State tourism awards presented at annual conference

A Christmas tour that spreads holiday cheer, a lineup of attention-grabbing advertising campaigns and a television station that promotes vacationing closer to home were among the award winners at the annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism Oct. 13-15 in Branson.

Nine awards were presented to individuals, organizations and events for their efforts to boost tourism in the Show-Me State.

“It’s an honor to recognize the winners of this year’s awards for their work to support Missouri’s tourism industry and promote all the state has to offer visitors,” said Stephen Foutes, director of the Missouri Division of Tourism.

The award winners are:

Hall of Fame Award: 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.

Recipient: Gina Walsh, former state senator representing District 13 and former member of the Missouri Tourism Commission. Sen. Walsh was recognized for her bipartisan efforts to educate legislators about tourism’s impact on the state’s economy and increase state funding for tourism. She served 12 years on the tourism commission.

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

Recipient: Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau. The CVB launched several multi-media campaigns to encourage visitors to keep Springfield in mind as a vacation destination while being mindful of safety measures to stay healthy. The campaigns contributed to a quicker-than-average recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

Recipient: Perry County Heritage Tourism’s Christmas Country Church Tour. The event began with six rural churches and has grown to include 39 churches in southeast Missouri. The churches’ architecture, art and holiday décor attract visitors from across Missouri and surrounding states. In 2020, a virtual tour via Facebook Live was offered to accommodate a wider audience.

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

Recipient: Visit Hermann, tourism office for the city of Hermann. Tammy Bruckerhoff, director of tourism for Hermann, developed a new website and utilized social media to increase interest in the town. Her work with travel writers and news crews to promote Hermann’s history and attractions has resulted in coverage from regional and national media outlets.

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

Recipient: KYTV in Springfield. 

The station launched an 18-week initiative to spotlight local destinations. Segments on “The Place” encouraged viewers to vacation closer to home, and vignettes featured during the show and on social media emphasized the importance of tourism in Missouri.

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.

Recipient: Melissa Wharton, West Plains tourism coordinator. In her first year on the job, Wharton led the rebranding of West Plains tourism to “Explore West Plains,” created a new website and visitor guidebooks, and refreshed the Ozarks Heritage Welcome Center. 

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

Recipient: Tim Riley, director and chief curator of America’s National Churchill Museum in Fulton. Riley has created exhibitions seen by thousands of visitors and worked with travel writers from across the country to share his knowledge and promote America’s National Churchill Museum.

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.

Recipient: Aaron Griesheimer, state representative for District 61. Rep. Griesheimer successfully worked to return the second Missouri River Runner train to the Amtrak schedule after it had been removed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He also handled legislation that allowed qualifying restaurants to sell carry-out beverages containing alcohol.

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

Recipient: Kathryn Swan, former state representative for District 147. Rep. Swan worked to reinstate the Missouri Film Production Incentive by informing her fellow legislators of the economic benefits of film production to the state.

In addition to the awards presentation, the conference featured workshops and guest speakers who addressed a variety of topics relevant to the tourism industry.


About the Missouri Division of Tourism

The Missouri Division of Tourism works to showcase Missouri experiences through compelling storytelling to inspire travel, support healthy communities and strengthen the state’s economy. In fiscal year 2020, Missouri welcomed 36.3 million visitors and saw a $14.5 billion economic impact. Learn more at