Governor’s Conference on Tourism


    The Missouri Governor’s Conference on Tourism is an annual conference that features a strong line-up of expert speakers, as well as exciting social events to enhance your networking opportunities with top leaders and innovators.

    Save the date for the 2024 Conference, held at Harrah’s Kansas City on October 15-17.

    Governor’s Conference Email Signup


    Room Block: Drury Plaza Hotel Cape Girardeau Conference Center

    Questions? Please contact

    Donate to our 2023 Governor’s Conference Giving Back Project: Safe House of Southeast Missouri


    Full Conference Pass (meals included) (October 15-17) | $400

    One-Day Pass (meals included) (October 16) | $350

    Awards Banquet Pass Only | $100

    Hotel Room Block – closes 5 pm on September 1

    Registration – closes September 22

    City Sponsored Tour

    Sightseeing Tour:

    Take a step back in time at Fort D, the only surviving Civil War fortification built by Union troops in southeast Missouri. Enjoy storytelling, learn about everyday life during the Civil War and experience the firing of the rifle and canon. Catch a glimpse of Cape Girardeau’s fascinating history.

    Please RSVP:


    Wednesday, October 4

    10 am – 5 pm


    Sponsored by Madden Media

    10 am – 5 pm

    Exhibitor Trade Show Set Up

    11 am – 12 pm

    MACVB Board Meeting

    Invitation only

    12:30 pm – 4:30 pm

    Visit Cape Sponsored Tour

    See information above.

    *Pre-registration required

    6 pm – 8 pm

    Welcome Reception

    Sponsored by Visit Cape

    Throw axes, play games, sip delicious drinks and sample tasty hors d’oeuvres at Dogwood Social House, where fun, food, family and friends come together. Watch the tourism industry’s most talented battle it out in a karaoke competition to win a big prize!

    Thursday, October 5

    8 am – 5 pm

    Exhibitor Trade Show

    Visit with business professionals and service providers who help support the tourism industry.

    8 am – 6 pm


    Sponsored by Madden Media

    8 am – 9 am


    Sponsored by Spectrum Reach 

    9 am – 9:40 am


    State of the Travel Industry

    Speaker: Nicole Porter, U.S. Travel Association

    Sponsored by TripAdvisor

    Join U.S. Travel Association for an exclusive update on the state of the American travel industry. This session will outline key priorities to support continued recovery and lay the foundation for the future of travel – covering central issues relating to our workforce, sustainability, travel mobility, security and more.

    9:40 am – 10:40 am

    General Session:

    The Fundamentals of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

    Speaker: Greg DeShields, Tourism Diversity Matters

    This session equips participants with an understanding of the basic concepts of DEI: definitions, terms, and behavioral modifications that foster DEI and create a strategic approach throughout the organization. Attendees leave with the confidence and skills to engage in meaningful conversations around DEI issues.

    10:40 am – 11:10 am

    Break and Exhibitor Trade Show

    Sponsored by Rural Missouri

    Visit with business professionals and service providers who help support the tourism industry.

    11:10 am – 11:50 am

    Breakout Session:


    Speaker: Heather Molina & Samantha Gerhart, Madden Media

    All it takes is your story to bring visitors: we explore the power of using effective owned, earned, and social content strategies to level up your storytelling efforts.

    11:10 am – 11:50 am

    Breakout Session:

    Tourism Exchange 

    Speaker: Andrea Wood,  Tourism Exchange USA, and Liz Bittner, Travel South USA

    Attracting international visitors has never been more competitive and the global product development and distribution landscape continues to rapidly evolve. That’s why Missouri Division of Tourism is partnering with Travel South and Brand USA to bring Missouri’s unique travel experiences to the world through Tourism Exchange USA. The Tourism Exchange is connectivity platform that digitizes and democratizes the product development and distribution landscape, allowing attractions, experiences and accommodations of all sizes to connect their live product inventory to global OTAs and tour operators. Already in use in Australia, Japan and the UK, Tourism Exchange USA will create an opportunity for Missouri’s businesses and destinations to expand their product reach to new customers around the globe, driving visitation and economic impact. Get a preview of the Exchange and how your organization can participate at this session.

    11:10 am – 11:50 am

    Breakout Session:

    A Roadmap to Identify Your Tourism Niche and Uncontested Marketspace for Growth

    Speaker: Dana Thomas, BOLD Marketing

    This session provides the tools to identify your competitive offering – the why – and how you want to be perceived in the marketplace. You offer similar amenities as other destinations and have limited staff and volunteers. It’s vital to maximize efficiencies, mobilize all partners toward a common vision, and eliminate tasks and events that don’t move you forward. Participants will leave this session with a roadmap to build a strategic and efficient plan to achieve uncontested marketspace with tools to transfer that into actionable purpose for others to engage.

