Meet the Keynotes


Christopher Thompson

President & Chief Executive Officer, BrandUSA

Christopher L. Thompson is president and CEO of Brand USA, the nation's public-private partnership dedicated to increasing international visitation to the United States through marketing and promotional efforts. In this role, Chris is responsible for accelerating the organization’s efforts to build and execute effective marketing strategies to increase U.S. travel exports, create jobs, strengthen the economy, and help enhance the image of the United States with people all over the world. Under Chris’ leadership, Brand USA has nearly tripled its partnership network and more than doubled its partner contributions and program offerings.

Chris has over 30 years of experience in the travel and tourism industry. Prior to joining Brand USA on Nov. 1, 2012, Chris was president and CEO of VISIT FLORIDA. Under his leadership, Florida realized record growth in international visitation.

He began his career in tourism with the Division of Tourism in the former Florida Department of Commerce in April 1983, and he became bureau chief for domestic tourism in April 1986. In November 1988, he joined the Leon County (Florida) Tourist Development Council as the organization’s first executive director, and in April 1991, he took leadership of the Tallahassee (Florida) Area Convention and Visitors Bureau as president and CEO.

In August 1995, Chris founded MarketServe, Inc., a professional management, marketing and planning services company based in Tallahassee, Florida. Two years later, he joined VISIT FLORIDA as senior vice-president, partner development. He was promoted to chief operating officer in May 2003, and named president and CEO in May 2009.

Throughout his career, Chris has been honored with a number of industry awards and recognized for numerous accomplishments, including twice being named one of the "Top Twenty-Five Most Extraordinary Minds in Sales & Marketing" by the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International in 2009 and 2013. In 2015, Chris received the NTA (National Tour Association) Pioneer Award for his accomplishments in producing significant changes in the travel industry.

Chris is currently on the board of Destinations International, where he is on the organization’s Executive and Global Leadership committees. And, he is a member of the Advisory Board for the Eric Friedheim Tourism Institute, an entity within the Department of Tourism, Recreation and Sport Management at the University of Florida.

A Certified Destination Management Executive (CDME) since May 2010, Chris has also been a member of and served on the leadership boards of numerous other national, regional, state and local trade associations and organizations. The list includes the U.S. Travel Association; U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board (to the Secretary of Commerce); Travel and Tourism Advisory Council (to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, Miami Branch); Association of Travel Marketing Executives; Southeast Tourism Society; and Skal International (a professional, worldwide organization of tourism leaders).

Additionally, Chris is a trustee and a member of the Executive Committee for the Federal City Council, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to the improvement of the District of Columbia. 

Chris earned a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from the University of Florida in 1980. He and his wife, Susan, have two grown sons, Christopher and James.

 

Debbie Johnson

Director, Arizona Office of Tourism

Debbie has spent over two decades working in the tourism industry in Arizona. She was appointed by Governor Doug Ducey as Director of the Arizona Office of Tourism in August 2015 to oversee the state's tourism marketing strategy. Prior to that she served as President & CEO of the Arizona Lodging & Tourism Association and Valley Hotel & Resort Association. In addition, Debbie plays an integral role in shaping Arizona's tourism industry and serving as the voice of its 200,000+ employees.

 She serves on numerous local, state and national boards and committees dedicated to the industry and has been honored as Arizona's Tourism Champion of the Year, the Phoenix Visitor Industry Champion and was inducted into the Arizona Tourism Hall of Fame in 2011. She was named among the Valley's Most Admired CEOs by the Phoenix Business Journal in 2012 and the Top Business Leaders of 2013-2016 by AZ Business Magazine.

Debbie was born and raised in Wyoming, but she is a 25+ year Arizona resident and an Arizona State Sun Devil, where she received her degree in Marketing. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, reading, football, quality time with her three children and, of course, traveling.

 

Don Welsh

President & CEO, Destinations International

A seasoned tourism executive with more than 35 years of experience in the industry, Welsh serves as the President and CEO of Destinations International.

Since joining the Association in March 2016, Welsh has implemented a strategic realignment for the association through a renewed commitment to focus on member needs to deliver the resources members have determined to be essential to the success of their organizations. Leading this list of priorities – education, professional development, certification, accreditation, best practices and advocacy support followed by scalable and timely products and services.

Prior to joining Destinations International, Welsh served as the President and CEO of Choose Chicago, the official destination marketing organization for Chicago. In this role, Welsh was responsible for marketing Chicago to business and leisure travelers throughout regional, national and international markets. During his five years with Choose Chicago, Welsh developed and implemented initiatives that contributed to stellar results for Chicago’s visitor industry. Welsh and his team reported a record-breaking and results driven 2014, including a record of 50.2 million visitors to Chicago resulting in record tourism spending, record hotel tax revenue and jobs; 14 months of record demand for hotel rooms and 13 percent growth in hotel room night production by the Choose Chicago convention sales team.

