Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: March/April 2016
Most Influential African-Americans In Meetings/Tourism Industry
By: Gloria M. Herbert
As we do every year around this time, Black Meetings & tourism will again review the progress and success of those African-Americans who continue to make significant strides in our industry.  This is our opportunity to acknowledge the hard work, dedication and contributions of our brothers and sisters who have managed to perform at the highest professional levels despite the challenging economic times we have all faced in recent years.

As always, there are several faces that are gone from last year's list, as well as a few new or returning faces that have been added.  Beverly Bryant has completed her stint as NCBMP president, replaced on this list by Kevin Johnson.  Also off the list is Zita Steglich-Ross, who departed her post at Visit Orlando after 16 years to step out and launch her own boutique destination management company, Steglich Ross Business Solutions.  Also gone is Ahmeenah Young, who completed her 18-month consulting agreement with the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority after SMG assumed responsibility for management and operations in 2013.  Brenda Bryant is also gone, passing the torch to Carolyn White, who was elected as TPOC president.

New to the list is Shanitra R. Finley, the new Yazoo County CVB executive director, who replaced Tonja Ray-Smith.  Also new is Linda Haithcox Taylor, executive director of the National Policy Alliance, Ricky Thigpen and Shun Hatten, who are both senior executives at the Jackson CVB,  and Greg DeShields, who took over duties as executive director of The Multicultural Affairs Congress (PHLDiversity), a division of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau when Nicole Johnson-Reece departed.

Putting together this list every year makes us, and I hope you, so very proud of those who we are recognizing.  But as a result of the process involved it also becomes obvious that so much more needs to be done in the area of diversity and inclusion.

As always, those listed here are to be commended for their achievements, their tenacity, and their determination to succeed in an industry that has been slow to embrace the concept of inclusiveness.  Overcoming the challenges they've had to face in order to reach the top of their profession, they've earned the right to your respect, admiration and recognition.  And most importantly, they deserve your consideration when it comes to booking business with them, for them or from them.


LARRY ALEXANDER, president and CEO of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau (DMCVB) and a 34-year veteran of the hospitality and tourism industry, has shaped the Bureau into the leading organization responsible for facilitating tourism economic growth in Metro Detroit. 

Alexander leads an innovative, multi-award winning convention sales, marketing and convention services effort that has often exceeded CVB industry standards for its performance.  He oversees an annual budget of $12 million and 51 employees.

Following passage in 2009 of Michigan Public Act 554, which regionalized the management of Cobo Center under a public Authority, Governor Jennifer Granholm named Alexander as the State's appointee to the five-member Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority Board. Alexander was elected chairman at the Authority's first meeting and is currently leading a team that is transforming Detroit's Cobo Center into a competitive 21st-century meeting and convention facility.

On behalf of the DMCVB, Alexander navigated the efforts to land some of the world's most coveted sporting events, including Super Bowl XL in 2006 and the 2009 NCAA Men's Final Four. He also created and leads the Detroit Metro Sports Commission, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Bureau responsible for landing the 2003 and 2008 AAU Junior Olympic Games, the 2008 Women's International Bowling Congress, and contributing to the successful bid for the 2005 MLB All Star Game. In the realm of professional association meetings, Alexander led the team that won for Detroit the 2015 convention of the American Society of Association Executives, considered the "Super Bowl" of conventions.

Before stepping into his current DMCVB role, Alexander was an executive in the for-profit arena. He was the managing director of The Westin Hotel - Detroit Renaissance Center (now under Marriott ownership), responsible for the marketing and operations of one of the nation's largest hotels.  He also served as general manager of The Westin Miyako in San Francisco; The Westin-O'Hare in Chicago and The Westin Hotel Cincinnati.

In addition to his chairmanship of the Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority, Alexander is a board member of the Michigan Society of Association Executives, The Parade Company (Detroit), The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, The Detroit Zoological Society, New Detroit and Forgotten Harvest. 

ANA APONTE-CURTIS serves as chairperson of National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners.

After 47 years with the NAACP, Aponte-Curtis has retired as vice president, Events Planning.  During her tenure with the NAACP, she was responsible for directing the internal operation of the Events Planning Department, implementing approved objectives, plans and policies, provided the overall management and budgetary oversights for all NAACP events, including conferences, meeting, travel, vendor negotiations, logistics, exhibits and entertainment.

The National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners is an organization dedicated to providing the best tools for meeting planners to succeed and further their careers, as well as to provide valuable content, new, cutting-edge information and to facilitate meaningful networking opportunities. 

 Aponte-Curtis is an independent planner providing planning services to various organizations such as housing, meal functions, security, meeting space and diversity issues.

ORLANDO ASHFORD serves as president of Holland America Line, leading the award-winning cruise line's brand and business, including its fleet of 15 premium vessels carrying approximately 850,000 guests annually to all seven continents. Ashford oversees Holland America Line's sales and marketing, revenue management, deployment and itinerary planning, public relations, hotel operations and strategy.

Prior to joining Holland America Line, Ashford was president of the Talent Business Segment for Mercer, the global consulting leader in talent, health, retirement and investments. Previous to Mercer he served as senior vice president, chief human resources and communications officer of Mercer's parent company, Marsh & McLennan Companies. Ashford also has held several other leadership roles during the course of his career, including group director of human resources for 90 countries in Eurasia and Africa for the Coca-Cola Company and vice president Corporate Center human resources and cultural transformation. Previously he was vice president of global human resources strategy and organizational development for Motorola Inc., where he helped modernize the human resources function for the global tech leader.

Ashford is on the Board of Directors for global manufacturing company ITT Corp. He was named to the "Directorship 100" of the National Association of Corporate Directors in 2013 and 2014, and is a Purdue University School of Technology Distinguished Alumnus. An active community supporter, he is on the board of directors of the Executive Leadership Council, the preeminent membership organization for the development of global black leaders; and for Streetwise Partners, which brings together low-income individuals and volunteer business professionals to develop workplace skills and employment networks. Ashford holds a Bachelor of Science degree and Master of Science degree in Organizational Leadership and Industrial Technology from Purdue University.

LARRY ATCHISON serves as Associate Director of Sales at the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau. In his position, Atchison works with organizations based in the Mid-Atlantic from his office in Albuquerque, NM.

A 34-year veteran of the hospitality and meetings industry, Atchison has been with Albuquerque for 23 years. Past positions held within ACVB include National Sales Manager and Interim and Vice President of Convention Sales & Services.

Atchison has worked with a variety of diverse organizations and is particularly skilled at developing great relationships with convention and meeting groups. Among several others, Atchison has been instrumental in bringing the following groups to Albuquerque for their national and regional conventions: Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., National Association of Buffalo Soldiers & Troopers Motorcycle Club and the COGIC - National Leadership Conference.

CLEO BATTLE was appointed executive vice president of the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau in January 2013.  Battle's responsibilities include developing relationships with clients in Washington and Chicago, representing the Louisville Bureau at industry tradeshows and conferences and providing strategic leadership and oversight of the Bureau in all aspects of its fiscal and daily operation.

Battle has worked in the hospitality industry for 28 years.  Prior to coming to the Louisville Bureau, Battle spent the last 12 years as vice president of Sales & Services for the Richmond Convention & Visitors Bureau in Richmond, VA.  He also held the positions of director of Sales and sales manager at the Richmond CVB.  Battle began his hospitality career in the hotel industry working for Embassy Suites, Holiday Inn and Sheraton Hotels.

