Southeast Tourism Society Honors Organizations, Individuals Across Region

Rock City Named Southeast’s Travel Attraction of the Year; Louisiana and West Virginia Receive Multiple Tourism Awards

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (April 24, 2018) – Rock City, the family-led attraction high above Chattanooga, Tenn., received the Escape to the Southeast Travel Attraction of the Year Award from the 12-state Southeast Tourism Society (STS) at the association’s inaugural Connections conference in Myrtle Beach.

It was one of 14 winners of Shining Example Awards that recognize excellence in tourism. Louisiana, with four winners, and West Virginia, with three winners, were the most acknowledged states.

A nationally recognized festival, a parish tourism office, the lieutenant governor and a veteran tourism professional were Louisiana’s Shining Example Award winners.

  • The Natchitoches Christmas Festival, now in its ninth decade, received the STS Top 20 Event or Festival of the Year Award. The 45-day celebration attracts more than 400,000 visitors.

  • The St. Tammany Parish Tourist and Convention Commission, which markets its area as the Louisiana Northshore, was named the Tourism Office of the Year for organizations with budgets of more than $2 million.

  • Louisiana Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, known for being a vocal proponent of tourism funding, received the Governmental Tourism Leadership Award.

  • Shelley Johnson, CEO and executive director of the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitors Bureau, received the Beacon Award, recognizing a long career in tourism and involvement in projects such as the Creole Nature Trail and the National Hurricane and Science Center.

Historic floods in West Virginia were factors in that state’s Shining Example Awards:

  • The Greenbrier Valley Tourism Partnership won the Partnership Award for its efforts to rebuild infrastructure and to communicate recovery messages to the traveling public.

  • The Greenbrier County Convention and Visitors Bureau was named the Tourism Office of the Year for organizations with budgets of less than $2 million. Its award recognized its multi-dimensional tourism recovery plan that substantially benefitted the local economy.

  • Kelly Collins, CEO of the West Virginia State Fair, received the Rising Star Award, given to someone with fewer than five years in the tourism industry. Dealing with flood issues was just one of her actions while expanding the state fair and increasing year-round use of the fairgrounds.

Alabama received the State Tourism Office of the Year. Its most recent campaign was a year-long celebration of Alabama creators – artists, craftsmen, writers, musicians, chefs and even brewers and makers of Mercedes-Benz vehicles.

North Carolina and South Carolina won awards for their marketing work.

  • When hot-button political issues threatened tourism visitation, Visit North Carolina reacted with an unprecedented media push that featured everyday North Carolinians expressing their state’s welcoming personality. That led to the Best Marketing Award for organizations with budgets of more than $500,000.

  • The South Carolina African American Heritage Commission won the Best Niche Marketing Award for producing the state’s first online travel guide to more than 300 African-American cultural sites.

Another Shining Example Award for marketing went to the Birthplace of Country Music, which unites Bristol, Tenn., and Bristol, Va. With a budget of less than $500,000, the Birthplace of Country Music celebrated the 1927 Bristol Sessions, recognized as the most important event in commercial country music history.

Two more awards capped the presentations.

  • Georgia Turner, who has held tourism positions in Alabama and Florida and is a past chair of Southeast Tourism Society, received the Dorothy Hardman Spirit of STS Award for her devotion to STS. Turner now is executive director of the West Volusia Tourism Bureau in DeLand, Fla.

  • The Chairman’s Award went to Advance Travel & Tourism in Birmingham, Ala., for its support of STS marketing efforts.

Here is a recap of the winners:

Tourism Office of the Year with budgets of up to $2 million

Greenbrier County CVB (West Virginia)

Tourism Office of the Year with budgets of more than $2 million

St. Tammany Parish Tourism and Convention Commission (Louisiana)

Escape to the Southeast Travel Attraction of the Year

Rock City (Tennessee)

STS Top 20 Festival of the Year

Natchitoches Christmas (Louisiana)

Governmental Tourism Leadership Award

Louisiana Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser

Partnership Award

Greenbrier Valley Tourism Recovery Partnership (West Virginia)

Rising Star Award

Kelly Collins (State Fair of West Virginia)

State Tourism Office of the Year

Alabama Tourism Department

Beacon Award

Shelley Johnson (Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana CVB)

Best Marketing Award <$500K

Birthplace of Country Music (Bristol, Tenn./Bristol, Va.)

Best Marketing Award >$500K

Visit North Carolina

Best Niche Marketing Award

South Carolina African American Heritage Commission

Chairman’s Award

Advance Travel & Tourism (Birmingham, Ala.)

Dorothy Hardman Spirit of STS Award

Georgia Turner (West Volusia Tourism Bureau, DeLand, Fla.)

About STS

Founded in 1983, Southeast Tourism Society ( promotes and develops tourism in its 12 member states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. Its headquarters are in Atlanta. Membership includes state travel offices, convention and visitors bureaus, lodging properties, attractions, travel media and other travel-related organizations.



Wendy Thomas


Robin North