Welsh also held the CEO position at the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and the Seattle Convention & Visitors Bureau. Prior to joining the destination marketing industry, Welsh served as senior vice president for Westin Hotels at its corporate headquarters, and has also held senior leadership positions in sales and marketing for Westin Hotels and Resorts, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and the MGM Grand Hotel/Casino in Las Vegas.

 

Erik Wahl

Artist, Author & Entrepreneur

Erik Wahl is an internationally recognized graffiti artist, # 1 best selling author, and entrepreneur. Erik redefines the term “keynote speaker.” Pulling from his history as both a businessman and an artist, he has grown to become one of the most sought-after corporate speakers available today. Erik’s on-stage painting seamlessly becomes a visual metaphor to the core of his message, encouraging organizations toward profitability through innovations and superior levels of performance. His list of clients includes AT&T, Disney, London School of Business, Microsoft, FedEx, Exxon Mobil, Ernst & Young, and XPrize; Erik has even been featured as a TED presenter. The responses received have been nothing short of incredible, with standing ovations to prove it.

Erik’s bestselling business book UNTHINK was hailed by Forbes Magazine as THE blueprint to actionable creativity and by Fast Company Magazine as Provocative with a Purpose.

Erik’s understanding of vision was originally born in the school of disappointment. After an eight-year career as a partner in a corporate firm, he became frustrated by the lack of innovative thought and corresponding profits he saw in business. So he set out to challenge companies to change their way of thinking, while simultaneously pursuing his own individual passions. He rediscovered his love for art and now plays in the business world by working through his art.

In the past 10 years, he has shared his incredible message with the largest and most influential companies in the world, leaving behind his prized artwork as a reminder of his passion for breakthrough thinking. He’s the Warhol of Wall Street, the Renoir of ROI, the Picasso of Productivity, the Jobs of… well, having a job.

He is Erik Wahl: graffiti artist, author, entrepreneur, and philanthropist.

 

Melanie Spring

Founder, Branded Confidence by Melanie Spring

Melanie Spring is one of those people who can walk into a room and light it up. She’ll make you want to be her best friend, yet when she gets to know enough of your story, she’ll find the perfect way to push you outside of your box. Her brand is Approachable Badass and it fits her perfectly. She even got out of her own box when she went on a 7,000-mile road trip collecting stories on how companies lived their brand. The Live Your Brand Tour was published in Entrepreneur Magazine, where she earned her title as a veteran brand strategist.

With entrepreneurship in her blood, she ran Sisarina for 8 years building websites and brands only to rebrand as herself through Branded Confidence by Melanie Spring. Speaking and facilitating workshops all over the world, she becomes a part of your team as she builds your brand from the inside out - with humans first. But you have to be a kickass human in order to work with her. (She even has a club for that - www.kickasshumansclub.com)

BRANDED CONFIDENCE BY MELANIE SPRING
Branding is what Melanie does best. Confidence is what every brand needs to stand in its purpose. Branded Confidence is the platform that gives you the tools to define your brand, find your voice, and create your message. When your brand is confident, you walk into every room with poise, tenacity and a fearless grit. You know who you are, what you stand for, and how to talk about it - personally and professionally. Branded Confidence was built to give brands - the personal ones AND the business ones - the courage to be what they were made to be. To find their
purpose, understand the core of who they are, and make sure they attract the humans and clients they deserve.

Find out more at www.brandedconfidence.com

 

Nan Marchand Beauvois

Senior Vice President of National Councils and General Manager, ESTO

Nan Marchand Beauvois is the U.S. Travel Association’s senior vice president of national councils, overseeing the National Council of State Tourism Directors, the National Council of Attractions, the Destinations Council and the Meetings Mean Business Coalition. She is also general manager for U.S. Travel’s Educational Seminar for Tourism Organizations (ESTO).

Prior to joining U.S. Travel, Marchand Beauvois was the executive director of the Pasadena Convention & Visitors Bureau, where she worked to brand the city as a year-round business and leisure destination, beyond the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl, in the competitive Los Angeles market. She concurrently led an aggressive sales program for the city’s expanding convention center.

Marchand Beauvois has lent her skills to industry associations and has served as a member of U.S. Travel’s IPW Planning Committee, the California Travel & Tourism Commission International Marketing Advisory Committee, the National Tour Associations Marketing Committee, the TTRA board, the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board Marketing Committee. She was also a long-term board member of CalTravel, where she served as chair in 2000-01, and was recently recognized as one of Successful Meetings’ 25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry

Marchand Beauvois studied political science/international relations and romance languages at the University of California at Los Angeles.

 

Ryan George

CEO, Simpleview

Ryan George is a Tucson native and graduate of the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona. In 2001 he co-founded Simpleview, drawing his dual degree in Accounting and Management Information Systems as well as five years of professional experience as a governmental auditor and IT Director at a regional accounting firm.

Under his leadership, Simpleview has grown from a small software developer to the leading provider of technology sales and marketing solutions for DMOs, serving over 530 clients and employing over 220 software engineers and interactive marketing professionals. Today, Ryan speaks to business schools and professional organizations worldwide as an expert in travel and tourism, technology and entrepreneurship.

 

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