ERNEST P. BOGER, CHA, FMP, CHE, CHA, FMP, CHE, is tenured associate professor and chairman of the Hotel & Restaurant Management(HRM) Department within the School of Business and Technology at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore(UMES), Princess Anne, MD.  Dr. Boger exercises CEO accountability for a thriving Bachelor of Science Degree Program, designed to produce entry level managers for a variety of Foodservice, Lodging and Travel/Tourism related professional careers.

Prior to UMES, he held leadership roles with Bethune-Cookman, South Carolina, West Indies and Wiley Universities as well as The Jamaica Hotel School/Hotel Casa Monte, Kingston, Jamaica and Parry Property Management Co. of Dallas, TX.  Under his recent leadership, UMES was accredited by the Professional Golfers' Association (PGA) as the 20th University nationwide, and the First HBCU, to offer the Bachelor of Science Degree in Professional Golf Management. With 40+ years of industry operations and training expertise, he is recognized as the "Dean" of Black College Hospitality Educators. Dr. Boger regularly provides consulting services in hospitality marketing and training to U.S., Caribbean, and African companies and governments. He has held leadership positions with more than 20 major industry organizations, including currently, the Professional Certification Commissions of the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA), and the National Restaurant Association (NRA). 

Dr. Boger was presented with the H.B. Meek Award by CHRIE during its 2013 Summer Convention in St. Louis. It is the highest award the organization bestows for lifetime achievement. He is only the 2nd African American to receive the award in the 68 years of the organization's history

A prolific writer, Dr. Boger has authored 10 book chapters and more than 100 articles on industry subjects. Among other things, he has received the BM&T/TPOC APEX Award and was designated a Certified Hotel Administrator (CHA) Emeritus by the AH&LA. The first African-American to be so recognized.

STEPHANIE MAYS BOYD currently serves as a member of the Senior Management team as director, Sales and Marketing with SMG/ Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority (PCCA).  With over 20 years experience in the hospitality industry, Boyd leads the sales team through her leadership by developed sound strategies for a comprehensive sales and marketing plan that has assisted in the selling efforts of the Center to exceed the budget goal of $6 million dollars for the past four years.

As the economic engine for the city, state and region of Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority boasts one million sq. ft. of saleable meeting space.  The sales divisions of the PCCA and Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau (PCVB) work jointly to attract meetings and conventions for the city of Philadelphia

A native of Macon, Georgia, Boyd started her career path at the Macon-Bibb County Convention and Visitors Bureau in 1990 as a convention marketing representative.  There she was very active within the community serving on various boards; Boys and Girls Club of Central Georgia, Macon Arts Alliance, Society of Government Meeting Planners, and a graduate of Leadership Macon.

Boyd has had a progressive career at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.   To fully understand the day to day operations of the Convention Center, she began as an event coordinator in 1996.  While having passion for the sales component of the hospitality industry, she joined the sales team as Sales and Service coordinator then advanced to Convention and Tradeshow sales manager.  Ms. Boyd then broadened her scope to aspire to leadership roles within the Authority as Senior Sales Manager, Director of Sales and currently as a member of the Senior Management Team with SMG.

Currently she serves as second vice chair of the Board of Director for PHLCVB (Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau), Trustee for Peirce College, also serving as an Advisory Board Member for Philadanco (Philadelphia Dance Company) and UNCF. Boyd is also very active within the hospitality industry serving as Board of Director for various organizations: The National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners, the Multicultural Affairs Congress and a Trustee for the Destination and Travel Foundation.  Boyd is also a member of various hospitality industry associations: Professional Convention Management Association, International Association of Exhibitions and Events, and the American Society of Association Executives.  She is also a member of the Philadelphia Chapter of Links, Inc.

Boyd is a 2009 graduate of the National Urban League Leadership Forum (Philadelphia and a graduate of the 2010 Class of Leadership Philadelphia.  Boyd holds a Bachelors degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing from Clark-Atlanta University.  She is married to Earl Edward Boyd.

BENNISH D. BROWN serves as the Tacoma Regional Convention + Visitor Bureau's [TRCVB] president and CEO. 

Brown has a strong background in the destination marketing industry and served the 12 years as the executive director of Rock Hill/York County Convention and Visitor Bureau in South Carolina before assuming his current post. 

Brown, who began his work at the TRCVB in June, 2012, leads the TRCVB's staff of 15 and reports to the TRCVB's board of directors.

While at Rock Hill/York County CVB, Brown grew the organization's budget from $200,000 to $1.1million in seven years, led the organization to become the first Destination Marketing Association International [DMAI] accredited CVB in the state, managed a merger between the CVB and Sports Commission, hosted a Ladies Professional Golf Association [LPGA] event and more.

RONNIE BURT serves as president and CEO of the Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association (KCCVA).  A seasoned sales and marketing executive with more than 23 years of hospitality and tourism industry experience, Burt previously held the position as vice president of sales and services for Destination DC (DDC). 

As president and CEO, Burt manages a staff of 40 and a budget of $10 million in efforts to attract visitors to the Kansas City region.

In his role at DDC, Burt oversaw a team of 25 people that include leading strategic sales and service efforts, housing and business development for the nation's capital and its growing convention facilities, to include the new Washington Marriott Marquis. Burt's responsibilities included maximizing the use of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and the hotel inventory to create maximum economic impact to the District of Columbia and the surrounding region. 

Burt's career with destination management organizations began in marketing at Caesars Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City.  He joined the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority as an intern and quickly ascended the ranks to National Sales Manager.  He joined the Baltimore Area Convention & Visitors Association in 1999 as director of national accounts, eventually leading its sales efforts in the role as vice president of convention sales and services.  In 2006, Burt, a graduate of Richard Stockton College in Pomona, N.J., served as the interim president and CEO, where he managed a staff of more than 50 employees and a $9 million budget.

CLARA CARTER is the president and founder of the Multi-Cultural Convention Services Network (MCCSN), Inc. This San Diego-based destination/meeting management company is focused on global site selection and contract negotiations for groups and organizations seeking exciting destinations for meetings, conferences and conventions. A 21-year veteran of the Hospitality Industry, Carter has distinguished herself as the creator and producer of the nationally recognized Multicultural FAM tour. This tour is customized to give clients the unique view of a city by incorporating its rich ethnic & cultural features for future meeting opportunities. MCCSN is the only independent meeting management company in San Diego County that has fully realized the significance of responding to the needs of an often-underserved segment of the market - the ethnic conference and its attendees.

Carter is a highly sought speaker and industry expert on issues surrounding multicultural tourism and diversity. Carter continues to lean forward with the recent launch of San Diego's first online digital magazine for the luxury, executive and incentive travel segment - 'Destination Elite.'

WANDA COLLIER-WILSON is president and chief executive officer of the Jackson Convention & Visitors Bureau.  Collier-Wilson has dedicated her entire professional career to promoting the city and the industry that she loves.  Her tourism experience has truly been hands on from the ground up.  She has held every position within the CVB at one point or another - namely as marketing director for 12 years, before becoming president/CEO in 1998. 

She has been with the CVB since the organization's third month of operation. Thirty-two years ago, she was the receptionist, manning the phones, mailing out information and assisting visitors looking to know more about Jackson. 

Today, she leads the only Destination Marketing Association International accredited CVB in the state, with a 20-member staff. She is charged with leading this team in developing Jackson into a first-choice for major conventions/meeting groups and a revitalized downtown area with an entertainment district to attract people back downtown.

