2019 Governor’s Conference

Join us as we celebrate Mississippi Tourism and a Bright Future!


Sunday, September 22, 2019

1:00 – 4:00 p.m.  |  Gun or Golf. Enjoy an afternoon in the country! Choose between shooting skeet at Prairie Wildlife and playing golf at Waverly Golf Club

3:00 – 6:00 p.m.  |  Registration – Information Center
Exhibitor Set Up – Grand Ballroom
Trotter Convention Center

4:30 – 5:30 p.m.  |  DMO/CVB Director’s Forum – Meeting Room 2

5:30 – 6:30 p.m.  |  First Time Attendee/New Member Reception – The Tavern

7:00 – 9:00 p.m.  |  Opening Reception at Graham’s Farm
Sponsored by Visit Columbus

9:00 p.m.  |  “Un-Wine” – Delight in Delicious Desserts and Wine at Courtyard Marriott

Monday, September 23, 2019

6:30 – 7:30 a.m.  |  Yoga and Pilates on the Pedestrian Bridge

8:00 a.m.  |  Exhibits Open – Grand Ballroom

8:00 – 8:30 a.m.  |  Breakfast – Vestibule/Grand Ballroom
Sponsored by Yazoo County Convention & Visitors Bureau

8:30 – 10:00 a.m.  |  Opening Session – Grand Ballroom
Keynote Presentation: Nan Marchand Beauvois, Senior Vice President of National Councils & General Manager, ESTO

10:00 – 10:45 a.m.  |  Bloody Mary Break – Vestibule/Grand Ballroom
Sponsored by Snapshot Publishing

10:45 – 11:45 a.m.  |  General Session – Grand Ballroom
Visit Mississippi Tourism Marketing Presentation Presented by Craig Ray – Director, Visit Mississippi and Clay Chandler – Chief Marketing Officer, MDA
Sponsored by Visit Mississippi

12:00 – 1:15 p.m.  |  Luncheon – The W
Keynote Speaker: Dan Janes, CEO, Madden Media
“DMOs Moving from Cooperative Marketing to Collective Impact”
Sponsored by Madden Media

1:30 – 2:30 p.m.  |  Concurrent Sessions
1. Adam Lacombe, Director of Demand Generation
Crowd Riff – Meeting Room 2
“The Next Big Things in Digital Marketing”

2. Halle Czechowski – Meeting Room 3
Public Affairs Advisor, Southeast Tourism Society
“Advocacy Amplified:  Developing a Tourism Strategy”

2:30 – 3:00 p.m.  |  Break – Vestibule/Grand Ballroom
Sponsored by Oxford Conference Center

3:00 – 4:00 p.m.  |  Concurrent Sessions
1. Adam Lacombe, Director of Demand Generation
Crowd Riff – Meeting Room 2
“The Next Big Things in Digital Marketing”

2. Halle Czechowski – Meeting Room 3
Public Affairs Advisor, Southeast Tourism Society
“Advocacy Amplified:  Developing a Tourism Strategy”

5:00 – 6:30 p.m.  |  Evening Reception – Whitehall (circa 1843)
Sponsored by Coastal Mississippi and IP Casino & Resort

7:00 p.m.  |  Dine Around Columbus

9:00 p.m.  |  Beer & Blues! Indulge in desserts paired with Craft Beer while enjoying local Blues musicians at Hampton Inn.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

8:30 – 9:00 a.m.  |  Breakfast – Meeting Room 1
Sponsored by Cleveland Tourism

9:00 – 10:00 a.m.  |  General Session – Meeting Room 2 and 3
Legislative Updates
MTA Strategic Plan Presentation
Neville Bhada, Tourism Skills Group

10:00 – 10:15 a.m.  |  Break – Lower Lobby
Sponsored by Philadelphia/Neshoba County Tourism Bureau

10:15 – 11:30 a.m.  |  General Session – Meeting Room 2 and 3
Dylan Thuras – Atlas Obscura
“Seeing Your World Through New Eyes: How curiosity, exploration and storytelling are transforming the travel landscape”

11:30 – 1:00 p.m.  |  Awards Luncheon – Grand Ballroom
Sponsored by Tempest



Clay Chandler Clay Chandler Chief Marketing Officer, MDA Marketing & Communications Division

Clay Chandler

Clay Chandler is the chief marketing officer and directs MDA’s Marketing and Communications Division, which is comprised of three bureaus responsible for promoting investment and job creation in Mississippi. Marketing and Communications serves MDA’s overall mission by providing public relations, marketing, event planning, graphic design, website management and advertising.