    12 pm – 1 pm


    Sponsored by OBP Agency

    1 pm – 1:40 pm

    All Breakout Sessions Repeat

    This is your chance to see another breakout session.

    1:40 pm – 1:45 pm

    5 Minute Break

    1:45 pm – 3:15 pm

    General Session:

    One Organization, One Voice, and a Pair of Green Shoes

    Speaker: Kraig Kann, Kann Advisory Group

    Who are we and why should people pay attention? It’s a question that former network broadcaster and C-Suite Strategist Kraig Kann will put squarely in front of us! A successful entrepreneur, radio and podcast host and award-winning author of the book “Can You Get Our Attention?,” Kraig will share the importance of knowing our story and being able to present it in a way that gets other people talking. You’ll learn about superpowers, what sets a brand apart, and why each one of you plays a bigger role in the communication of your organization’s message in a world where everyone seems to be seeking greater awareness and more business.  This session promises to keep you on the edge of your seat. And along the way, somebody might just earn a green shoe!

    3:15 pm – 3:55 pm

    Break and Exhibitor Trade Show

    Sponsored by Expedia Group Media Solutions

    4 pm – 5:30 pm

    Missouri Tourism Commission Meeting

    Seating is limited.

    6 pm – 7 pm

    Awards Reception

    Wine compliments of the Missouri Wine and Grape Board.

    7 pm – 9 pm

    Awards Banquet & Presentation

    Wine compliments of the Missouri Wine and Grape Board.

    Friday, October 6

    8 am – 11 am


    Sponsored by Madden Media

    8 am – 9 am


    Drury Lobby

    Enjoy the delicious hot breakfast complimentary with your stay at the Drury Suites or get your breakfast voucher at registration if you are not a hotel guest.

    8 am – 9 am

    Professional Headshot Session

    RSVP Required 

    Reserve a 5 minute time slot for a headshot session with MDT staff photographer Aaron Fuhrman. Photos will be taken in the Drury Hotel and emailed to participants following the conference. Email Megan Rogers at to RSVP today.

    9 am – 9:40 am

    Breakout Session:

    From Chaos to Clarity: How Clear Communications Planning Achieves Organizational Goals

    Speaker: Margaret Faintich & Julie Voss Catron, OBP Agency

    Communications planning is the foundation of an integrated marketing plan. In this session, we’ll explore how a strong communications plan can help you achieve organizational goals. Specifically, we’ll look at the fundamentals of a communications plan and break down the steps to begin creating your plan today.

    9 am – 9:40 am

    Breakout Session:

    Best Practices, Pitfalls and Valuable Insights on Artificial Intelligence

    Speaker: Darren Ison, Explore St. Louis

    Join us for an insightful conference session that delves into the essential dos and don’ts of harnessing Artificial Intelligence (AI) for tourism marketing. In an ever-evolving industry, leveraging AI can be a game-changer, but it comes with its own set of challenges and ethical considerations. This session will equip you with the knowledge and strategies to navigate the complex landscape of AI in tourism marketing successfully while maintaining trust and transparency with your customers.

    (This description was written by ChatGPT)

    9 am – 9:40 am

    Breakout Session:

    Here Comes Hollywood

    Speakers: Andrea Sporcic Klund & Grace Albers Smith, Missouri Film Office

    Join the Missouri Film Office for a discussion on the new Show MO tax incentives for film and episodic production and learn how it could impact your community.

    9:40 am – 9:50 am

    10 Minute Break

    9:50 am – 10:30 am

    All Breakout Sessions Repeat

    This is your chance to see another breakout session.

    10:30 am – 11:00 am

    Break and Exhibitor Trade Show

    Visit with business professionals and service providers who help support the tourism industry.

    11 am – 11:45 am

    Missouri Division of Tourism Update

    Speaker: Stephen Foutes, Missouri Division of Tourism

    During this session, you’ll see examples of MDT’s work to showcase Missouri as a travel destination, hear programmatic updates and get a sneak peek at the Division’s marketing plans for spring 2024 and beyond.