Collier-Wilson has a plethora of accolades, like being inducted into the Tourism Hall of Fame, being recognized by JET Magazine, Black Meetings & Tourism Magazine and many other awards for her leadership as a tourism professional.  She is not the type to boast of her achievements, but prefers the spotlight to be on the city she calls home.

She also works diligently to promote and advance the tourism profession through partnerships with other tourism entities. Currently, she serves on the Board of Directors for the Southeast Tourism Society.  She has served as president of the Mississippi Tourism Association and a former board member of Keep Jackson Beautiful.  She is a member of the Destination Marketing Association International, Metro Jackson Attractions Association, Travel & Tourism Research Association, and the Southeast Tourism Society. She also created the Hometown Hero Awards to recognize outstanding achievements in Jackson tourism.

GREG DESHIELDS currently serves as the executive director at PHLDiversity Multicultural Affairs Congress, a division of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau (PHLCVB), and adjunct instructor for Temple University School of Tourism and Hospitality and Hospitality Educators.  DeShields is a Graduate of Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, with an A.S. Degree in Hotel & Restaurant Management; and B.S. Degree in Hospitality Management.  His professional certifications include: American Hotel & Lodging Association, Educational Institute - Certified Hospitality Educator - 2013 Asian American Hotel Owners Association - Certified Hotel Owner 2013 - Leadership Philadelphia - Greater Philadelphia Leadership Exchange

Recently DeShields served as managing director of Business Development for Temple University Fox School of Business & School of Tourism and Hospitality Management.  Professionally, he has been a manager in the hospitality industry for such companies as Hyatt Hotels, Omni Hotels, Sheraton Hotels, Korman Company, general manager of Philadelphia OIC's Opportunities Inn: Hospitality Training Institute

DeShields' Board membership and committee chairs include: Asian American Chamber of Commerce Advisory Board (Philadelphia), Center City District (Philadelphia), Center City Proprietors Association (Philadelphia), COMHAR Inc. (Philadelphia) Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Independent Business Alliance (Philadelphia), Philadelphia Opportunities Industrialization Center, Responsible Hospitality Institute (Philadelphia) - National Board and SKAL International (Philadelphia)

DeShields is an active member of The American Hotel & Lodging Association, National Association of Black Hotel Owners Operators and Developers, and Asian American Hotel Owners Association.

 

ARNOLD W. DONALD has been a director of Carnival Corporation since 2001 and a director of Carnival plc since 2003. Donald has been president and CEO of Carnival Corporation & plc since July 2013.

Donald was president and chief executive officer of The Executive Leadership Council, a professional network of African-American executives of major U.S. companies, from 2010 to June 2012. He previously served as president and chief executive officer of Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International from 2006 to 2008.

From 2000 to 2005, Donald was the chairman of the Board of Merisant Company, a manufacturer and marketer of tabletop sweetener products, including the Equal® and Canderel® brands. From 2000 to 2003, he was the Chief Executive Officer of Merisant Company.

From 1998 to 2000, he was senior vice-president of Monsanto Company, a company that develops agricultural products and consumer goods, and president of its nutrition and consumer sector. Prior to that, he was president of Monsanto Company's agricultural sector.

Donald has been a member of the boards of directors of Bank of America Corporation since January 2013 and Crown Holdings, Inc. since July 1999. He was a member of the board of The Laclede Group, Inc. from January 2003 to January 2014, Oil-Dri Corporation of America from December 1997 to January 2013 and The Scotts Company from March 2000 to January 2009.

JASON DUNN serves as vice president of Multicultural and Community Development for the Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau.  Dunn has been a change maker in Cincinnati for more than a decade, with a drive to redefine how Cincinnati thinks about multicultural meetings and their impact on the destination.

Working collaboratively with local and regional leaders, Dunn has had a critical impact on Cincinnati's national reputation as one of the country's best host cities. During his tenure with the CVB, Dunn increased the number of major multicultural meetings held in Cincinnati by 1,800%, drawing both national media attention and millions of dollars in economic impact to the region.

ELLIOTT FERGUSON serves as president and CEO of Destination DC, the official convention and tourism corporation for Washington, DC.   A 25-year veteran of the travel and hospitality industry, Ferguson leads Destination DC's efforts to generate economic opportunity for the District through meetings and tourism, overseeing the organization's convention and tourism sales, marketing, finance and business development operations.

Ferguson began his tenure with Destination DC in 2001 as senior vice president of Convention Sales and Services and has served as president and CEO of Destination DC since 2009. Prior to working at Destination DC he served as vice president of Sales at the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau. He has also served as director of Sales for both the Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia Convention and Visitors Bureaus.

Ferguson currently serves on the board of directors for the following organizations: the U.S. Department of Commerce's Travel and Tourism Advisory Board; U.S. Travel Association; Downtown DC Business Improvement District (BID); the District of Columbia's Taxicab Commission; DC Jazz Festival; Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI); Greater Washington Sports Alliance; Capital Partners for Education; I Talk to Strangers, Inc.; and the Ryan Kerrigan "Blitz for the Better" Foundation. Ferguson also serves on Brand USA's Marketing Advisory Group; DC Business Coalition and Hospitality Alliance of Washington, DC.

Ferguson is a longtime resident of Capitol Hill, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and is an active mentor with Capital Partners for Education.

GERRY FERNANDEZ is founder and president of the Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance (MFHA), a national non-profit organization that promotes the business benefits of cultural diversity in the food and hospitality industry while helping its members attract, develop, and retain multicultural talent. With over 35 years of experience in the industry, Fernandez has held leadership positions with several well known companies including General Mills, The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, Hemenway's Seafood Grill & Oyster Bar and The Capital Grille, now owned by Darden.

Fernandez founded MFHA in 1996 while employed at General Mills as a National Account Manager.  Since then, MFHA has grown into a respected and well known non-profit with over 1,000 members.  MFHA was the first organization to bring about a national discussion on diversity management in the hospitality industry and today, MFHA remains the only non-profit organization focused on promoting the business case for diversity within the restaurant, foodservice and lodging segments.

As President of MFHA, Fernandez has been influential in aiding dozens of companies with their diversity talent management initiatives and has been directly involved in creating programs designed to attract, develop and retain multicultural talent to the industry. 

He is an accomplished speaker and has presented nationwide and in Canada, London, England, Vienna, Austria, the Caribbean, Mexico, and in Beijing, China.  

Fernandez is a trustee of Johnson & Wales University, a member of the board of the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, and a Life Member of the NAACP.  He is a member of The Women's Chef's & Restaurateurs Association, the National Council of La Raza, The Women's Foodservice Forum and the National Association of Black Meeting Planners.

Gerry Fernandez holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Foodservice Management from Johnson & Wales University where he also earned a Culinary Arts degree in 1976. Gerry is married, has three sons, six grandchildren and lives with his wife, Debra (Jackson) in Warwick, Rhode Island.

LOU FIELDS is the co-founder and president of the Baltimore African American Tourism Council of MD, Inc.  Since 1996 the Council continues to serve as a nonprofit, educational and tourism advocacy organization which has been active in the preservation and tourism community.  The Council's mission "is to educate research, preserve, protect and promote Maryland's African American History & Culture as a vital and beneficial product as part of the Baltimore/Maryland tourism industry." 

In 2015, Fields led the effort to pass legislation to establish the Baltimore City Commission on African American Business, Tourism, Entertainment and Heritage Preservation.

Fields is also the founder and first president of the Greater Baltimore Black Chamber of Commerce (2005-2008) and the Black Dollar Exchange (2010).

