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Industry Briefs

Black Meetings & Tourism was honored to once again recognize industry movers and shakers who have made outstanding contributions in their particular fields of endeavor to positively impact travel and tourism.   This year's awardees include Darren Green, Dzidra Junior, Fred Dixon, Leslie Whitlow Graves, Leorne Edwards, Patricia Washington and Twila Jones.

The Apex Awards ceremony was held during the 8th Annual International Multicultural & Heritage Tourism Summit & Trade Show, October 8-10, at the Marriott Biscayne Bay hotel in Miami, FL.   PJ Douglas Sands served as moderator for the virtual Apex Awards presentations.  

"It is such a pleasure and honor to recognize those individuals in our industry that have raised the bar by exhibiting their high standards and excellence," said Solomon J. Herbert, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Black Meetings & Tourism.   "They've earned and deserve our respect and acknowledgement for the good work they have done.   Presenting the Apex Awards is the highlight of our yearly agenda," adds Herbert, "and we are already looking forward to giving our Apex Awards in 2022."

Here are bios of this year's recipients:


Darren K. Green serves as Senior Vice President, Sales & Services for Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board, the official, non-profit Destination Marketing & Sales Organization for the city of Los Angeles. He is responsible for leading the citywide convention sales, hotel sales and client & destination services teams, as well as sales marketing and operations. Green joined Los Angeles Tourism in February 2014.

Green supports the achievement of the organization's mission to "leverage the economic power of tourism to improve the quality of life for all Angelenos." In 2019, the travel & tourism industry was L.A. County's third largest employer, supporting over 544,000 jobs, driving $37.8 billion in economic output and generating $3.0 billion in state and local tax revenues.

Green brings more than 20 years of hospitality sales experience to the role, having worked with top brands such as Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, Hilton Hotels Corporation, Nikko Hotels International, and KSL Resorts. Previously, Green was a Director of Sales for the Starwood Hotels of New York Metro Market Team, which drove the sales efforts for 8 hotels including the Westin, St. Regis, W and Sheraton brands.

He has held sales positions with Hyatt Hotels and Resorts in Buffalo, N.Y., Hilton Head, S.C. and Maui, HI. In 1995, he joined the Hilton Hotels Corporation as National Sales Manager for the Hilton Waikoloa Village in Kamuela, HI. Green spent seven years at various properties as Director of Sales and Marketing throughout Hawaii including The Ihilani Resort and Spa, The Orchid at Mauna Lani and The Grand Wailea Resort and Spa. In 2002, he was named the Director of Sales and Marketing for two of the top

Starwood Hotels and Resorts properties in Los Angeles, The Westin Century Plaza Hotel and Spa and The St. Regis Los Angeles. In 2006, he subsequently served as Vice President, Hotel Marketing for Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino by Sheraton in Las Vegas. Darren moved to New York in 2009 to lead the sales and marketing team for the four W Hotels in Manhattan as Complex Director of Sales and Marketing.

Green was selected as one of HSMAI's 2018 Top 25 Most Extraordinary Minds in Sales, Marketing & Revenue Optimization, and a recipient of the Events Industry Council's 2020 Social Impact Award. He currently serves on the Global Board of Trustees for MPI Foundation, a non-profit organization that propels the meeting and event industry forward through innovative research and pan-industry initiatives.



Dzidra Junior recently joined YMCA of the Rockies as Vice President of Business Development. She is responsible for creating and developing a dynamic and sustainable strategy to advance the mission of YMCA of the Rockies by increasing revenue across multiple channels as well as directing all activities of the marketing, communications, reservations and sales teams.

Dzidra has worked in the hospitality industry for 29 years. Prior to coming to YMCA of the Rockies, she spent 15 years as Director of Global Sales for MGM Resorts International in Las Vegas, Nev., where she successfully developed and executed the strategy for the diversity business case. Additionally, Dzidra successfully worked to strengthen community partnerships that helped attract national conventions to MGM Resorts International's Las Vegas and regional properties. Dzidra has also held leadership positions for Caesars Entertainment and Las Vegas Hilton, now known as Westgate Resorts.

Dzidra is was President of the National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals at the point she received her award, and she serves on the Diversity Task Force for Destinations International. Her additional board service includes The International School of Hospitality, Delta Education Foundation, and Association of Latino Professionals for America. She is a member of Meeting Planners International (MPI) and Professional Conference Management Association (PCMA). 

