Travel Oregon Announces Travel & Tourism Industry Achievement Awards

March 15, 2022

Last night, the Oregon Tourism Commission (dba Travel Oregon) announced the recipients of the 2021 Oregon Travel and Tourism Industry Achievement Awards, presented at the 2022 Oregon Governor’s Conference on Tourism at the Sunriver Resort.

The 2021 Oregon Travel and Tourism Industry Achievement Awards were announced in the following categories:

The Oregon Governor’s Tourism Award represents the culmination of our industry’s deep appreciation for long-time commitment, accomplishment and service by an individual or individuals who have enhanced the Oregon visitor experience and elevated the travel and tourism industry.

This year, Governor Brown honored Eric Aebi. Eric has been with Chemeketa Community College for more than 20 years, where he developed hospitality and tourism management credential programs. He continues to advocate for Oregon’s tourism industry by volunteering his time with the Oregon Hospitality Foundation and many other organizations.

The Oregon Tourism Rising Star Award recognizes an individual in each region of the state who is new to the tourism industry – within the last five years – and has shown leadership, commitment and a passion for Oregon’s tourism industry.

This year, Central Oregon’s Rising Star Award was presented to Serena Bishop Gordon of Visit Bend. Serena has worked at Visit Bend for just one year, but in that time the long-time Bend resident has turned her competitive nature and passion for the outdoors into major impact at Visit Bend and for the community. Leading their sustainability program, she has been instrumental in developing and implementing the data-driven Bend Sustainability Fund that takes care of the places that take care of “us” by investing in what makes Bend such a special place. In its first round, the fund awarded $840,000 to local community organizations and efforts that will steward Central Oregon’s core visitor assets, providing amazing experiences and building a sustainable tourism economy.

The Portland Region’s Rising Star Award honored Wela Negelspach with the Columbia County Economic Team. Wela willingly jumped in to help the group organize and manage their efforts even though the project was outside of her regular duties with the non-profit. Wela has helped to keep the coalition together and moving forward for more than three years, utilizing her exceptional people skills and passion for tourism to help others forge new connections and envision a more robust tourism economy for the communities of Columbia County.

Willamette Valley’s Rising Star awardee is Katie McFall with the Willamette Valley Visitor’s Association. Katie has been a key part of initiatives in the Willamette Valley since she came on board as a Resource Assistance for Rural Environments (RARE) placement in 2019. She was heavily involved in aspects of the Willamette Valley Visitor’s Association’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, has worked tirelessly to secure resources and coordination for wildfire and pandemic affected communities and businesses, and has helped WVVA coordinate and secure partnerships for responsible river recreation now and in future endeavors.

The Rising Star Award for Southern Oregon went to Jessica Batchelor with Experience Roseburg, formerly Lake County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director. Jessica spearheaded new staffing and board development, co-designed a collaborative community vision, developed partners and community support with traditional and non-traditional stakeholders, and built an organization while focusing on growth, expansion and development. Jessica’s infectious enthusiasm and drive helped generate massive engagement and momentum throughout Lake County. In late 2021, Jessica transitioned back to her hometown of Roseburg to support tourism development and main street efforts. She was recently hired by Experience Roseburg to coordinate their tourism development and stakeholder outreach efforts.

Eastern Oregon’s Rising Star Award was presented to Kate Harbour with the Eastern Oregon Visitor’s Association. In Kate’s first year and a half with the organization, she has increased connectivity throughout the recreation and trail stakeholder communities, coordinated collaborative funding approaches to support regional stewardship of public lands and trails, and increased capacity and infrastructure to support outdoor recreation assets. Kate shows up to meetings with curiosity and intention, and her approachable demeanor has been a real asset in helping to build connections between groups and organizations.

The Rising Star of the Mt. Hood and the Columbia River Gorge Region honored Marlee Boxler, City of Troutdale. Marlee almost single-handedly created Troutdale’s official tourism information provider: Explore Troutdale. She led a small team of city staff to reinvigorate Troutdale’s First Friday Art Walk. Prior to COVID-19, it had been a sparsely attended event, but she arranged for the city’s main street to close for the evening to allow businesses and vendors – and of course attendees – to have more space to enjoy the event. She has also reimagined the city’s holiday tree lighting from a 30-minute ceremony into an all-day holiday market with live music. Residents have loved the fresh new look and feel of the events, and so have visitors.