SHANITRA R. FINLEY is executive director of the Yazoo County Convention & Visitors Bureau. She has been a tourism professional in Yazoo County since 1998. Since becoming ED in 2014, Yazoo County CVB has been awarded CVB of the Year, Delta's Best Tourism, received a Research-in-Action Award from MS Development Authority, and a Readers' Choice Award from Convention South. Finley uses her business skills and creativity to promote Yazoo County and encourages partnerships with area organizations.

TONY GLADNEY serves as vice president of National Diversity Relations for MGM Resorts International, where he is responsible for enhancing Company relationships with strategic Diversity & Inclusion partners at the local, state and national levels; collaborating with other Company departments to augment sales to diverse customer bases and convention market segments; and leveraging national relationships to support Company development and expansion into new jurisdictions. Additionally, he works with the Diversity Development team to drive internal Diversity & Inclusion and related employee engagement.

Gladney brings more than 20 years of experience in the gaming industry supporting programs related to diversity and community affairs. He most recently served as vice president of National Diversity Relations at Caesars Entertainment, where he played a pivotal role in establishing the Diversity and Inclusion platform of Caesars Entertainment. Prior to that, Gladney was part of the MGM Resorts team, first joining the Company in 1993 as manager of Community Affairs Development at MGM Grand Las Vegas. In 2001, he was promoted to MGM Grand's vice president of Corporate Diversity and shortly thereafter, vice president of National Diversity Relations for the newly formed MGM MIRAGE. 

Gladney has received numerous awards and recognitions for his stewardship of Diversity & Inclusion programs and his statesmanship in diversity relations.

He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Liberal Studies with an emphasis on Business Communication from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

JULIE COKER GRAHAM is the president and CEO of the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau ( PHLCVB) where she leads the PHLCVB's convention and international tourism efforts for the city. Prior to being named to this position, Coker Graham served as the Senior Vice President of Convention Sales at the PHLCVB and was responsible for selling the expanded Pennsylvania Convention Center and Philadelphia's hotel package to customers across the country.

Coker Graham joined the PHLCVB after serving as general manager at Hyatt Regency Philadelphia at Penn's Landing, where she oversaw all operational aspects of the 350-room hotel. A 21-year Hyatt veteran, she began her career there in 1989 as a corporate management trainee at Hyatt Regency Columbus and held various positions at the hotel until 1992. She also held full-time positions, including assistant front office manager, front office manager, hotel assistant manager and assistant executive housekeeper at Hyatt Regency O'Hare. In 1994, she was promoted to her first room executive position at Hyatt Deerfield (Chicago) and held the same position at Hyatt Regency Cincinnati before being appointed to join the opening team and lead the rooms division at Hyatt Regency McCormick Place in March 1998. In 1998, she was promoted to general manager at Hyatt on Printer's Row in downtown Chicago. From there, she was promoted to general manager at The Lodge, a Hyatt property in Oak Brook, a suburb of Chicago. She was a nominee for general manager of the year for Hyatt Hotels Corporation 2004 and 2006.

Coker Graham serves on the board of the U.S. Travel Association and Destination Marketing Association International. Plus, she is a member of the Philadelphia Chapter of Links, Incorporated.

Coker Graham is a graduate of Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI.

MICHAEL GUNN, CMP is the senior vice president of Convention Sales for the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau.  With more than 30 years of industry experience, Gunn is responsible for the operation of the convention sales staff in booking state, regional, national and international convention business for the Birmingham area.  He supervises a staff of 15 sales and administrative professionals.

In addition to his supervisory responsibilities, Gunn oversees a multimillion dollar budget for the convention sales department and compiles monthly, quarterly and annual sales and marketing business plans.  He also directs placement and media buys for the CVB's million dollar advertising budget.

Gunn is a member of the board of directors of the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners and serves on the board of Certified Meeting Professionals.  He is a past member of the Destination Marketing Association's International Foundation Board.

The National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners named Gunn the "Supplier of the Year" in 2001.  He received his Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) designation in 2003, and in 2004 he was honored with the Venus de Milo Award from the Meeting Industry Ladies Organization, Ltd. 

In 2007, Gunn received the Apex Award from Black Meetings & Tourism magazine.  The Alabama Tourism Department named him "Tourism Executive of the Year" in 2009, the most prestigious award in the state's tourism industry.  The honoree is chosen each year by votes from industry peers in Alabama's hospitality community.

Gunn is often called on to speak on behalf of the CVB at civic organizations and public events.  He is regarded as an expert on economic impact statistics and effective marketing programs.

SARA B. HAMLIN has been in the tourism industry for more than 20 years.  She has been vice president of Tourism for the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau for 11 years.

Hamlin is responsible for promoting and booking motor coach business, family reunions, implementation of the tourism division's marketing plan and budget for the greater Birmingham area.  She also supervises the operations of three Birmingham area visitor centers.

Hamlin serves on the Board of the American Bus Association.  Hamlin serves on the Board of Governors of ABA Foundation.  She is involved in the following organizations: Destination Marketing Association International, Bank Travel, National Tour Association, Ontario Motorcoach Association, African-American Travel Conference, YWCA, and The Women Network.

SHUN HATTEN is vice president of Sales for the Jackson Convention & Visitors Bureau, a position she has held since 2002. Before joining the Bureau, Hatten worked within the industry as a hotel sales director for six years where she was responsible for training and opening hotels in various cities.  Hatten attended Hinds Community College and graduated from Jackson State University with a B.S. degree in biology. Hatten is a member of Professional Conference of Management Association and Destination Marketing Association International. She also serves on various other committees within the industry.

GLORIA M. HERBERT is the associate publisher/editor of B lack Meetings & Tourism magazine, the award winning, international bi-monthly industry trade publication for the African-American meeting planner, incentive manager, travel agent and hospitality/tourism professional. Herbert also serves as associate producer of "Today's Black Traveler" a new television travel series currently in development.

Before creating Black Meetings & Tourism along with her husband, Solomon Herbert, who serves as the magazine's publisher/editor-in-chief, Gloria was a part of their print and photo journalism team that produced over 800 articles which appeared in numerous regional, national and international publications.

Herbert's early work experience was as an educational consultant for children with neurological deficiencies. She holds an undergraduate degree from California State University at Long Beach and a Masters of Science from the University of Southern California. Herbert was a member of the first graduating class of the Burklyn Accelerated Business School in Vermont; an innovative school with a high-speed, experiential entrepreneurship program that emphasized a noncompetitive, "win-win" approach to doing business.

Also, Herbert has the distinction of having attained the level of "Sensei" (teacher) in the art of Ikebana (Japanese Flower Arrangement) with over 15 years of training in this specialized area of floral design.

SOLOMON J. HERBERT is the publisher/editor-in-chief of Black Meetings & Tourism magazine, the multi award-winning international industry trade publication for the African-American meeting planner, travel agent and hospitality/tourism professional.  He also serves as executive producer of "Today's Black Traveler," a new travel television series currently in development.

Before creating Black Meetings & Tourism with his business partner and wife Gloria, Herbert was self-employed as a full-time freelance print and photo journalist since 1981.  During that period over 800 of his articles appeared in numerous regional, national and international publications.

Herbert currently holds or has held membership in several professional organizations, including the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners (NCBMP), National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators and Developers (NABHOOD), Meeting Professionals International (MPI), Travel Professionals Of Color (TPOC), Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), Africa Travel Association (ATA), Travel and Tourism Marketing Association (TTMA), Black Business Association of Los Angeles (BBA), Regional Black Chamber of Commerce of San Fernando Valley, and Greater Los Angeles African American Chamber of Commerce (GLAAAC). 