YMCA of the Rockies is a non-profit, mission-based organization that operates two year-round family vacation and conference centers, both located in the heart of Colorado's Rocky Mountains, as well as an overnight summer camp for youth. Its mission is to put Christian principles into practice through programs, staff and facilities in an environment that builds a healthy spirit, mind and body for all 



Fred Dixon is President and CEO of NYC & Company, New York City's official destination marketing organization. He joined the organization in 2005 as Vice President, Tourism and rose to become CEO in 2014. With more than 30 years of experience in the travel industry, Dixon has the overall responsibility for developing and implementing New York City's tourism, meetings and events strategy and programming to grow business and leisure travel from across the US and from around the world.

At NYC & Company, he has built a sales and marketing team that is at the core of the organization's strategy to increase visitation and economic impact across the City. In 2019, New York City welcomed a record 66.6 million visitors, which generated $72 Billion in economic impact and powered more than 400,000 jobs across the five boroughs.

Dixon built a global network of 17 global outposts comprising sales, marketing and press professionals in diverse feeder markets from Australia to the UK, China to Mexico and India to Brazil that more than doubled international visitation to 13.5 million by the end of 2019.

In 2020 during the early months of the Covid-19 Pandemic, Dixon organized the Coalition for NYC Hospitality and Tourism Recovery which brought industry leaders together from across industry and all five boroughs to begin planning a path back. By July 2020, NYC & Company and the Coalition published "All In NYC: The Roadmap for Tourism's Reimagining and Recovery" which is being implemented with the support of a $30 Million investment from the City of New York for recovery messaging and promotion.

Fred is a respected leader with positions on travel industry association boards and committees including the New York Convention Center Operating Corporation Board and U.S. Travel Association where he serves as Vice Chair of the Board, Co-Chair of the Meetings Mean Business Coalition and member of the IPW Planning Committee.

He has previously held board positions with the U.S. Department of Commerce's Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, Tourism Cares, the National Tour Association (NTA) and Student & Youth Travel Association (SYTA).

Prior to joining NYC & Company, Fred served in key positions at the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau, Planet Hollywood International, The Biltmore Estate, the Gatlinburg Convention & Visitors Bureau, Delta Airlines and Group Sales Box Office.

Fred is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and resides in Midtown Manhattan.



Leslie W. Graves is the President & CEO of Experience Prince George's, the official Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) for Prince George's County, Maryland.   As the new lead for this organization, Graves has been steadfast and impactful in steering the direction and vision of the county as a premier destination, in conjunction with building a new team and Board of Directors.

Graves previously served as the Government Affairs Liaison and Special Assistant to the President of Destination DC, the Capitol's Conference and Visitor's Bureau (CVB) where she worked with the Mayor's economic development leadership team to secure funding to rebrand Washington, DC. In this role, she had a long and successful career meeting with City Council members on legislative and budgetary matters, and testifying on critical issues that ranged from transportation costs involving taxicab fee structures to WMATA's operations.

Graves began her career in the Maryland Governor's Office as a program officer overseeing millions of dollars in state grants for education, public safety, and health care, which was disbursed to non-profit organizations.

Originally from northern California, she relocated to Washington, DC, in the late 1990's to serve in the Mayor's Office of Community Affairs for the District of Columbia.

Leslie W. Graves is a graduate of the University of California Davis. She resides in Clinton, MD with her two sons.


As Senior Vice President, Sales & Services at Visit Phoenix, Lorne Edwards sets and guides the overarching sales and services strategic initiatives and operational competencies of the DMO. Edwards is responsible for positioning Phoenix as the premier destination for meetings and events through alignment with the cities knowledge and innovation ecosystem of industries in a way that elevates the prominence as the destination of choice for meeting planners nationally.

Edwards serves on several key industry committee's such as Destination's International Convention Sales & Services Committee, Equity Diversity & Inclusion Committee, ASAE's Industry Partner Relations Committee and is an active member of Association Forum of Chicago and PCMA.

Prior to his current role, Edwards, served as the organizations Vice President of Sales, and Director of Sales. Additionally, Edwards spent over 16 years with Hyatt Hotels Corporation in Boston, Denver, Atlanta and Orlando.

A native of Antigua, West Indies, he received a Bachelor's of Science degree in Business Administration and Hospitality Management from the University of Central Florida.

Edwards enjoys spending time with his children, travelling, reading, music, and sporting activities



Patricia Washington is President & CEO of Visit Alexandria, the destination marketing organization for the City of Alexandria, Virginia, named a Top 5 Best Small City in the U.S. for three consecutive years by the Condé Nast Tr aveler Readers' Choice Awards.