Lastly, of the Rising Star Awards, the Oregon Coast’s Karen Olson with the North Coast Tourism Management Network took home the award. Karen has been the network manager of the North Coast Tourism Management Network for just over a year and in that time has supported a dynamic and ever-changing network of partners focused on sustainable tourism on the North Coast. She has navigated difficult topics like public safety, stewardship and COVID-19 restrictions on businesses. In response to the challenges of the pandemic, Karen created a takeout campaign to support local restaurants, and organized a transportation solutions project. To say she’s been an asset to the North Coast is an understatement.

The Gene Landsmann Gemütlichkeit Award, Travel Oregon’s newest Travel & Tourism Industry Achievement Award category, was presented to an individual from the Oregon Ski Community who embodies the spirit and effect of Gemütlichkeit, a German word used to convey the idea of a state or feeling of warmth, friendliness and good cheer. Other qualities encompassed by the term include coziness, quality of life, and a sense of belonging and well-being. Gene Landsmann was an Austrian National Team Skier, international ski educator who migrated to Oregon and lived out his later years promoting Oregon skiing in large part in his role of management and marketing at Mt. Ashland. Gene was a long-time member of the Oregon Ski Industries Association.

Travel Oregon proudly presented the award to Kathleen O’Connor-McNew, a long-time member of Oregon’s ski industry.

The Oregon Leadership Award honors individuals championing the value of tourism, whose vision and commitment help make our communities, tourism regions and state stronger visitor destinations, and whose leadership behind the scenes contributes significantly to the recognition and impact of Oregon’s travel and tourism industry.

This year, the award celebrates Jeff Knapp, Executive Director of Visit McMinnville. Over the years, Jeff has built the organization structure, brought on key staff, and been involved in many community organizations to bolster McMinnville’s growing visitor economy and support local small businesses. And, since the onset of the pandemic, he’s worked tirelessly to support tourism businesses to stay open through projects like McMinnville’s Dine Out(Side), which closed streets to traffic to accommodate outdoor dining and safe tourism. He is the true embodiment of starting with “why,” he stays authentic to himself and the regions he represents, and he consistently and constantly is a cheerleader at all levels for the power of the visitor economy in rural communities.

The Oregon Partnership Award recognizes a creative partnership that enhances the visitor experience and/or promote a region or destination. By leveraging traditional and non-traditional partnerships, organizations and businesses can maximize budget, capacity and skill set, creating an increase in efficiencies and a higher-level aligned outcome.

The award was presented to RARE Program Director, Titus Tomlinson. RARE is a unique AmeriCorps Program serving rural Oregon to strengthen communities, economies, food systems, and the natural environment. The RARE program has had a significant impact around the state, especially in our rural communities. Titus’ passion for the program and rural Oregon is contagious, and the enthusiasm he brings to the participants and their supervisors is equally inspiring.

The Oregon Tourism Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion Award celebrates a business or destination that has demonstrated leadership in raising awareness, or facilitating change, to build a more inclusive and welcoming environment for visitors to Oregon.

This award honored Gwen Trice, Founder of Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center. In 2001, Gwen Trice learned of her family’s ties to Maxville in Wallowa County. From 1923 to the early 1930s, Maxville operated as a company town for a Missouri lumber company. Among its households were more than 50 African Americans from southern states who’d been recruited to work in the woods of Wallowa County. Gwen’s father was one of them. The story of Maxville captured Gwen’s heart and she began working to develop the Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center, where she now serves as the executive director. Located in downtown Joseph, the center offers a view into the past with displays of artifacts, photos of loggers, horses and equipment, a replica baseball uniform and a map of the town plotted with the houses and the names of the families who lived there. Gwen’s family story has been featured by OPB, and she has been awarded by the Oregon Commission for Women for her commitment to diversity and equity and preserving Oregon’s rich history.

Congratulations to the awardees who make Oregon such a unique place for residents and visitors alike. Your contributions to communities across the state richly impact the industry and we’re grateful for your service.