Herbert and his wife Gloria were the 2002 recipients of the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planner's Minority Business Award, the 2005 recipients of the Regional Black Chamber of Commerce of San Fernando Valley's Small Business of the Year Award, the 2007 recipients of Outstanding Entrepreneur Award from the Black Business Association of Los Angeles, the 2008 recipients of California State Salute to Small Business Award, the 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award from NABHOOD, the 2010 Small Business Award from the United Chambers of Commerce of the San Fernando Valley & Region, and the Outstanding Support of Leimert Park Village Award in 2011 from Leimert Park Village Merchants Association.

AL HUTCHINSON serves as President  & CEO at the Mobile Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau. Hutchinson's focus is to showcase Mobile as one of the top destinations and a city suitable for any meeting.  He received a Pioneer Award from the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners, was a 2008 APEX Award for Distinguished Service recipient and has been recognized by Black Meetings & Tourism magazine since as one of the most influential African-Americans in the industry.

ANDREW "ANDY" INGRAHAM is a current resident of Broward County, Florida and a native of Nassau Bahamas. He has fused culture and commerce throughout his professional life. Ingraham came to the United States in 1972; successively he became interested in becoming an entrepreneur and establishing a business in the U.S. He has over 28 years in the tourism industry, developing specific expertise in multicultural and Caribbean tourism.

Ingraham first started by marketing South Florida's merchandises and services to the Caribbean islands. He launched, Horizons Marketing Group Intl., Inc. his first company in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  Later, he saw the opportunity for multicultural tourism and began searching for ways hotels could cater to a more diverse population. He founded the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators & Developers, Inc. (NABHOOD) in 1999, which was officially incorporated in 2001. Ingraham is president/CEO of NABHOOD. NABHOOD was formed with its mission statement to increase the number of African-Americans developing, managing, operating and owning hotels; increase vendor opportunities and executive level jobs for minorities thereby creating wealth within the African-American community.

Because of his knowledge and expertise, he is a constant source for articles and has been featured or quoted in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, National Public Radio, Hotel Business, Black Meetings & Tourism Magazine and a host of other publications.  He has spoken or participated as a panelist internationally and domestically on hotel investment & development and multicultural tourism. 

ROY JAY serves as president/CEO of the Oregon Convention and Visitors Services Network. For twenty years, he has led the way and paved the way for many people of color in the convention and tourism industry.  Jay is an icon and expert.  It was his savvy professional presence that put Portland, Oregon on the map in this niche industry.  Jay is the type of convention industry professional that goes far beyond the normal 8 to 5 scenario. Those that know him know that he has worked nonstop to help organizations have successful events. He has shown so many organizations and meeting professionals techniques on making money and saving money.  Jay has always been about empowerment and making sure that doors are open for other African-Americans and other people of color.

Many in Portland consider him the driving force in paving the way for Portland's new upcoming convention center hotel. While others were literally afraid to go head to head with opposing forces, Jay was involved in a highly publicized and televised combat with opposition. Jay sat on the committee that selected Hyatt and was influential about making sure that the deal included union construction, union operation and complete community empowerment for people of color.

Jay's infectious personality attracted customers and competitors alike. He has served on boards, commissions and committees and has been a mentor and consultant.

"Roy Jay is like the Lone Ranger" says Bobby Glenn, an African-American photographer in Washington DC. "He has so much influence from coast to coast. He helped me grow my business. He doesn't go by MBE/ DBE rules. He gives you the work and expects you to give 200%. I remember that he told me that he does not give a damn if I am certified, he just wanted me to be qualified".

Jay has been the target of critics, including his native home of Portland, primarily because of his style of making sure that women and minorities are included at all levels. Some destinations just do not get it and never will.  Although he is based in Portland, Oregon, he has helped organizations that were unable to find corporate sponsorships in other cities.  He is credited with implementing a program in Portland that enables ethnic minorities to serve on RFP evaluation panels on all city contracts over $29,000.  His contributions to the Asian community have been long standing for 20 years and he has served as an advisor to the International Association of Hispanic Meeting Planners. 

"I chose a particular city only because Roy Jay showed us how to get corporate sponsorships and community support. The sales rep from the convention bureau was only interested in showing me hotel rooms and taking me to dinner," says a well-known California meeting planner.

Roy wears many hats. He is a long time journalist, investigative journalist which was responsible for uncovering the Latino slavery business in Portland. He is a member of NABJ, Past Chapter President of NOBLE, NAACP and dozens of other organizations.  If you need anything, Roy Jay is only an email away. Many that know him, know that he will even respond at 3AM in the morning while his competitors are sleeping.

CHARLES JEFFERS II was appointed Chief Operating Officer of Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI) in November of 2014. DMAI is the global trade association for official destination marketing organizations (DMOs), protecting and advancing the success of destination marketing worldwide. Since September 2015, Jeffers has served as the Interim President & CEO of the organization, leading DMAI's strategic planning efforts during a period of leadership transition.

Jeffers previously spent 19 years with Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau (ACVB), most recently serving as senior vice president of operations and executive director for East Point, where he oversaw the destination sales and marketing for East Point to boost hotel demand and visitation for the city. 

A 1990 graduate of American International College, Jeffers holds a master's degree in public administration from Georgia State University and a certificate of information technology management from Georgia Institute of Technology.

KEVIN JOHNSON serves as president of the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners (NCBMP).  Johnson is also a planner with Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. in Detroit, MI. The NCBMP, founded in 1983, is a non-profit organization dedicated primarily to the training needs of African American meeting planners.  It is the purpose of NCBMP to be the preeminent organization in educating African American association executives and meeting planners in all aspects of the meeting planning profession such that, as a result, NCBMP members will be able to (a) maximize a greater return on the meeting dollar investment for their respective organizations, (b) effect positive change in the hospitality industry as it relates to African Americans, and (c) become a voice in the hospitality industry on issues that affect the African American community.

ROBERT L. JOHNSON is the founder and chairman of The RLJ Companies, an innovative business network that provides strategic investments in a diverse portfolio of companies. Within The RLJ Companies portfolio, Johnson owns or holds interests in businesses operating in hotel real estate investment; private equity; financial services; asset management; insurance services; automobile dealerships; sports and entertainment; and video lottery terminal (VLT) gaming.

Prior to forming The RLJ Companies, Johnson was founder and chairman of Black Entertainment Television (BET), the nation's first and leading television network providing quality entertainment, music, news, sports and public affairs programming for the African-American audience. Under Mr. Johnson's leadership, BET became the first African-American-owned company publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange. In 2000, Johnson sold BET to Viacom and remained the CEO through 2005.

From 1976-79, Johnson served as vice president of Government Relations for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), a trade association representing more than 1,500 cable television companies. Prior to joining the NCTA, Johnson was press secretary for the Honorable Walter E. Fauntroy, Congressional Delegate from the District of Columbia.

Johnson holds a Master's degree in Public Administration from Princeton University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Studies from the University of Illinois.

OSCAR C. MCGASKEY, JR. is the Executive Director of the Kansas City Convention and Entertainment Facilities.  In this position Oscar oversees the City's Convention and Entertainment Facilities which include the Convention Center, Conference Center, Municipal Auditorium, Kemper Arena and American Royal Center.  Oscar is responsible for a $35 million departmental budget and 100 fulltime employees.  Under Oscar's leadership the Kansas City Convention Center has received the prestigious Prime Site Award from Facilities & Destinations magazine for the past nine (9) years. 