Since arriving in 2012, Patricia led a rebranding effort positioning Alexandria as a destination for leisure and meetings with a rich and diverse history, independent boutiques and restaurants, vibrant arts and culture, and an evolving waterfront as brand pillars. Under her leadership, Visit Alexandria launched three brand campaigns; developed a robust national media relations effort; expanded video, photo, itinerary and blog content; and increased digital and social media marketing. As a result of these efforts, visitor spending, hotel occupancy, media stories and web visits have risen to record levels under her leadership.

Patricia is responsible for Visit Alexandria's vision, culture, and data-driven content-first marketing strategy, which shine a light on Alexandria's diverse and inclusive community. In collaboration with the City of Alexandria and the Office of Historic Alexandria, Visit Alexandria continues to expand the lens through which it frames African American history through new content like Great Walks in Alexandria , which highlights the City's walkability in themes such as the Duke Street Black History Trail, and A Courageous Journey: Alexandria' Black History Driving Tour , a reimagined eight-site driving tour that explores how African American history shaped Alexandria and more. In 2021, Patricia lead Visit Alexandria's expanded marketing to diverse audiences with a new "Drop In" campaign tar geting Black travelers and featuring iconic and new travel experiences, a Spanish-language campaign, new content supporting AAPI-owned businesses, Latino-and Latina-owned businesses, Indigenous history and experiences and more.

Two years ago, Patricia led the launch of the King Street Corridor Initiative a public/private partnership focused on beautification, programming and marketing for historic King Street and the waterfront.  As part of the Initiative, Patricia secured private sector partners, and launched Portside in Old Town waterfront programming and a new regional advertising campaign.

Patricia serves on the board of the Alexandria Arts Alliance and is part of the Northern Virginia Tourism Partnership comprised of the five Northern Virginia DMOs.

Before moving to Alexandria in 2012, Patricia worked for more than a decade as vice president of cultural tourism at the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (now known as Visit Philadelphia) where she worked on major citywide history, music, art, neighborhood tourism and outdoor recreation initiatives. Before entering the travel and tourism industry, Patricia worked in philanthropy as a program officer at the William Penn Foundation in Philadelphia where she worked on Arts & Culture and Children, Youth & Families initiatives. Prior to that, Patricia served as an assistant city solicitor in the City of Philadelphia Law Department and as program director for the Painted Bride Art Center a multidisciplinary arts organization in Philadelphia.

Patricia has a JD and BFA from Howard University.



Twila Jones currently serves as Senior Sales Manager for Experience Columbia SC - The Real Southern Hot Spot in the capital metropolitan city of the state of South Carolina.   Twila's primary role is to create connectability and profit between all levels of meetings and our Midlands partners.   A proud native of Columbia, Twila has guided hundreds of seasoned Faith, Ethnic, Fraternal, and Cultural planners through the process of booking meetings and conventions throughout the city.   More recently, her management responsibilities expanded to the territory of Tennessee and six other southeastern state territories.   Twila is a part of a diverse company of professionals and was appointed Co-Chair of the Midlands Authority for Convention Sports & Tourism Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council in 2020.

Jones has bridged the gap between sales, faith, diversity, and the arts for more than 16 years, lending her skills to multiple notable organizations in the pursuit of industry accomplishments and regional economic impact.  During the 2020 COVID pandemic, she received her Cvent Certified Supplier certification and earned her CFMP (Certified Faith Meeting Planner) credentials.    In 2011, Jones graduated from Leadership Columbia and in 2008 was awarded the Presidential Award from the SC Baptist Congress of Christian Education Auxiliary.     Jones is a frequent presenter on the college circuit and has served as an industry guest speaker at Columbia College, University of South Carolina, and Allen University.   Her talents have afforded her the opportunity to conduct educations sessions for Richland School District One, Religious Conference Management Association, Christian Meetings & Conventions Association, National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals, International Association of Hispanic Meeting Planners, 7 th Episcopal District of the AME Church, and a host of other organizations, ministries and learning institutions.   Jones has been spotlighted in a variety of industry publications and continues to network and reach new audiences.

Prior to establishing a career in hospitality, Twila held several state administrative positions.  Twila attended Winthrop University and in 2017 was appointed to serve on the Advisory Board for the Hospitality & Tourism Management program at Columbia College during its creation and debut year. 

Twila's professional motto is: "Every relationship and connection has contributed to my success.  If I've met someone in my line of work, they matter.   In this stage of my career, I'm trying to mentor as many students in this field as I can.   I want them to be equipped, encouraged, enthusiastic, creative, and ethical about their work.   I believe their successful introduction into this industry will build an even stronger foundation of hospitality professionals for brands all over the world."


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