Chandler is an award-winning former journalist with the Clarion Ledger and Mississippi Business Journal. Prior to joining MDA, he served for nearly three years as Director of Communications in the office of Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant. There, Chandler formulated and implemented short- and long-term communications strategies.

A North Mississippi native, Chandler received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Mississippi.


Craig Ray Craig Ray Director, Visit Mississippi

Craig Ray

Craig Ray is the Director of Visit Mississippi, the Tourism office of the Mississippi Development Authority. In this role, he promotes Mississippi as a travel destination and film location by highlighting the state’s culture, heritage, history, natural resources and recreational opportunities through a multi-faceted marketing effort. Ray oversees a diverse number of programs and initiatives, such as International, Outdoor Recreation & Sports , MS Blues & Country Music Trails, the Mississippi Film Office and the State’s 13 Welcome Centers.

Ray returned to the Mississippi Development Authority in 2016 after serving as a Principal in The Talon Group, LLC, a government relations firm providing advice, advocacy and access to federal and state government agencies. Prior to joining The Talon Group, Ray served as President of DCRAY Consulting and as Executive Producer of a number of statewide and national events, including Mississippi Night at the GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles and the Mississippi GRAMMY Celebration. Ray has also served in senior-level positions at the White House for two U.S. Presidents and for two Mississippi Governors.

Ray previously served as the Director of the Tourism Division at the Mississippi Development Authority from 2004 – 2009. During his tenure he played a key role in developing the branding campaign for “Mississippi – The Birthplace of America’s Music,” as well as launching the groundbreaking Mississippi Blues Trail. Today, the Mississippi Blues Trail has more than 200 markers throughout Mississippi and the world.

A Mississippi native, Ray graduated from the University of Mississippi with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. He has one daughter, Emma Claire.

Halle Czechowski Halle Czechowski Public Affairs Consultant

Halle Czechowski

Halle Czechowski is a public affairs consultant.  She works with businesses, associations, and non-profits to provide counsel and insights for developing a policy agenda, communications strategies, messages, and vehicles that advance a mission and connect and empower community leaders to speak out effectively.

She brings to the work a passion for connecting people to their government and helping them to find their voice as advocates.  Her work experience includes a decade on Capitol Hill, where she served as the Executive Director of the Congressional Travel & Tourism Caucus, the federal government, non-profits, and political campaigns.  She has worked with a broad array of organizations, including:  Southeast Tourism Society, Alliance of National Heritage Areas, Georgetown University, Voices for America’s Children, Universal Music, The World Bank, Brand USA, Hoop Dreams Scholarship Fund, People for the American Way, The Entrepreneur Center@NVTC, and the Open Society Justice Initiative.

Dylan Thuras Dylan Thuras Cofounder & Creative Director, AltasObscura.com

Dylan Thuras

Dylan Thuras is the cofounder and creative director of AtlasObscura.com, the encyclopedic online guide to the weirdest and most wondrous places in the world that gets more than five million visitors each month. He’s also the coauthor of the #1 New York Times bestseller Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders, which has over six hundred thousand copies in print.

His pursuit of the unusual began as a teenager exploring abandoned buildings in the Midwest, and this pursuit eventually took him and his wife to Budapest for a year to experience Eastern Europe’s obscure and fascinating locales. But it was one memorable moment while visiting a large, baroque, and totally deserted church in Bologna, Italy, that truly informed the rest of his adventures. Dylan noticed a strange little side door and a buzzer on the wall. He rang it, the door slid open as if by magic, and he found himself face-to-face with St. Catherine of Bologna, a 500-year-old relic/mummy seated on a golden throne and surrounded by the bones of other dead saints.

“It’s always worth investigating the strange little door,” says Dylan—which may be just down the block. “It’s easy to get local’s blindness, but if you make yourself get out there, you’ll find stuff. That’s the idea behind Atlas Obscura—that within a couple of miles of you there’s probably something pretty awesome.”

In partnership with writer and fellow travel enthusiast Joshua Foer, Thuras realized that creating a way for curious travelers to find the hidden wonders of the world seemed like a heck of a lot of fun, and in 2009, Atlas Obscura.com was born, followed by Atlas Obscura (the book), which celebrates over 700 of the strangest and most curious places in the world. From natural wonders like the dazzling glowworm caves in New Zealand or the baobab tree in South Africa that’s so large it has a 15-seat pub inside, to architectural marvels, including the M.C. Escher–like stepwells in India. And mind-boggling events, like the Baby Jumping Festival in Spain, where men dressed as devils vault over rows of squirming infants. Not to mention the Great Stalacpipe Organ in a Virginia cave. A new book, The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid releases in fall 2018.