McGaskey has been in his current position for eleven (11) years.  During this time he has been directly responsible for over $250 million in new construction and renovation projects.  He has also been recognized by the City Council of Kansas City for his leadership and commitment to providing a high level of customer service at the Kansas City Convention and Entertainment Facilities.

RITA D. MCCLENNY was appointed president and CEO of the Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC) on November 9, 2012 by Governor Bob McDonnell..  As the leader of the state tourism office, McClenny heads the team responsible for marketing the state as a top tourism and hospitality destination as well as promoting Virginia as the ideal location for film and television productions.  Previously McClenny served for 21 years as the head of the Virginia Film Office, which is a division of the VTC.  As president and CEO of VTC, McClenny serves on the board of directors of the U.S. Travel Association, the National Council of State Tourism Directors, and the Southwest Virginia Heritage Foundation.  In 2010, Governor McDonnell appointed her to serve on the Commission to Honor the Contributions of Women of Virginia.  In addition, McClenny serves on the board of directors for the Virginia Film Festival, the HCA-Chippenham Medical Center and the Richmond Coliseum Advisory Board.

MICHAEL D. MUNN was appointed chief of staff and director of Business Development for the Boston Convention Marketing Center (BCMC) in the Spring of 2004 by the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority. Munn is responsible for business management and developing programs in support of the BCMC and implementing diversity initiatives that focus on Boston's multicultural and multinational qualities.

During his 22-plus years in the Meetings industry, he has held positions with the National Managed Health Care Congress; vice president of Sponsorship Programs, International Data Group (IDG); show director for ComNET DC and ComNET San Francisco and manager of Business Development & Partner Alliances at the Hurwitz Group, a strategic e-business marketing, research and consulting company

In 2010, he was selected as a recipient of the BM&T Tenth Annual APEX DISTINGUISHED SERVICE AWARD, presented to individuals who have made outstanding contributions in their particular field of endeavor that have positively impacted travel and tourism. Munn holds a B.A. in Economics from Boston University and a Masters of Education from Cambridge College. He is also a member of the Multicultural Advisory Committee of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau and an active member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Incorporated

CURTIS L. MYLES III, is president and CEO of the Las Vegas Monorail Company, a position he has held since July 2005.  The Las Vegas Monorail Company is a private non-profit transportation company that financed, operates and maintains an elevated monorail system within the Las Vegas Strip corridor.  The Las Vegas Monorail is the only privately held, self-funded public transportation system of its kind in the world, and receives no public subsidy.  Myles led the company out of a merger with its management contractor in 2005, as well as through a major financial restructuring from 2010 thru 2012.  He has demonstrated his commitment to his hometown community of Las Vegas by volunteering his time and efforts on numerous boards and committees including the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy Board of Directors, the KNPR public radio Board of Directors, Aid for Aides of Nevada Board of Directors, and the Council for A Better Nevada Board of Directors among others. 

Myles began his career in transportation after receiving a Bachelor of Science Degree in Economics from Colorado State University in 1986.  Upon graduation he went on to serve in several managerial positions with a national shipping and cargo firm from 1986 to 1991.  Returning to Las Vegas in 1991, he embarked upon an 11-year career in aviation management with the Clark County Department of Aviation at McCarran International Airport.  While there, Myles served in several managerial and senior management capacities including assistant director of Aviation.  During his tenure at McCarran, he initiated and oversaw the development and implementation of one of the nation's first airport owned and operated ramp control operations; implementation of several post 9/11 security upgrades including fingerprinting and explosion detection equipment; and over $100 million in airfield upgrades and improvements.

Myles left the Department of Aviation to become deputy general manager at the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada in 2002.  While there, he oversaw the implementation of the valley's first Bus Rapid Transit line, The Max, as well as the development and implementation of the Deuce double deck bus, and the consolidation and transition of what is now known as the Freeway and Arterial System of Transportation (F.A.S.T.) under the direction and control of the RTC. 

BEVERLY NICHOLSON-DOTY serves as Commissioner of Tourism for the United States Virgin Islands, a cabinet-level position. She oversees the Department of Tourism's advertising and marketing strategy, its national and international tourism-related efforts and product development.

Raised in St. Thomas, Mrs. Nicholson-Doty began her career in the hospitality industry while attending the College of the Virgin Islands.

In 1993, Nicholson-Doty joined the St. Thomas-St. John Hotel & Tourism Association as its Executive Director. In this position, her responsibilities included spearheading the implementation and development of the Association's strategic plan. Nicholson-Doty oversaw the unification of the St. Thomas-St. John Hotel & Tourism Association with the St. Croix Hotel & Tourism Association to create an integrated Association that strengthens the entire U.S. Virgin Islands hotel product while recognizing the unique offerings of each island.  In 2004, she was appointed President of the USVI Hotel & Tourism Association.

Nicholson-Doty has served as Commissioner of the USVI Department of Tourism since 2007, and as Chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) Council of Ministers and Commissioners from October 2012 to September 2014.

GREGORY A. O'DELL serves as the president and chief executive officer of Events DC, the official convention and sports authority for the District of Columbia.  Events DC owns and operates the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the historic Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium and the surrounding Festival Grounds, and the non-military functions of the DC Armory.  The organization also built and now serves as landlord for Nationals Park, the first LEED-certified major professional sports stadium in the United States, and administers the historic Carnegie Library at Mt. Vernon Square.

The Government of the District of Columbia created the quasi-public Events DC in October 2009 through the merger of the Washington Convention Center Authority and the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission.  O'Dell has the unique experience of leading both organizations as part of his public service in the District of Columbia.

As president and CEO, O'Dell oversees Events DC's three lines of business: Conventions and Meetings, Sports and Entertainment, and Special Events.  His primary responsibilities include oversight of the development and promotion of hospitality, athletic, entertainment and cultural activities that generate economic and community benefits for the residents and businesses of District of Columbia.

Prior to the merger, O'Dell served as chief executive officer and general manager of the Washington Convention Center Authority, where he was responsible for the operations of the 2.3-million-sq. ft. Convention Center, an award-winning facility that sees approximately one million visitors each year and has generated nearly $3 billion in direct delegate spending since opening in 2003.  O'Dell was also responsible for the Authority's development efforts, having led negotiations with the selected private developer in the $520 million public-private partnership for the 1,175-room, 46-suite Washington Marriott Marquis Convention Center hotel, which broke ground in November 2010.

R. DONAHUE PEEBLES, recognized as one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the nation, is the owner of The Peebles Corporation, the country's largest African-American real estate development company with a $4 billion development portfolio of luxury hotels, high-rise residential and Class A commercial properties and developments in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Las Vegas and Miami Beach.

Donahue, who has been featured in numerous publications and appears regularly on CNN, CNBC and FOX, is also a top-selling author.  His first book, The Peebles Principles, distills the lessons he learned on the road to building his successful company and personal fortune. His first-person accounts of his most intriguing deals illustrate the principles that guide Mr. Peebles in all of his transactions. His second book, (i)The Peebles Path to Real Estate Wealth(ei), released in September 2008, outlines the fundamental tools for real estate investing and details how to make money in any market.

Peebles currently serves on the National Finance Committee of President Barack Obama.

CHERYL RICHARDS serves as senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer at the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau (Dallas CVB). The Dallas CVB is the only tourism bureau in the nation with a dedicated diversity and inclusion department, aimed at elevating Dallas as a leader in the industry and building new partnerships that will drive business to the city.

