism Division 

Author, Instructor, Consultant and 35-year travel industry veteran, Hargrove is best known as the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s first Director of Heritage Tourism. While at the National Trust, she developed the key steps and principles for sustainable tourism focusing on history and culture. She also served as Associate Director of National Geographic’s Center for Sustainable Destinations where she assisted international destinations develop and market their place-based experiences, along with producing several Geotourism MapGuides. Other work experience includes Georgia Department of Economic Development, Tourism Division; Travel South USA, America’s oldest and largest regional travel promotion organization, as both Director of Public Relations and as manager of their UK office; promoting a World’s Fair; opening a convention hotel; and as a special events/ public affairs consultant. Full Biography


Gary Wheat, President/CEO

Visit Macon

Gary Wheat has been President/CEO at Visit Macon since January of 2017. A native of Prentiss, Mississippi, Gary has been serving in the tourism industry 20 years with 16 years of experience at the CEO level. He has been the CEO in starting two tourism organizations from the ground up with both showing continued growth and stability. Among his successes, Gary is credited with luring the Dan Gable International Wrestling Museum and Hall of Fame to Waterloo, Iowa, hosting the United States Air Force Thunderbirds and creating a one-of-a-kind medical/wellness tourism software program that is being implemented by tourism organizations across the country. In his three years at Visit Macon, the destination has posted record tax collections, designation of Ocmulgee Mounds as a National Historical Park and renovations to the Wilson Convention Center. In addition, Visit Macon took over operations of Film Macon and worked with seven major productions in 2019. Prior to beginning his career in tourism, Gary earned his master’s degree in Coaching and Sports Administration serving as a graduate assistant for the football programs at Southern Mississippi and Virginia Tech before serving in a full-time administration capacity within the athletic department at Virginia Tech. When not serving in his capacity at Visit Macon, Gary enjoys reading history, playing golf, hunting and fishing.


Luke Tilt, Co-owner 

Valdosta Wake Compound

Originally from McDonough, Ga., Luke met his business partner, Quinn Silvernale while attending college at the Valdosta State University.  At VSU, he studied business and received a degree in marketing and a degree in business administration. While attending VSU, Luke and Quinn wrote the business plan for opening their own cable park.  After college, they pursued the dream and financed the project through the Small Business Development Center located in the VSU business school. 


David Pate, Director, Partnerships & Marketing

LakePoint Sports

A graduate of Auburn University, David Pate has nearly a decade of agency experience working with brands like Coca-Cola and SunTrust, helping to develop and manage partnership activations for the National Football League, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer and Final Four. He also worked for the Atlanta Falcons in corporate partnerships and premium sales. In his current role, Pate is responsible for developing the overall brand strategy and partnership activation on campus at LakePoint Sports.


Brian Graham, CEO

Greater Augusta Sports Council 

Brian J. Graham is a self-motivated executive who specializes in the development, management, and evolution of businesses and organizations, primarily in the sports, events and tourism industries. From 2007 to 2016 Brian led the Professional Disc Golf Association through a decade of record exponential growth, where memberships tripled to nearly 100,000 and sanctioned events quadrupled to 3,000+ annually. His accomplishments include conception and development of the International Disc Golf Center, creation of new events, media, and technology departments, and successful management of more than 40 national and world championship events. He co-created and served as publisher of DiscGolfer Magazine (circ. 30,000+), developed a charitable event partnership that raised over $420,000 for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, and formed strategic alliances with other sports organizations to produce, distribute, and broadcast their events internationally to 90Mhh annually. Full Biography



Hannah Smith, Director of Marketing & Communications 

Athens Convention & Visitors Bureau

Hannah Smith is a Double Dawg, holding two degrees from the University of Georgia. She’s one of a myriad of UGA graduates who came to Athens, loved the town as well as the university, and never left. She’s had the privilege of officially promoting Athens for the past 19 years. As Director of Marketing & Communications for the Athens Convention & Visitors Bureau, she brands and markets Athens as a destination for leisure travel, meetings & conventions. She’s relaunched the website several times, started the Hospitality HEROES front-line service recognition program, and developed Athens’ local product development grant program, which awards $15,000 each year. Regionally, she’s a past president and co-op chair of the Heartland Travel Association, and currently serves as secretary. Nationally, she’s served on the web users group for Simpleview. She received her LEC certification at the GACVB annual convention in 2017. She’s particularly glad to have been around for the growth of Athens’ craft beer scene and enjoys sampling local brews as she travels. 



Corey Jones - Owner

Lucky Savannah Vacation Rentals

Corey Jones is Owner and President of Lucky Savannah Vacation Rentals. Prior to starting Lucky Savannah, Corey owned a successful Georgia based paper shredding company. Growing tired of the hectic and fast-paced lifestyle of document destruction, Corey made the
logical decision to transition into the more predictable and relaxed world of hospitality and lodging. Corey’s respective degrees from University of Georgia and Georgia Southern University prepared him immensely for the relatively uncharted territory of short term rentals. Starting with a single home (his family’s) and a single employee (him) in 2012, Lucky Savannah now represents 250+ homes in Savannah’s historic district, managed by a team of 35 full time employees. Lucky Savannah engaged local leadership early, working with stakeholders to formally recognize the use in 2015, making Savannah one of the earliest municipalities to do so. While he can still make a bed, stuff a pillow case, and fix a toilet with the best of them, Corey’s amazing staff affords him the ability to share his company’s experience in how Savannah has addressed this growing industry, separating fact from fiction, sharing pros and cons, and stressing the importance of active and early engagement with local municipal and tourism industry leaders.