For speaking engagements, Dylan can customize his talk to include the location and/or personal interest of his audience. He has spoken at conferences around the world, including SXSW, DMAI, the Circumnavigators Club, Applied Brilliance, the New Yorker Festival, Explorer’s Club, TEDxVerona, and the Congress for Curious People in Madrid, about discovery, wonder, and the changing nature of travel. And Atlas Obscura.com hosts hundreds of unique events across the country every year.

Nan Marchand Beauvois Nan Marchand Beauvois Senior Vice President of National Councils & General Manager, ESTO

Nan Marchand Beauvois

Nan Marchand Beauvois is the U.S. Travel Association’s senior vice president of membership and industry relations, overseeing the National Council of State Tourism Directors, the Experience Network, 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.

Neville Bhada Neville Bhada Founder & CEO, Tourism Skills Group

Neville Bhada

Neville Bhada is the founder and CEO of Tourism Skills Group, a company that focuses on the strategic planning, research and marketing needs of the travel and tourism community, and association industries.  


Tourism Skills Group assists convention and visitor bureaus, chambers, accommodations, attractions, festivals and related organizations in developing long range plans through research and discussion. Its direction for strategies provide value in marketing, increasing customer engagement and partnerships that ensures travel is a vital and dynamic element. It provides unique solutions with a customized approach through focus groups, intercept studies, digital studies and more.


Some of the entities Tourism Skills Group works with include The Florida Keys and Key West, Travel South USA, Huntsville, Ala., Visit Central Florida, Visit Marietta Georgia, Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Tennessee Valley Authority, Auburn University, several Parishes in Louisiana, and the Eastern Black Sea of Turkey Tourism Development Authority.


Mr. Bhada serves on the boards of the Atlanta Metro Travel Association as well as Georgia State University’s School of Hospitality Industry Advisory Board.  He speaks domestically and internationally on a wide variety of tourism topics – from international tourism to defending budgets and has spoken to numerous governor’s conferences on travel.


His background includes serving as the executive director for the Southeast States chapter of the Travel and Tourism Research Association, vice president of communications for Southeast Tourism Society and program director of WebMD. He also has worked extensively with the media, where he was awarded a Green Eyeshade Award for Sports Reporting, an AP Award for Best Use of Sound and a television Emmy for web strategies for FOX television affiliate WFLD – Chicago.  


He currently teaches within the Cecil B. Day School of Hospitality at Georgia State University teaching hospitality and tourism as an adjunct professor.


Mr. Bhada is from Atlanta. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia in international business and a master’s degree from Clemson University in travel and tourism. Clemson University recently inducted Neville into its “Outstanding Alumnus” circle for his work in advancing tourism.

Adame Lacombe Adame Lacombe Director of Demand Generation, CrowdRiff

Adame Lacombe

Adam Lacombe is the Director of Demand Generation at CrowdRiff, where he leads a team responsible for content, events, and digital marketing. CrowdRiff is the leading AI-powered visual marketing platform used by 600+ travel and tourism brands to discover, publish and optimize the most engaging visual content across every channel, at scale. Prior to CrowdRiff, Adam has led high-growth marketing teams in the Toronto tech community. When he’s not in the office, he’s exploring the woods, camping, hiking, or fishing. Find Adam on Twitter @AdamJLacombe

Dan Janes Dan Janes CEO, Madden Media

Dan Janes

Daniel Janes is the CEO of Madden Media, a destination marketing agency focused on increasing visitation, travel, and tourism for communities across the country. Madden uses innovative, technology-driven marketing strategies to provide solutions for partners. We know travel is transformative for individuals and communities and our team is proud to impact the growth of communities by creating personalized, immersive marketing strategies that connect people to places.


Online registration has closed. If you would still like to attend we will have onsite registration available on Sunday, September 22, from 3pm – 6pm at the Trotter Convention Center. We hope to see you in Columbus!


As the host city, we would like to welcome you to the 2019 Governor’s Conference on Tourism, September 22-24.

Columbus, Mississippi, with its rich historical heritage, is the perfect destination for anyone who appreciates classic Southern architecture, food and hospitality.

Click here to see everything Columbus, Mississippi has to offer.


Courtyard By Marriott
1995 Sixth Street North
Columbus, Mississippi

Dates available: September 22-24
Click here to book at this rate.



Fairfield Inn & Suites Columbus
2011 Sixth Street North
Columbus, Mississippi

Dates available: September 22-24
Click here to book at this rate.




Hampton Inn & Suites Columbus
1915 Sixth Street North
Columbus, Mississippi

Dates available: September 22-24
Click here to book at this rate.