    11:45 am – 12 pm

    Giveaways & Closing Remarks

    12 pm

    Conference Concludes


    Keynote Speaker

    Nicole Porter

    Nicole Porter joined the U.S. Travel Association in 2021. As Vice President of Political Affairs, she leads and develops all grassroots and political programs—leading and developing engagement activities to bolster U.S. Travel’s advocacy efforts. Under Nicole’s guidance of our TravelPAC and Travel Action Network—key components in educating federal policymakers about the economic, social and diplomatic importance of travel—U.S. Travel raised nearly $800,000 during the 2022 election cycle. She also leads the association’s efforts around key initiatives such as Travel Works, U.S. Travel’s national advocacy tour designed to highlight the $2.6 trillion economic impact and far-reaching contributions created by travel and Destination Capitol Hill, the travel industry’s premier legislative fly-in.

    Keynote Speaker

    Greg DeShields

    Greg Deshields is the Executive Director of Tourism Diversity Matters and he is a Qualified Tourism/Hospitality and Academic Professional Certified Hospitality Educator (CHE), proficient in developing and implementing plans, strategies, and initiatives specifically designed to raise destinations image for diverse, multicultural travel. DeShields is also an Experienced Certified Diversity Executive (CDE), with demonstrated cultural competence. Prepared to strategically position an organization to remove systemic barriers to inclusion, lead culture change, and transform the brand.

    Heather Molina

    Heather Molina is the Director of Insights at Madden Media, where she leads the discovery of cross-channel marketing strategies for clients. She has 20 years of digital marketing channel expertise (SEO, paid media, social strategy, data, and analytics). She is focused on helping destinations and brands build strategic plans that are actionable and measurable.

    Samantha Gerhart

    Samantha Gerhart is a born and raised Missourian and graduated from Missouri State University. She is a Senior Public Relations Account Executive at Madden Media, where she promotes and enhances destinations through storytelling, develops brand strategy and secures major placements to position clients as top DMOs around the country. She has 6 years of PR and event experience in the hospitality and tourism industry – previously working for nationally recognized brands such as The Walt Disney World Company and Bass Pro Hospitality at Big Cedar Lodge and The Johnny Morris Foundation. She leverages that expertise to develop target media campaigns, execute press visits, create unique media event experiences and connect people to places.

    Andrea Wood

    Andrea Wood has spent the last 19 years with Miles Partnership in key marketing, account management and strategic leadership roles. She’s a frequent speaker on the use of new and emerging technologies. Over the years, she’s lead many first-of-its-kind initiatives including VR/AR and proximity-based marketing experiences. In her current role as Vice President/General Manager of Tourism Exchange USA, she is responsible for overseeing operations and industry participation in an effort to bring even more innovative technology to the travel industry.

    Liz Bittner

    Liz Bittner currently serves as President & Chief Executive Officer for Travel South USA, a 12-state regional marketing alliance owned by the participating state tourism offices. At the helm of the oldest, largest, and most respected regional alliance in the United States, Liz manages offices and well-developed programs in Europe, Canada, Latin America, Asia, and Oceania. As a premier partner with Brand USA, she serves to ensure tourism is a vital and dynamic element in the region’s economic development. In 2019, Travel South USA was awarded U.S. Travel Industry’s Mercury Award for Best International Marketing. That same year they also received the Communicator Award presented by the Academy of Interactive & Visual Arts, a Telly Award in Digital Broadcasts, an Allie Award for Event Planning, and the Most Improved Overseas Destination Marketing Organization by the National Tourism Awards in China.

    Dana Thomas

    Dana Thomas is the owner of BOLD based in Cape Girardeau, MO, a multi-dimensional business partner in B2B and B2C growth. What started 15 years ago during the great recession has become a multi-million dollar agency with clients in 20+ states, Canada and Europe. BOLD handles all things related to internal culture, lead generation, marketing strategy and crisis communications. The team leads organizations to develop and embrace change to positively move culture, profits and market share.

    Keynote Speaker

    Kraig Kann

    As former lead anchor and studio host for NBC Sports’ Golf Channel, Kraig Kann attained his lifelong dream. He then progressed to Chief Communications Officer for the LPGA and today is a successful entrepreneur mastering his own brand. His background of C-Suite strategist and media entertainment uniquely qualifies Kraig to help you elevate the company brand and become more personally empowered. Now a nationally published 5-time award-winning author, his book “Can You Get Our Attention?” quickly became a Top 20 Amazon Best Seller.

    Margaret Faintich

    Margaret Faintich leads cross-agency teams and clients to drive results. She has 20+ years of experience creatively solving business problems and bringing together strong teams. She oversees work for OBP’s Tourism Portfolio, including Missouri Division of Tourism, Morey’s Piers and Southeast Tourism Society.