Jessica Little, Co-owner 

Sweet Grass Dairy 

Jessica grew up on her parents’ dairy farm in Brooks County, Georgia where she participated in 4-H and cleaned her share of water troughs over summer vacations. After swearing to never live in south Georgia, she moved right back from Atlanta after receiving a degree in business administration. Along the way, she fell in love with the hospitality industry and future husband, Jeremy, who in turn fell in love
with the artisan cheese business. After working at Sweet Grass Dairy for three years, Jessica and Jeremy were given the opportunity to purchase the business in 2005 and have since won over 30 national and international awards with the line of six regular cheeses and several seasonal options. The business also includes a Cheese Shop and busy restaurant in the heart of downtown Thomasville that focuses on storied ingredients from like-minded producers. Jessica is a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, while being the proud mother of four crazy boys. She is a member of the Fellowship of Southern Farmers, Artisans & Chefs of the Southern Foodways Alliance, an ACS Certified Cheese Professional, as well as on the board of the Southern Cheesemakers Guild. Jessica was recently inducted to the prestigious international Guilde de Fromagers dedicated to promoting cheese knowledge around the world. She also serves on the board of an equine therapy riding center called Hands and Hearts for Horses.


Bo Henry, Co-owner


Stewbos co-owners and brothers-in-law Stewart Campbell and Bo Henry are Albany, Ga's premier hospitality company. In the hospitality industry, growth is generated two ways: boosting sales and opening new locations. Stewbos, has managed to do both by establishing profitable locations first, then steadily adding to their brand inventory. Harvest Moon started with about 20 full- and part-time employees; now, including seasonal and catering workforce, Stewbos puts about 200 community residents to work. Among valued staff are people of all ages and credentials who come from diverse backgrounds, including people with special needs. Stewbos has since added The Catch Seafood Room & Oyster BarHenry Campbell’s SteakhouseMerry Acres InnMerry Acres Event Center & CateringManor House Pub and Shackelford House to its portfolio. As such, their socioeconomic impact on Albany and Southwest Georgia is far-reaching. In addition to providing paychecks that feed families and pump money into the economy, Stewbos has business relationships with food brokers, beverage brokers, equipment technicians, event planners and many others. I was no surprise Stewbos was selected the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business of the Year. It is Stewbos’ mission to provide exceptional dining, entertainment and lodging experiences for everyone with whom they do business. 



Katie Jones, Director of Advocacy & Finance

Georgia Restaurant Association

Katie Jones serves as Director of Advocacy and Finance for the Georgia Restaurant Association (GRA) representing Georgia's second largest private industry with close to 19,000 eating and drinking locations and more than 500,000 employees. The GRA advocates as the
voice of Georgia's restaurants in Advocacy, Education and Awareness. Katie serves on the Atlanta Community Food Bank's Advisory Board and holds a B.B.A. in Hospitality Administration from Georgia State University, an Associates in Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management from Gwinnett Technical College and is currently back at Georgia State University pursuing her C.P.A. A native of Duluth, GA, her hobbies include travel, singing, and anything involving donuts.



Rashelle Beasley, Executive Director

Albany Convention & Visitors Bureau

Rashelle Beasley joined the Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau as Welcome Center Manager in July of 2008, was promoted to Tourism Director in 2012, and is now the Executive Director.  She helped the Albany CVB open Plantation Trace’s first Level 5 Regional Visitor Information Center at the Bridge House. She has successfully completed the three-year curriculum of the Southeast Tourism Society’s Marketing College, receiving her Travel Marketing Professional (TMP) certification in March 2012. As a result of her hard work, Rashelle was chosen as the Southeast Tourism Society’s Rising Star in November 2012 and was award the Larry Allen Leadership Award in September 2015. She serves as President of the Georgia Association of Covention and Visitors Bureaus. Rashelle is also active in the community.  She is Race Director for the SNICKERS® Marathon and Half Marathon. She is a graduate of Leadership Institute Class of 2015, Leadership Albany Class of 2008 and Georgia Academy for Economic Development Class of 2012. She has also served on the executive board of the Southwest Georgia Tourism Association, Albany Junior Women’s Club, Leadership Albany and Southwest Georgia Chapter of the American Red Cross. Rashelle was recognized twice as Southwest Georgia’s Top 40 under 40. Rashelle is a native of Mitchell County, and her hobbies include running, singing, reading, and hunting. She has two children Zach, 17 and Mary Frances, 13.



Jay Markwalter, Executive Director

Georgia Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus 

Jay represents Georgia’s association of convention and visitors bureaus / destination marketing organizations as GACVB Executive Director.  GACVB serves as the unified voice, educational resource and professional development for our state’s tourism marketing and management professionals. Prior to GACVB, Jay joined the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau as Director of Marketing Communications in September 2014 and transitioned in 2016 to Director of Sales.  As DOS, he led the group services/Guest Experiences team in strategic planning and executing sales and servicing across market segments including SMERF, Association, Reunions, Corporate, Government, Sports, and Festivals. Full bio. 


 ...more guest speakers 

Mayor Scott James Matheson - Mayor, City of Valdosta

County Commission Chair Bill Slaughter - Chair, Lowndes County Board of Commissioners 

Jason Shaw, Commissioner - Georgia Public Service Commission and Georgia Olive Farms 

Amy Carter, Deputy Commissioner - Georgia Department of Economic Development Rural Georgia Initiatives 

Rob Gordon, Director - University of Georgia Archway Partnership 

Gracie Rigby - Rigby's Water World / Rigby's Entertainment Complex