Holiday Inn Express & Suites Columbus North
2000 Sixth Street North
Columbus, Mississippi

Dates available: September 22-24
Click here to book at this rate.


View Sponsors


Mississippi Tourism Association
Visit Mississippi


Title Sponsor/Opening Reception 
Visit Columbus


Monday Breakfast
Yazoo County Convention & Visitors Bureau


Bloody Mary Break
Snapshot Publishing


Monday Luncheon 
Madden Media
The W


Monday Break
Oxford Conference Center


2020 Host Sponsor Reception 
Coastal Mississippi
IP Casino & Resort


Tuesday Breakfast
Cleveland Tourism


Tuesday Break
Philadelphia/Neshoba County Tourism Bureau


Awards Luncheon


Silent Auction
Conversant Media


Grand Benefactor
The W


DeSoto County Tourism


Name Badge
Visit Meridian


View Exhibitors

2019 Editor Level Partner

2019 Writer Level Partners

AAA Magazines / AJR Media Group

American Road Magazine

AtHome Memphis & MidSouth

Compass Media

DeSoto Magazine

Expedia Group

Hoffman Media

Madden Media

Meredith Travel Marketing / Southern Living

Miles Partnership / Brand USA

Mississippi Tour Guide

Oxford American

Preservation Magazine

Snapshot Publishing, LLC

Additional Exhibitors



GARDEN & GUN Magazine


Lofthouse Enterprises

Louisiana Life Magazine / New Orleans Magazine

Mississippi Magazine

Mississippi Weekend powered by WLBT

MNI Targeted Media


Telesouth Media / Supertalk MS Radio



The 31st Annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism is the premier educational conference for tourism and hospitality leaders in the Mississippi Tourism Industry with more than 250 attendees. Exhibiting at our conference is an opportunity for you to network with industry professionals from all regions of Mississippi.

The exhibitor fee is $1,000 before August 23, 2019, and $1,200 as of August 23, 2019. This fee includes 1 full registration and exhibitor space including draped table, chairs, and standard identification signage. Each additional person from your company will be an additional $250 charge for full registration.

The last day to secure booth space as an exhibitor is Friday, September 6, 2019.

If you have additional questions regarding exhibits, please contact Kristin Lape at klape@mstourism.com



Call for Entries

Eligibility: Any individual or organization meeting the specific awards criteria may be nominated. Projects and promotions must have been completed between June 1, 2018 and May 31, 2019, except for the Governmental Tourism Leadership Award, MTA Member of the Year and The Tourism Achievement Award. These awards may include projects and achievement that span a long period of time over a person’s career and their support of Mississippi tourism.

Who May Submit Nominations: Members or employees of the following organizations: Bed & Breakfast Association of MS, MS Convention & Visitors Bureaus, MS Chambers of Commerce, MS Hotel & Lodging Association, MS Hospitality & Restaurant Association, MS Gaming & Hospitality Association, MS Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks, MS Development Authority Division of Tourism, MS Main Street Association, MS Tourism Association, MS Welcome Centers, Museums/Attractions and Fairs/Festivals.

Judging Criteria: Entries are judged by a panel of industry peers. Decisions by the judges are final. Failure to follow the entry format will result in disqualification.

Entry Format: Please provide a written overview, on 2 pages or less, of the following information.

  • Title of award nomination, include category if applicable
  • Name of organization or person nominated
  • Overview of the nominee’s accomplishments and how they relate to the advancement of tourism in Mississippi and the award criteria
  • Description of programs initiated or implemented after June 1, 2018 – May 31, 2019.
  • Special recognition or awards received.
  • Other factors making the nominee a valuable asset to the Mississippi tourism industry.
  • A brief biography.
  • Supporting materials to support the nomination such as newspaper articles, brochures, photographs, videos, press releases, audio, etc. in the following formats (doc, dock, jpg, .pdf, zip, mp3, mp4, wav, ppt, mpg, ai, wmv). We are using a different platform and will accept up to 2 files per entry with a max of 20mb each. If submitting more than two files per entry, try zipping files together. For additional assistance, contact Kristin Lape at klape@mstourism.com.

Entry Deadline & Submissions: All entries, supporting materials and payment must be received by Thursday, August 15, 2019. Payment must be made online with credit card at the time of submission.

Notification: Only the person submitting the nomination will be notified prior to the awards ceremony.

Presentation: The recipient will be honored at the Awards Luncheon, September 24, 2019 during the Mississippi Governor’s Conference on Tourism at the Trotter Convention Center in Columbus, MS (September 22-24, 2019)

For more information contact Rochelle Hicks at rhicks@mstourism.com

Award Category Descriptions

MTA Member of the Year

This is presented to an outstanding MTA member that goes above and beyond for the organization.