Richards' goal is to imbed diversity into the fabric of the Dallas CVB, which she has accomplished by developing creative programs and partnerships to honor diversity of all kinds. The Diversity and Inclusion team focuses on high levels of attendee customization for a variety of special groups. In 2015 alone, Richards and her department has been honored with the Texas Diversity Council 2015 Corporate Achievement award at the Annual Greater Dallas Best Practices and DiversityFIRST Awards Luncheon, the 2015 Driving Diversity Award by the Greater Dallas Asian American Chamber of Commerce, and the 2015 APEX Award by Black Meetings & Tourism.

MICHAEL V. ROBERTS is the classic American entrepreneur. Born to middle class hard working parents, educated in the St. Louis public school system, he worked his way through college and law school to become one of St. Louis' leading businessmen. Throughout his rise in business, Roberts maintained a strong commitment to the African-American community from which he came. Locating his headquarters in the heart of this community, his endeavors over the last forty years have created thousands of jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities, raised the level of economic activity and enhanced the quality of life for the African-American community.

Roberts' broad range of professional knowledge and experience developed as both a business owner and public official (St. Louis Board of Aldermen, 1977-1985) encompasses the application of innovative financing strategies for large public projects, public-private sector development negotiation strategies, and successful management techniques for urban commercial properties. His leadership in the creation of innovative strategies for financing of redevelopment projects propelled the City into a major redevelopment phase that lasted throughout the 1980s.

In the decades that followed, Roberts used his extraordinary and creative leadership abilities to build a business empire that encompasses television and quasi-governmental agencies, and private owners in the management of all phases of a construction project, including the design and management of programs to ensure the participation of Minority-owned, Women-owned, and Local Small Businesses. RR&A has served as consultant to a wide variety of public and private sector clients over the past 29 years, managing MBE/WBE participation as construction contractors, vendors and suppliers in projects throughout the country whose cumulative cost exceeds $30 billion.

JOHN ROLFE was born and raised in Wichita, Kansas.  Since March 2012, John has served as the chief operating officer of the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau (GHCVB).  With the 2014 alignment of Houston First Corporation and the GHCVB, John assumed the role of chief administrative officer of Houston First Corporation.  Before joining the GHCVB, John was the CEO and president of Go Wichita Convention & Visitors Bureau.  He also has served as the vice president of Economic Development for the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce and as deputy secretary of the Kansas Department of Commerce.  During his tenure in the hospitality industry, he has served as director of Finance and Administration at both the Wichita and San Jose (CA) Convention and Visitors Bureaus.

Rolfe is a graduate of Wichita State University, Wichita, KS, holding a bachelor's degree in business administration and has been involved with numerous boards and civic organizations.  He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Texas Association of Convention & Visitors Bureau (TACVB), YMCA of Houston, the Ensemble Theatre and on the Advisory Board of the Greater Houston Black Chamber.

BRENDA SCOTT-SAVAGE is director of Membership for the Greater Houston Convention and visitor Bureau.  Before entering the tourism industry, Scott-Savage enjoyed a successful 20-year career as a corporate officer in the banking industry. She served as vice president of Community and Member Relations for seven years at the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau and is the former president and CEO of the Mobile Area Convention and Visitor Bureau (MACVB).

Scott-Savage is privileged to serve and support the convention and visitor industry for more than 27 years and has been recognized for her area of experience and expertise. She does an extensive amount of public speaking on a variety of subjects in the business community as well as industry seminars to include keynote presentations to the British Association of Conference Destinations, Manchester, England, Travel Industry of America, International Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus along with state and local associations throughout the United States.

Scott-Savage, semi-retired continues, to serve as a consultant to DMOs and the travel industry. She joined the Greater Houston Convention and visitor Bureau as Director of Membership in June of 2013 after serving as a consultant to the organization, redeveloping their membership program.

MONICA SMITH, CMP, CASE, CDME is the president & CEO of the Macon-Bibb County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Smith leads the CVB's efforts to market Macon-Bibb County as a destination for leisure travel, conventions, and group tours. She is the President of the Georgia Association of CVBs (GACVB), the Vice President of the Southeast Tourism Society (STS), and a member of Meeting Professionals International (MPI) and the Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI). Smith earned a bachelor's degree in hotel administration from Cornell University in 1995.  In her leisure time, she enjoys reading, watching football and basketball, and traveling with her husband and three children.

CALVIN TAYLOR is vice president of Government Relations for the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, where he works closely with state government, city officials and the local hospitality industry in Memphis in enhancing the development and growth of Memphis tourism.  In addition he serves as the bureau's director of the Memphis tourism education foundation, which administers the city's official hospitality tourism training program.

Taylor is co-founder of the Beale street development corporation, the organization that reintroduced the historic district as a tourist destination. He also worked as publicity director at Southland Racing Corporation, the southeast's largest pari-mutuel waging center. Additionally he is a member of the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners and is a past chairman of the Tennessee Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus.

Besides being a major player in the state's tourism industry for many years, he has also served the Tennessee Tourism Roundtable (TTR) faithfully as a board member, TTR Government Relations Committee member and chair, and chair of the annual TTR salute to the legislature.  Last year he served as chair of TTR after serving as vice-chair during 2010.

Taylor was named as the recipient of the 2010 Tennessee Tourism Roundtable Knight of the Roundtable Award, an award given in recognition of an individual for their outstanding contributions of leadership, service, and professionalism to the Tennessee tourism industry and for their involvement with and service to the Tennessee tourism.

LINDA HAITHCOX TAYLOR has over 30 years of experience in organizational and business management including research, project creation, implementation, fundraising, public relations, special events management and budget development. 

Her career has the benefit of unique experiences, which includes corporate, higher education, small and minority owned business and non-profit management.  She has worked for and with Fortune 500 corporations such as Bristol-Myers;  with leading institutions of higher education such as Howard University and Bowie State University;  with several African-American owned corporations; with Capitol Hill special interest political groups such as the National Organization of Black County Officials (NOBCO), the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL) and the National Policy Alliance (NPA); with the 1992 Clinton and the 2008 & 2012 Obama Presidential Campaigns; with numerous U.S. Congressional and state political campaigns; and with two of America's highly respected African-American organizations: UNCF (The United Negro College Fund); NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

During her tenure with the NAACP, Haithcox-Taylor directed the Economic Development Department which included managing more than 50 corporate agreements under the Fair Share Program; the Corporate Advisory Council; the Commerce and Trade Council; and the Economic Reciprocity Initiative which monitored and issued annual industry reviews on the hotel, telecommunications and other industries. 

Haithcox-Taylor has managed the National Policy Alliance which represents the presidents and chairs of Black elected officials national organizations.  As executive director, She is responsible for national policy advocacy, as well as leadership meetings and communications throughout the year with the NPA member organizations and with the White House administration. 

Haithcox-Taylor is also the founder and president of Women Love Sports Too! (WLST) that helps women understand, appreciate and enjoy sports as a career option, business opportunity and as a fan.

She holds a B.A. in Public Relations and a M. A. in Organizational Communications.   A native of Chicago and an avid sports fan, she and her husband have two daughters, one son and three grandsons.  She is a firm believer in mentoring and volunteering.  

Haithcox-Taylor says that until her beloved Chicago Bears recruit her as a take-no-stuff linebacker; or when her Bulls are ready for an in-your-face point guard; she will continue to support African-Americans and women in business.