    Julie Voss Catron

    With over 20 years of experience in public relations and integrated marketing communications, Julie works with clients to enhance brand reputations through compelling storytelling and earned media. She has experience with Fortune 500, nonprofit, and international corporations and organizations. Julie leads the award-winning OBP PR team and also serves on the agency’s executive team.

    Darren Ison

    Darren Ison is the Director of Information Technology for Explore St. Louis, where he has spent over 7 years managing IT Operations for the organization including the America’s Center Convention Center and the Dome at America’s Center. Darren has spent over 30 years in IT, most of that time in Fortune 500 companies with a focus and expertise on infrastructure, security, monitoring and automation.

    Andrea Sporcic Klund

    Andrea Sporcic Klund is the film commissioner for Missouri and runs the Missouri Film Office – a part of the Missouri Division of Tourism. She has been in the film biz representing Missouri for over 20 years. Since 2005 she has worked to market Missouri to the film and television industry nation-wide. She has helped coordinate production logistics for more than 30 feature films, and hundreds of television segments and series filmed all over the state including feature films UP IN THE AIR, WINTERS BONE and GONE GIRL and TV series’ SHARP OBJECTS and OZARK. Before joining the film office she spent 8 years with Cinema St. Louis, the producers of the St. Louis International Film Festival as director of operations. She holds BA degrees in Theatre and Corporate Communications from Lindenwood University. She has also acted, written, directed and produced for the stage and screen.

    Grace Albers Smith

    Grace Albers Smith is the Coordinator for the Missouri Film Office, specializing in social media management, marketing, and filmmaker relations. They are a Jefferson City native, and earned their bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing at Missouri State University, after which they moved to Los Angeles to pursue a master’s degree in Writing and Producing for TV from Loyola Marymount University. Throughout their master’s degree, Grace interned with several entertainment companies, including CBS, Haven Entertainment, and PatMa Productions. Since graduating in 2020, Grace has worked on the Amazon TV series “With Love,” and at DPN Talent, working with some of the most prolific voice actors in the animation and video game space. Grace began working for the Missouri Film Office in February of 2023, and they are excited to see the great strides the Missouri film industry is taking. In their free time, Grace loves to hike with their dogs, craft, and, of course, watch all the latest TV.

    Stephen Foutes

    As director of the Missouri Division of Tourism, Stephen leads a dedicated team of marketers, communicators, researchers, program managers, legislative and financial specialists, and welcome center ambassadors focused on promoting Missouri as one of the country’s top travel destinations. A lifelong Missourian, he holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from Central Methodist College and has worked at the Division of Tourism in varying roles for more than 10 years.


    There are multiple opportunities to make your mark this year. Click below for sponsorship details.

    2024 Sponsors

    Coming Soon!

    417 Magazine


    Atmosphere TV

    McDaniels Marketing

    Miles Partnership

    Missouri Life

    Missouri Travel Alliance

    Missouri Wine & Grape Board


    True Omni

    Tourism Economics

    Award Nominations

    Nominations are open. Complete the nomination form to submit your entry.

    The Governor’s Conference on Tourism Awards are open to DMOs, tourism attractions, lodging, restaurants, festivals/events, publications and other entities contributing to the tourism industry in Missouri. Entries should demonstrate exemplary customer service, initiative and have positively influenced the tourism industry.

    Missouri Tourism Hall of Fame
    Presented to an individual who has worked in the tourism industry for a minimum of 10 years and whose contributions have significantly and measurably impacted tourism in Missouri.

    Sen. Emory Melton Legislative Award
    Honors an individual who recognizes the value of tourism to the state and works through the legislative process to support Missouri’s tourism industry.

    Marketing Campaign Award
    Recognizes an effective integrated marketing campaign that results in increased tourism and economic benefit to a region.

    Pathfinder Award
    Recognizes an event or organization that successfully develops a niche tourism market.

    Innovator Award
    Honors a small tourism organization or individual who achieves significant results on a modest budget.

    Navigator Media Award
    Presented to a media outlet that promotes tourism in Missouri and its importance to the state’s economy.

    Rising Star Award
    Honors an individual who has worked for a tourism-related organization less than five years or who has transitioned to a new role and made significant advancements to the organization’s efforts.

    Hospitality Award
    Recognizes an individual, business or organization that has demonstrated excellent customer service.

    Film Industry Champion Award
    Presented to an individual who advocates for the film industry and works to expand its presence in Missouri.