DMO of the Year – $1,000,000 and Over

CVB with a budget of $1,000,000 and over recognized for outstanding efforts in promoting tourism in their area through events and activities that generate visitors. They must show they are willing to work with surrounding tourism endeavors that not only promote their own area but also other partners.

DMO of the Year – $500,000 to $999,000

CVB with a budget of $500,000 to $999,000 recognized for outstanding efforts in promoting tourism in their area through events and activities that generate visitors. They must show they are willing to work with surrounding tourism endeavors that not only promote their own area but also other partners.

DMO of the Year – $0 to $499,000

CVB with a budget of $0 to $499,000 and over recognized for outstanding efforts in promoting tourism in their area through events and activities that generate visitors. They must show they are willing to work with surrounding tourism endeavors that not only promote their own area but also other partners.

Tourism Promotion of the Year

This is awarded to the promotional campaign that is innovative in attracting visitors to an area or event.

Tourism Investment Award

This award will honor an entity or person who has made an enduring contribution to the economy. This award is eligible for those who have built or invested their time, talents and money into a hotel, restaurant, attraction or other tourism related project.

Tourism Achievement Award

This is awarded to a tourism entity that has successfully increased visitation to their community. Through advertising, promotion and campaigns, this entity enhances the travel and tourism experience through their vision and commitment to tourism in their community.

Governmental Tourism Leadership Award

This is awarded to a government entity that supports tourism and helps attract visitors while working with their tourism partners. Examples of government entities include but are not limited to: state legislators, local government officials such as mayors, alderman/supervisors, city and county clerks, etc.)

Community Volunteer of the Year

This is awarded to a person that gives freely of their personal time to help attract visitors to their city. They are willing to work on either an individual project or multiple projects tirelessly with the desire of making their city grow through tourism.

Travel Attraction of the Year

This is presented to an attraction that is new or unique in attracting visitors to its city. It shows results in bringing in tourists and visitors.

Large Festival/Event of the Year (Attendance of over 5,000)

This is awarded to a unique festival or event that is well attended, attracts a large variety of visitors and is well publicized. This category is for events with over 5,000 in attendance

Small Festival/Event of the Year (Attendance of 5,000 and below)

This is awarded to a unique festival or event that is well attended, attracts a large variety of visitors and is well publicized. This category is for events with 5,000 and fewer in attendance.

Travel Media Award

This is awarded to a publication, travel writer, or media entity that goes the extra mile to help give editorial or coverage to a tourism entity beyond the purchased advertising. They diligently work to help promote tourism to a specific area through their coverage.

Travel Media Award – Travel Trade Publication

This is awarded to a publication specific to the travel trade industry that goes the extra mile by giving editorial coverage to a tourism entity beyond the purchased advertising. They are helpful with their coverage to promote tourism or conventions to a specific area.

Travel Media Award – Travel Writer

This is awarded to a specific travel writer that has given great coverage in their journalism of a specific area, event, or activity.

Travel Media Award – Newspaper

This is awarded to a newspaper that has gone above and beyond the purchased publicity to help promote tourism.

Travel Media Award – Broadcast

This is awarded to a broadcast media source that, through its broadcast, promos, and coverage help attract tourist to a specific area or attraction.

Social Media Campaign of the Year

This is awarded to a tourism entity that has effectively created a social media campaign to promote a specific event, area, attraction, branding, etc. This entity also proved the campaigns success through interaction with fans, increase in likes and website traffic.

Social Media Overall Strategy

This is awarded to a tourism entity that has effectively integrated social media into their marketing and communications plan by developing relationships and building users that are valuable. In addition, this entity has also analyzed, adapted and improved their strategy to perfect their social media efforts.

Best Social Media Presence

This is awarded to a tourism entity that has effectively created a social media presence beyond Facebook. This entity must have at least 2 of the following platforms (LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube) in addition to Facebook.

The tourism entity must provide examples of design, style, content and usability along with statistics showing their success in promoting their area.

The entity must also prove success through interaction with fans, increase in likes and website traffic. Below are the following criteria required for each platform:

For Facebook Page Insights –

  1. a) Increased count in likes for the given time period
  2. b) Reach per person (Increase in page Reach/Total likes)

For Other Forums( twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest ,LinkedIn) –

  1. a) Number of Followers
  2. b) Frequency of posts (posts/month)

Past Event Photos

2018 Governor’s Conference on Tourism - Oxford, MS