MELVIN TENNANT, CAE, is president and chief executive officer of Meet Minneapolis, Convention and Visitors Association. He became the organization's second CEO in 2008. He previously served in similar capacities in Charlotte, N.C., San Antonio, Texas and Oakland, Calif.

Since joining Meet Minneapolis, Tennant has overseen convention sales and marketing programs that bring a direct economic impact of $900 million to the area. With an annual budget of $12 million and a staff of 60, Tennant and his team worked closely with the Minnesota Vikings and other organizations as a member of the Minnesota Super Bowl LII Bid Committee to secure the National Football League's Super Bowl for Minnesota in February 2018. Just a few months later, he and his team worked with the University of Minnesota and other local leaders to secure the 2019 National Collegiate Athletics Association Men's Final Four. Both events will be held in the new Minnesota Stadium currently under construction.

Under his leadership, Meet Minneapolis launched an affiliate organization, Sports Minneapolis, in May 2014 to market and sell Minneapolis as a site for amateur and professional sporting events, sports-related conventions and related activities. 

Previously, Tennant's Meet Minneapolis team also worked alongside the Minnesota Twins to secure the 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star Game and played an integral role in laying the groundwork and implementing logistics for Minneapolis Saint Paul's successful hosting of the 2008 Republican National Convention.

Additionally, from 2007-2014, Tennant served as CEO for Internet Destination Sales System (iDSS), a private company that delivers a complete web-based series of software applications for destination marketing organizations, associations, hotels and corporations, where he oversaw the company's management and operations. iDSS was acquired by Tempest in Fall 2014. Tennant continues to serve on its board of directors.

Tennant has proved himself a leader in the travel industry. Currently, he is chairman of the board for Religious Conference Management Association (RCMA), and is the first supplier to serve in this position in the organization's history.

In addition, Tennant has previously served on the boards of the U.S. Travel Association, American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), Center for Association Leadership, Meeting Professionals International (MPI), the MPI Foundation, and is a past chairman of the Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI). He currently serves locally on the boards of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, Minneapolis Downtown Council and YouthLink, an organization that strives to build healthy relationships with youth and the community to address youths' urgent needs so that doors of opportunity are opened to futures of empowerment, connectedness and self-reliance.

During his career Tennant has received many accolades, most notably the RMCA's President Award, MPI's Chapter Legacy Award - Carolina Chapter and Black Meetings & Tourism magazine's APEX Award.

Tennant received his bachelor's degree from Rice University, master's degree in Christian Leadership Studies from Liberty University and holds an Association Executive Certification from ASAE.

RICKEY L. THIGPEN joined the Jackson Convention & Visitors Bureau (JCVB) in 1987 as the manager of Information Systems.  For the past 29 years Thigpen has served in multiple management positions within the administrative and marketing disciplines. Currently Thigpen serves as executive vice president of Jackson's official destination marketing organization.  He is responsible for governmental & community engagement, stakeholder relationships, signature event management and new & untraditional market initiatives.  Thigpen also serves as the executive director of Destination Jackson, Inc., the community's 501c3 tourism non-profit organization.

Thigpen is a member of numerous professional and civic organizations, including Destination Marketing Association International, 100 Black Men of Jackson, Inc., Mississippi Valley State University National Alumni Association, Leadership Jackson Alumni Association (Board of Directors), Alpha Foundation, Inc. (vice-chairman), Mississippi March of Dimes, (Board of Directors) and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., (where he serves as the Mississippi District director and member of the Southern Region Board of Directors). Thigpen represents the Jackson CVB on numerous committees and commissions including the Mississippi Restaurant & Lodging Association and the Mississippi Tourism Association. He serves as a principal member of the JCVB Speakers Bureau and is involved in professional coaching, peer and local school districts mentoring and the Red Cross-Mississippi Chapter. 

Thigpen is a native of Jackson, Mississippi.  He holds a baccalaureate degree in Computer Science, a master's degree in Leadership and is currently completing requirements to obtain a doctoral degree in Psychology/Organizational Behavior & Leadership.  Additionally, Thigpen has earned professional certifications from the University of Southern Mississippi, the Mississippi Tourism Association and Destination Marketing Association International.

Thigpen is a member of Cade Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, where he serves as member of the Music Staff and Public Relations Ministry Leader. 

ALBERT TUCKER serves as vice president of Multicultural Business Development for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau (GFLCVB), where he is focused on ensuring that organizations and families of diverse backgrounds select Greater Fort Lauderdale as the destination of choice for conferences and family reunions. It is Tucker's vision to expose ethnically diverse individuals and groups to Greater Fort Lauderdale so that GFL becomes the destination of choice for individuals of color.

Over the past five years Greater Fort Lauderdale has been a magnet for Family Reunions, where that segment of the market has increased by more than 45%.  Group business has expanded in a major way and the destination is primed to welcome prestigious organizations such as the American Tennis Association (ATA) 2013, Progressive National Baptist Convention (PNBC) 2014, National Association of Black Accountants (NABA) 2014, 100 Black Men of America in 2014, and the National Urban League (NUL) in 2015.

PATRICIA WASHINGTON serves as president and CEO of The Alexandria Convention & Visitors Association.  Washington, who previously held the position of vice president of cultural tourism for the Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corp., replaced former chief executive Stephanie Pace Brown, who moved on to the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau in North Carolina.  Washington, who assumed her post in 2012, is just the third person to lead ACVA since it was organized 18 years ago.

CAROLYN WHITE serves as president, Board of Directors of the Travel Professionals of Color (TPOC) National Association.  In this position she presides over the Board and manages the daily operations of the Association.  She leads the creation, development and implementation of programs, initiatives, training and events that support the mission and members.  She also exercises executive supervision over the property, business and all other affairs of the association.  Her position requires a professional that always deals honestly and steers the Association in a mission focused direction.

ERNEST WOODEN JR. took the helm of the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board (LATCB) in January 2013 to oversee the global brand marketing and meetings and convention sales strategy for one of the most-visited and most-famous travel destinations in the world - Los Angeles.

As president & chief executive officer of LATCB, Wooden is responsible for ensuring the achievement of the mission of the city's official tourism marketing organization, which is to advance the prosperity of the Los Angeles visitor economy and the livelihoods which depend on it. This mission is fulfilled by marketing and promoting Los Angeles as the premier site for leisure travel, meetings and conventions to the principle segments of both the domestic and international travel trade and consumer. In addition to the staff at the primary office in Los Angeles, Wooden directs the activities of LATCB's international representatives in London, Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Seoul, Australia, Germany, Mexico, Sao Paulo, Mumbai and New Delhi. His additional responsibilities include oversight of the exclusive contract to market international air service and promote route development for Los Angeles World Airports as well as the Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission.

Wooden has spent his entire career in the hospitality industry, including more than a decade in senior leadership positions in both global brand management and operations with Hilton Hotels Corporation. In addition, Wooden has also worked with such top hospitality brands as Sheraton Hotels and Resorts, Omni Hotels & Resorts, Doubletree by Hilton and Promus Hotel Corporation. 

Wooden plays a significant role in industry affairs as a member of the Board of Directors of the U.S. Travel Association (USTA).  He is also dedicated to civic and community affairs, sitting on the Boards of the Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission, Sister Cities of Los Angeles the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce; the Executive Committee of the Central City Association of Los Angeles; the Board of Advisors of The Collins College of Hospitality Management at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona; and the Thomas Edison State University MBA Advisory Board. In 2015, Wooden was named to the prestigious EBONY® Magazine Power 100 list, which salutes the remarkable achievements of the most influential African-Americans in the country.

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